Main Boat Charter Tips

Throughout this site, you will have see the sign TIP quite a few times. All these tips are here, in one article!

Booking your charter / Saving Money

  • Use large charter companies’ in-house travel desks. They offer non-published discounted rates on some airlines.
  • Charter companies always offer special discounts during boat trade shows (Annapolis, Miami, Newport, Chicago, Oakland)
  • Book your charters at either outer edge of high seasons. If the high season ends on April 20, start your charter right after. You will enjoy better discounts and service, and less crowd.
  • Ask specific questions to charter companies about all extras: cruising/fishing licenses, marine park fees, local taxes, fuel and water cost, ice, staple items.
  • Fly mid-week; it is usually cheaper, especially to the Caribbean. Two additional benefits: a) You escape the dreadful week-end connection in Puerto Rico, with hordes of cruise ship passengers; b) You escape the busy weekend charter starts at your charter base.
  • Arrive 1 day before your charter starts. It is not a good idea to cast off on an unfamiliar boat in unfamiliar waters after a 10-hour trip. Plus it gives you time to provision and have a relaxed chart/boat briefing.
  • Take advantage of the 'sleep aboard' a.k.a. '5PM early start', at 50% of the daily rate. For a party with 3 or 4 couples, it is much cheaper than paying for 3 or 4 hotel rooms. Besides, including all the pre-charter chores, you are on your way at 10:30AM at the latest. So by paying for only an extra half-day for the sleep aboard, you gain an entire sailing day.
  • Charter companies offer provisioning, which, for a 6 pax/7 day charter, will exceed $1,100 plus beverages. That’s some serious grocery-shopping money. Instead, shop at the local market or, yes, bring your own food. Use a large duffel bag or a large cooler that you check at the airline counter. Shop at your favorite discount store and freeze everything before leaving. Upon arrival, everything is still frozen. We never had a problem.

Living aboard

  • When packing, put all your stuff on your bed. Then take half of the clothes, and put them back in the closet. Trust us, it works.
  • A charter is not like any other trip with friends: a boat is an enclosed environment with no possible escape. So choose your crew very carefully. No whiners or short fused people. Choose a crew you know for certain you are compatible with. Your crew will have to be able to take unexpected circumstances with good humor and grace.
  • Prepare. Work your itinerary, put the navigation together and choose nice restaurants along the way. Do this properly, possibly with your crew. It is an opportunity to start the fun early and assess how your crew will behave (see above).
  • Share the chores between crewmembers. If you don’t want to hear this:"Why in hell am I doing the dishes all the time while Lori, Ms. Perfect Tan over there, does nothing all day?" Set up an informal schedule of chores (you don't need to go overboard with this, keep it fun, remember?).
  • Assign an undisputed skipper who will have the last word in problematic situations. A boat with two skippers is a no-no.
  • Save water: Rinse off the dishes in a bucket in the ocean over the boat transom, then use dish soap and quickly rinse with fresh water. If there is a salt-water pump in the galley, use it whenever fresh water is not necessary.
  • The sound of the boom rocking and squeaking at anchor drives you crazy? Give some slack to main sheet. Tie a line from one of the loops at the end of the boom to one of the handrails on either side of the roof. Take the slack off the line and off the main sheet. Your boom does not move any more and is out of the way over the companionway.

Seamanship & Navigation

  • Understand/know – at the very least:
    • Seacocks location and operation
    • Bilge pumps procedures
    • Location of flares, fire extinguishers and life jackets
    • Windlass: electric, reset switch and manual procedures in case of power failure
    • Reefing procedures
    • Location of the emergency tiller
    • Location of the First Aid kit (should be fully stocked)
  • Start the dinghy outboard and check that it spits water. You can make do with many flaws in a dinghy, but not with a faulty engine.
  • For your 1st charter day, plan a short, easy sail. Do not schedule a long segment on your first day. Take time time to unwind and get adjusted.
  • Learn how to heave to:
    In heave to position, a sailboat slows down considerably and keeps moving forward at about 1 to 2 kts. The pounding felt in strong seas almost disappears and the boat does not heel as much. It's like "parking" the boat at idle speed.
  • Especially in the Caribbean, be very careful about sunset times. The sun sets very quickly over there and you do not want to be caught sailing in the dark. a) Charter companies strictly forbid it. b) You will be really scared if you are not used to it.
  • To avoid writing on charts and damaging them, use small strips of yellow "Stickies" to mark positions and make notes on the chart under sail.
  • Going into a tricky segment of your trip involving reefs or shallow areas, do it around midday, when the sun is directly above you.
  • Always put safety first. When you do, you are not a party-pooper, you are a prudent mariner.