Before we start, a little reminder:
A bareboat is a unit that is chartered with no crew at all. The charterers are entirely in charge of the boat, including provisioning, for the whole duration of the cruise.
A crewed boat operates only with a professional live-aboard crew, a skipper and a cook or chef, usually a couple, and, typically, has many more creature comfort than an equivalent bareboat.
If you are vacillating between bareboat and crewed yacht ownership, this section will help you define the main pros and cons of each option, both being in the configuration of a managed charter fleet, and within a range of 45 to 60 ft. boats. This section does not debate ownership of a privately managed crewed vessel, usually a larger unit the management, the economics of which are completely different.
In the Caribbean, 2 charter companies are offering that kind of management: Dream Yacht Charter and The Moorings. We will first highlight how the management contracts differ between those charter companies.
We will then outline the differences, bareboat vs. crewed, between two vessels that are either identical, or within the same base price range.
Different Crewed Boats Management Contracts
Basically, one company, Dream Yacht Charter, manages the boat's marketing, bookings and administration on the owner's behalf, but the latter pays all expenses presented to him by the company. The company is compensated by a commission ratio on the charter bookings. Dream Yacht Charter also offers a particular program called the Active Yacht Ownership with potential tax benefits for US residents.
The Moorings on a more "turnkey" basis, with very little involvement from the owner, if any
In all cases though, the buyer will acquire the boat from the charter company itself, which acts as a dealer for the purchase.
Differences: Bareboat vs. Crewed
A crewed boat is more expensive to purchase
Once we have determined that the base prices are in the same neighborhood for a bare boat and a crewed one, in reality, an identical crewed boat will be more expensive to purchase. In effect, in order to do the charter work within the parameters of the industry, the boat needs to be fitted with a lot of additional equipment, most of it being items of comfort.
A few examples: Mandatory air conditioning system (a major marketing element in the Caribbean charter industry); a generator and sometimes a water maker; DVD system; "toys" like a windsurf, kayak, snorkeling or even a scuba diving equipment; larger dinghy with sometimes a bigger engine for water skiing; upgraded navigation electronics and sound system; several sets of bedding equipment, linen, towels; full sets of silver/glassware; complete cooking equipment, toaster, coffee machine; etc. The list can be very long, but will vary significantly depending on the level of luxury the boat will be chartered at.
Note: If you choose a Charter Company offering a turnkey solution, your boat will be delivered with all the necessary extra-equipment already on board and installed. However, there will be no customization possible.
Crewed boat management is more complex (whether owner is involved in the management or not)
- Fact: A crew on board makes a major difference
- It is a fact that in the crewed charter business, the crew (more so than the boat) makes or breaks the cruise. Problem is, the turn over among crews is usually high, at least in that range of boats. And that may create some occasional instability in the management of the boat --very often, a crew will not stay more than a year on the same boat and will look to move up to a larger unit. It is called career management and there is nothing one can do about it.
- The Owner may not be his/her own master
- Unlike on a bareboat, the owner might sometimes find it odd to be on his/her own boat with another skipper who has his/her own idiosyncrasies and certain ways to do things. That might create light conflicts or frustrations, expressed or not. That is why some owners, every so often, choose NOT to take their crews with them when cruising. But when they do that, it creates other problems: The crew has to be lodged somewhere else, fed, etc.
- Necessary financial arrangements
- For the times the owner decides to cruise with the crew on board, there has to be a very clear, mutually understood, financial agreement. If the owner pays the crew's salary directly, there can be an agreed upon bonus to reward an excellent boat maintenance; or for each charter that gets good reviews from the charterers. There also can be a percentage of the bottom line profits of the boat.
Also, if the owner uses the boat a lot, a flat "gratuity" can be added for each cruise taken by the owner with the crew. However, if the owner does not pay the crew's salary directly, like in The Moorings type of contract, only a per-cruise-gratuity has to be considered. Now, this is something the charter companies will not tell openly to a potential yacht buyer, because this adds significantly to the cost of using one's own boat: A satisfactory 1-week cruise typically generates a $1,000/1,500 tip (based on a $10,000 base price cruise). But this is customary in the industry: Gratuities usually contribute to +or- 50% of a crew's total yearly wages.
Crewed boats can bring in more income
Crewed boats earn more money per week than identical or equivalent sized boats, which one can easily understand. But they also can bring more income altogether than a bareboat because they will not necessarily work a lesser number of weeks. For example, a Caribbean based catamaran in the 48ft.-55ft./$12,000-15,000 per week range, can easily work 20 to 25 weeks a year. The financial impact of this point here is significant.
Crewed boats will usually grow old in better shape
- Day-to-Day Maintenance
- One can easily understand that a live-aboard professional crew will attend the day-to-day maintenance with a much better efficiency than a land-based staff would episodically do on a bareboat. In effect, the crew lives on board, and therefore the boat becomes their home. As a result, a good crew will maintain the boat as impeccably as they would maintain their own house. For technical upkeep, a good skipper will attend the repairs as they are needed, every day, or at least as soon as he gets off a charter week. Therefore, with the exception of parts on order, all maintenance items should always be under control. Similarly, all the boat logbooks will be updated on an ongoing basis.
- Boat Safety
- Because of the crew's presence and handling of the boat during charters, the yacht will not be brutalized, damaged, soiled or mishandled by careless or incompetent charterers. A very comforting thought for the owner, as unfortunately, the sailing competence of bareboaters can often be seriously questioned!
A crewed boat can be a learning experience
Interestingly enough, an owner can sometimes learn a lot while cruising with a professional skipper. If you are lucky enough to have on your boat a very experienced captain (some of them have crossed oceans or even circumnavigated) you can benefit a lot from his/her knowledge of seamanship. At the very least, you and your kids will hear great passage and cruising stories!
I belong to that category of sailors with a very humble approach of the elements, and I believe there is always something new to learn about sailing, and/or about the sea and its environment. I was fortunate enough to have an exceptional captain on our family boat for almost 3 years, and although a licensed captain myself, the amount of knowledge I acquired from him was tremendous.
Unless you are a very experienced sailor yourself, you will have a tendency to cruise in the geographic area where your boat is based. A professional skipper will allow you to travel farther and take your boat places you might not have been able to go to alone, and in probably safer and more comfortable conditions. This is another opportunity to learn and experience even more.
And even if you are a seasoned yachtie, it is comforting to cruise far, knowing there is another pair of experienced hands on board.
Slacking off a bit!
Lastly, a full crew is great when, once in a while, you just want to relax and do strictly nothing on board your boat. A few examples: You won't have to wake up 3 or 4 times during the night to check on your anchor, as I do. Or your wife and yourself will not have to do the cooking and the dishes every day. It is not something easy to imagine when you have bareboated all your life, but it is very enjoyable sometimes. And you can get used to it very quickly.