When you are shopping around for a charter company to accommodate your next, much anticipated cruise, you first read the sailing and cruising magazines or search the Web. And, of course, you find dozens of companies. Some are "first-tier" and some "second-tier" companies. They are very different from each other. But how can you tell? And, what are the pros and the cons? In a nutshell, what in the world are we talking about here?
A "first-tier" company exclusively puts brand new boats in its fleet, keeps them in charter work in their fleet and from 3.5 to 5 years maximum, and then takes them out of the fleet. No exceptions. At the end of the contract, the boat owners either:
- Bring their boat home for private use, or
- Sell her, or
- Put the boat in a "second-tier" fleet, for another cycle of charter management.
A "second-tier" company generally puts used boats in its fleet, though some companies may have a few new yachts too. But the bulk of the second-tier fleets comprises used boats, which almost always come from first-tier fleets, from which they have been retired. Does it mean that those boats have been trashed and beat-up to death? Does it mean you could end up in a nightmarish cruise on one of those boats? Absolutely not.
Little doubt that you may have in the past heard some horror stories about charters from hell on some half-wrecked boats, which bad shape you usually discover on the second day of your cruise-when it is too late! Those stories can certainly be true, just in the same way that they can be true of a poorly maintained nearly new yachts. But it does not mean that you cannot find excellent deals and very good boats among second-tier charter companies. Again, as with, by the way, the first-tier fleets, it will very much depend which kind of company and people you are dealing with.
There are some very reputable companies will only include in their fleet boats that are in very good shape, whose maintenance has been excellent throughout their life in a first-tier fleet, and which went through a thorough refit at the end of that life. Most first-tier charter companies carry out a phase-out refurbishment at the end of the yacht's time in the fleet. This means that they are usually in pretty good shape when they enter the fleet of a second-tier company. Additionally, the good second-tier fleets will perform first-class maintenance on their boats as well. With those companies you are more than likely to be very satisfied with your charter boat and cruise.
Pros and Cons of Good Second-Tier Companies
- Usually small companies, sometimes even run by families. Therefore they maintain close contact with their clients and try to give a very personalized, efficient, and friendly service. They often do not have huge advertising budgets; so the only way they can get consistent repeat business and favorable word of mouth is by taking good care of their customers.
- Rates much are cheaper than first-tier companies.
- Although the boat equipment can be somewhat outdated (see below) everything will work properly.
- Sometimes more flexible in the terms of the contract regarding cancellation etc...
- The equipment you will find may be somewhat dated, since those boats can be anywhere from 5 to 10 or even 12 years old. So you won't necessary find on board the latest creature comforts like a new model GPS, the latest autopilot model or an MP3 player.
- With a first-tier company, you have little chance to make a mistake in your choice because finding information is relatively easy if you do a bit of homework. On the other hand, second-tier companies are less known so it may be difficult to get any feedback from other users simply because there are less of them. In spite of that, it's never a bad idea to ask the charter company for references from recent clients. If they can't provide references for some reason (perhaps the yacht you want to charter is a recent arrival to the fleet and has not had any of the company's customers sail her yet), we suggest you go to all the sailing forums on the Internet and ask specific questions to the forum users. Therefore, if you are not very careful with your choice, you are exposed to a bad charter. We recommend traveltalkonline.com but there are many others.
We are developing our research about second-tier companies, and as we said, it is not always easy, even for us. In the meantime, for starters, there are several second-tier companies we like in the Caribbean: In St Vincent, Windward Islands, Barefoot Yacht Charters, in the British Virgin Islands BVI Yacht Charters, and in the US VI CYOA.
Explore for those of you looking to charter on a tighter budget while having your money worth of cruising. But as usual, your homework will pay off!