Booking your charter cruise


Booking | Documentation | Issues To Look At | Things To Check

After making up your mind about the area, the boat and your vacation dates, you are now ready to book your cruise.

If you have decided to use a charter broker, you have to call him/her and explain your choices and wishes, in details. He/she might suggest some minor changes and then he/she will take care of your booking and get back to you after he/she has contacted the charter company. After that, the process becomes the same as with a direct booking.

The Booking

If you are booking directly with the charter company, call their toll-free number and you will talk to a booking agent. Even if the company you have selected is equipped with online bookings, we recommend you call anyway, since booking a charter cruise is never a clean-cut affair! If everything goes well, the exact booking you want is available. If not, two things may happen: either the exact dates you want are not available, or the boat you want is not available. Therefore, before you call, be prepared to have a little bit of flexibility, as you would for any kind of leisure trip anyway. Now, the larger the charter company, the better chance you have to get exactly what you need, for the simple reason that they have lots of boats in their fleet.

TIP: At this point, you want to inquire about all current promotions. A few examples: Sail 10 days, pay for 7 (summer in Caribbean, May and October in the Med.) Group discounts. Kids discounts. Remember: Charter companies typically give nice discounts during boat shows, if you book right there and then.

Also, you may quote your air travel reservation with the charter company. Most companies, have privileged agreements with airlines and often will get you unpublished rates that may save you significant $$.

Note: If you make your booking within 2 to 3 weeks from departure, expect to pay for the entire charter at the time of the booking.

The Documentation

Once you have agreed on the dates, the base and the boat, the charter company is going to send you a package with all the travel and contractual information. Read everything and especially the fine print. Here are the main documents you will find in this package.

  • Contractual documents, explaining (usually in very small print) the general terms and conditions of the chartering agreement. Read especially the parts that describe your responsibilities, insurance clauses, etc. Anything looks unclear or suspicious? Call the charter company. See below for items you should look at closely.

  • Invoice. Charter companies will keep the charter for your party for a few days and then you are requested to give a deposit, which usually amounts to 25% to 50% of the charter cruise total. That will hold your reservation until 60 days before departure, at which time you will have to pay the balance.
    (Note: Those terms may vary depending on the companies.) We strongly suggest that you pay all your charges with a major credit card, which allows you to back-charge the services billed but not rendered to you. Just in case. Additionally, most credit cards give you travel benefits (life insurance, luggage loss etc.) you may be a subscriber of.

  • Transportation information: If you have booked your tickets with the charter company, you will receive a confirmation for that. Check also the status of your transportation from the airport to the base and back. Most charter companies will arrange your pickup.

  • TIP: We recommend that you arrive one day before your charter starts (unless you are on a crewed yacht). I personally do not like the idea of casting off on an unfamiliar boat in unfamiliar waters after a 10-hour trip. Not a good idea. Plus it gives you time to provision, have a relaxed chart/boat briefing, and do a little sight seeing to boot.

  • Sailing experience questionnaire. This document attempts to determine if you can safely handle the boat you have chartered, with questions like: How many times have you anchored? What kind of sailing have you done: coastal, inland, offshore? Do you own a boat? etc. See detailed article about your Sailing Resume.

  • Food sheets: You may either order your provisions from the charter company or provision yourself. The former is less effort and more money, typically $20/25 per day per person - the latter more effort and complications but less expensive. If you are: a first timer, or going to an area for the first time, or going to a very remote cruising location, our advice is to take the charter company provisioning. No headache here. If you are more experienced and going to an area like the Med or the French Antilles, you know that you will find plenty of stores there for your own shopping.

  • Charter companies offer several kinds of provisioning packages: full, all-meals provisioning, or minimal basic and everything in between including complete "à la carte" provisioning. Whatever you choose, make sure that your entire party gets involved in this process.

Issues to Look At Closely

  • Cancellation policy. Charter companies' policies differ. If you have to cancel over 90 days before departure, you will get your money back, usually less a minor cancellation fee. Anywhere between 60 and 90 days before departure date, you will probably lose whatever deposit you paid. If you cancel within 60 days, you definitely lose your money. However, charter companies offer cancellation insurance coverage. You should check carefully what is not covered, as most insurance companies will not reimburse you simply because you changed your mind.

  • Insurance. This is definitely a part you need to read carefully, and understand exactly what you are potentially liable for. Typically, charter companies will provide an insurance policy that is included in your charter price. However, check in the contract if you are liable for the deductible if any damage is done to the boat. Also, you want to fully understand what is not covered. Example: what happens if you damage the boat and are deemed to have been extremely negligent? Or if you have sailed in an area that was clearly designed as off-limits at the chart briefing and on the charts provided to you? In any case, you are expected to follow the rules of good seamanship, remember?
    : If you intend to do a regatta during the charter, you have to inform the charter company and you will be subject to a premium for extra-insurance.

  • Some companies offer medical insurance. Check it out especially if your current medical coverage plan does not include foreign occurrences.

  • What happens if the boat is having problems with no fault to you? Some companies guarantee you will be assisted within 4 hours. If not, how are you compensated for lost charter time? Have something in writing, if the contract is not clear.

  • Security deposit. Most charter companies require you to give a security deposit for potential damage to the boat and/or the equipment, like the kayak, handheld GPS, dinghy and outboard engine, cruising chute, etc. Usually, the security deposit is given at the base either in cash (we do not recommend that) or with a credit card imprint of anywhere between $500 to $1,500. Make sure to note what the maximum amount is, and how / when it is refunded to you.

  • What happens if your boat is not available when you arrive at the base, for whatever reason? Don't be mistaken: those things happen even to reputable companies. This situation should be clearly spelled out in the contract. Large companies, because they have lots of boats, should be able to provide you with a replacement boat immediately, even if it is a larger one, at no extra-cost to you. If it is a small company, even a reputable one, they might simply not have any other boat. In that case, the contract should clearly say: a) that all monies you expended will be refunded immediately if the charter company is unable to provide another boat; b) which solution is provided. Ideally, a good charter company will charter a boat at its own expense from another company to accomodate you. c) how much is refunded if you (likely case) lose one or more charter day. By the way, that is where your travel insurance comes in handy, in case you have to go home early or change your airline tickets.

Avoid surprises: check what is included in your charter price

  • Transfers to/from the base
  • Dinghy and outboard engine
  • Boat fuel / dinghy gasoline
  • Who pays if you have to fill you water tanks during the cruise?
  • Snorkeling gear (how many sets)
  • Wind scoops
  • Beach "toys": Kayak, windsurf, etc.
  • Yacht cleaning at the end of the charter
  • Sales Taxes, for ex. VAT in Europe. Other local taxes
  • Beach towels
  • Cruising permits, Marine Park fees
  • Moorings, marina fees
  • Airport taxes
  • Basic starter kit: paper ware, dish soap, toilet paper, garbage bags, etc...
  • Bags of ice (how many)
  • Emergency service, chase boat in case of a problem.