Find a charter agent you trust and tell them your vacation dreams—they’ll do the rest.
The best times you’ve had with family and friends have been on the water, on your own boat. Why not sample some of the other waters around the world—the warm, clear Caribbean and the sophisticated Mediterranean leap to mind—and book a charter for your next group vacation? Even if you’ve never considered one before, now is a good time to look into it. Here’s why: Charter yacht owners are eager to negotiate deals with responsible clients to get their boats booked. While those looking for deep discounts often will be rejected, potential clients who ask for a reasonable rate adjustment—think on the order of an extra day for free—may be delightfully surprised.
And the delights need not stop there. Surprising your children with carefully laid vacation plans aboard a yacht should be one of those moments to record on video for later viewing at the Parent of the Year Awards. And you haven’t even set foot on the boat yet, where memories will be made and proclamations of The Best Vacation Ever will be heard. The trick is to consider the needs of everyone coming along, and then communicate them to a broker you trust.
Charter brokers are the key to the whole program. Find a good one and he or she won’t steer you wrong. Most people find a charter broker by getting advice from people they trust—if you know someone who has chartered a yacht, get their take on their experience and ask for their suggestions. You’ll know you have the right broker when he or she starts asking questions like these. “I have to find out where they want to go, when they want to go, what is their budget, how many passengers they have, if are there any small children,” says Ann Landry, a charter broker with Northrop and Johnson. “What are they looking for? The glitz and glitter tour in the Mediterranean or are they looking for a dynamic watersports charter in the Bahamas?”
Charter brokers have a wealth of knowledge, and it’s their business to match you with the right experience. Use them to your advantage. “As charter brokers we spend a lot of time researching the different yachts,” says Debra Blackburn, a charter broker with Fraser Yachts. “We visit the yachts, we travel with them, we spend time with the crew, we inspect the yachts on a regular basis, both in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and then other areas throughout the world where yachts may be going. When a client comes to us, we have firsthand current knowledge of what will be the best yacht for them.”
Be straight with a charter broker in terms of your expectations. If you plan on having a certain number of people along for the ride, that number ceases to be a variable and becomes a criterion for the charter—so if it could change, you need to tell the broker. “Don’t say you’re coming with eight people and show up with 12 when your boat only sleeps eight people,” warns Barbara Stork, a charter broker with the International Yacht Collection. “Unless it’s a true commercially registered boat—and there aren’t many that do luxury yacht charters—you can only take the maximum that you can sleep. But you can’t charter a boat and just show up with extra people, because it’s not legal and the crew can’t do it.”
If you’re planning your charter around school vacations or other firm dates, you need to explain that too. But if your schedule is flexible, share that information—it may open up boats that would be eliminated by a fixed timetable. Just as when you’re cruising on your own boat, flexibility is a huge benefit if problems should arise, such as inclement weather.
Another area where you should be upfront is your budget. Good brokers will explain what the real costs will be. “Typically on a motoryacht you will have a charter rate and your operating expenses,” says Sue Flammia, an independent charter broker with A Yachting Holiday. “You pay those expenses in addition to the charter rate. Your food, beverage, fuel, dockage, any cruising taxes, and any other operating costs are additional expense to a charter.” Brokers generally calculate an advanced provisioning allowance, called an APA, at 30 percent of the charter rate. It’s an estimate of expenses, but charters sometimes cost more, for which you will be billed. For example, fast boats use a lot more fuel. Or, if you want to stay at the dock more than be at anchor, you’re going to have more dockage costs. And if you have really expensive taste and enjoy fine wines, champagne, and caviar, food and beverages will be more expensive.
And then there’s the tip for the crew. “While the gratuity is at the charterers’ discretion, we quote a range of 10 to 20 percent,” Flammia says. “Crew now have gotten used to 15 to 20 percent. They feel if they get anything less than that, they haven’t done their job right. Crew work incredibly hard, keeping the boat maintained and clean and putting the toys in the water for the guests, and they try to make sure guests are having a wonderful time, as well as being safe.” Those yacht crews are the last, best reason to communicate openly and honestly with your charter broker. If your broker gets to know you and what is important to you, he or she can match your personality to the crew’s—a benefit whose value will prove immeasurable.
“The crew come into play a lot,” Stork says, “because once you find a boat for the guests, it’s the crew that has them onboard. They come up with suggestions because they know the area they cruise.” The crew will know the best ways to entertain the guests, and the best alternatives when conditions don’t cooperate.
Begin thinking now about your next yacht charter, and book early for the widest selection of boats with open calendars. After all, it’s never too soon to start planning The Best Vacation Ever.
International Yacht Collection
Northrop And Johnson
A Yachting Holiday
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.