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UK Sailing, Sail Cruising
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Charter Flotilla Handbook
Charter Flotilla Handbook
Paperback 128pp
Frank Wilson
Fernhurst Books
RYA Book of Mediterranean Cruising
Yacht Charter Handbook
Paperback 160pp
Rod Heikell
Adlard Coles Nautical
Bareboat Yacht Charter - An Introduction

You can charter a yacht if you can satisfy the charter management company that you are competent to do so, although some companies also offer you the option of hiring a professional skipper. Most however are offering yachts for charter on a basis known as “bareboat”. That is to say, you or one of your party is the skipper, and that is how that word is used here. The companies will usually expect evidence that the skipper has previous charter experience or is a boat owner. Operating a yacht generally needs at least a skipper and one competent crewmember. Bigger yachts (over 40 feet) are best with a skipper and two experienced crewmembers.

The amount of experience required is also likely to vary according to the value of the yacht to be chartered, and the difficulty of local conditions. In the UK many companies will expect an RYA practical course completion certificate at Day Skipper or Coastal Skipper level as a minimum requirement, although experienced skippers without formal certificates may well be acceptable. In most European countries the skipper will need an ICC (International Certificate of Competence) before you can charter. (See the training page for more information on certificates).

Another possibility is flotilla sailing. You skipper a yacht in a fleet of boats daysailing between pre-planned ports and anchorages, shepherded by a 'lead boat' crewed by charter company representatives. This can be a great introduction to chartering, especially for the less-experienced. Most of the larger Mediterranean charter companies offer flotillas, but it is rarer in UK waters.

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Bareboat Charter - Information, Hints and Tips

Choosing a Company
Charter companies vary from giants like Sunsail, with bases worldwide and huge fleets at every base, to single-boat operations run by one man. For charter abroad it is probably better to go with one of the large companies or on a personal recommendation from a friend. In the UK, a smaller company may offer better, more personal service, more flexibility in dates and cheaper prices. The large operators may, however, have newer boats and a more reliable back-up service should anything go wrong. From a personal point of view, we have received excellent service from the small (currently four boats) company we usually charter with in the UK and the boats have always been in good, seaworthy condition. (Although this is not to say that nothing has ever gone wrong - but this can happen with the newest yachts).

Some Questions to Ask

Do I have enough experience? Where can I go?
Or, to put it in a nutshell, will the company charter the boat to me? If you have limited experience, or this is your first charter, this may be the deciding factor. The type of yacht and nature of the cruising grounds will also influence the charterer's decision. Some companies may limit your cruising area if you lack experience. Friends of ours started their chartering career many years ago and quickly got the bit between their teeth. Anchored in the Outer Hebrides and idly reading the charter agreement, the skipper discovered that they were over 100 miles outside their permitted charter area. Luckily no one spotted them and the boat was returned without incident . . . but we recommend that you are quite clear as to the limits of your charter area. If you lack experience and/or confidence, consider a flotilla for your first charter.

How big a boat do we need?
If you are party animals and have lots of friends, a 40ft eight or ten berth boat can be very affordable and will provide exhilarating sailing. If, however, you would like to get away for a romantic cruise with your significant other, then you will be looking at a much smaller yacht if you want to keep the price down. Small may mean fewer extras, but not less seaworthy - 25ft yachts have crossed the Atlantic and sailed round the world.

What facilities do we need?
Can you live without hot water? Cabin heating? Is a furling headsail essential, do you care if there is a spinnaker on board or not? Do you need an outboard for the tender, or are you prepared to row? Again, smaller companies with older boats may offer cheaper deals for those prepared to 'rough it' a bit. You should never compromise on essential equipment, however, and if the company does it may be breaking the law. (See below).

Safety Equipment and Coding
All yachts for charter in UK waters should be coded according to DTI regulations. These govern minimum safety provisions such as position and accessibility of seacocks, gas system, non-flammable upholstery, provision of liferaft, fire extinguishers and much more. Any reputable charterer will only operate coded boats. Each yacht is coded for a certain number of people, and should not be chartered to a larger group. The code also specifies usage. Category 2, for example, is up to 60 miles from a safe haven, while category 3 only permits operation up to 20 miles from a safe haven. If in doubt about the coding of your yacht, ask the charterer. If you want to read the code of practice for yourself, or look a section of it up, CLICK HERE

Deposit, Insurance, Accidental Damage, Breakdown etc.
You will usually be asked to put down a refundable deposit; make sure you understand what this covers. The boat should be insured for any accidental damage or total loss - you are advised to check the extent of the insurance cover before chartering - but the deposit may be covering an excess payable on any claim and will usually be retained if you damage the boat through your own negligence or if items from the inventory are missing. The deposit or part of it may also be retained to cover fuel used and not replaced, or to cover cleaning of the boat which was not satisfactorily carried out by the charterer before leaving the boat. You may also lose your deposit or be subject to other financial penalties if you fail to return the boat on time for any reason other than mechanical failure or to ensure the safety of the vessel (eg reluctance to endure a long beat to windward in bad weather). You might also want to check how long it will take for your deposit to be returned. Some companies will only take a signed credit card authorisation which will not be used if not required, others have been known to take a cheque and actually deposit it in their company bank account.

It is always worth asking your charterer what will happen in the event of mechanical failure in terms of rapidness of response, refund policy etc. Unless your name is Victor Meldrew there is no point in assuming that everything that can go wrong will - but a little reassurance from your charterer at the beginning can go a long way if things start to assume a pearlike disposition on some remote island.

The Handover
A charter yacht handover will usually take about an hour. You should be as familiar with the vessel as possible before putting to sea. As a minimum you and at least one other member of the crew should be shown:

  • The location and safe operation of all the safety equipment including liferaft location and deployment, fire extinguisher location and operation, lifejackets and safety harnesses, location of first aid kit(s), boltcroppers and emergency tiller
  • The safe operation of the cooking and heating systems
  • Correct operation of the heads
  • The location of all seacocks and emergency bungs
  • Engine operation and regular checks
  • Operation of the VHF system including mayday instructions. Location of backup VHS (if there is one)
  • The location and operation of all the instruments, including the GPS
  • The location of all charts and pilot books
  • The location and operation of all the halliards, winches, reefing lines and other sail controls
  • The anchoring system(s)
  • Any other systems peculiar to that vessel or not covered above
Don't be afraid to ask questions if there is anything you are not sure of or want to know more about. The charter company would prefer you to feel 100% confident before you take their boat out. You may, for example, want to ask about sail plan for various windspeeds and directions on that particular boat. If you are not familiar with the cruising ground, the charterer will probably have local knowledge about some of your intended destinations and will usually be delighted to share this with you.

A Few Handy Things to Take

  • Wet weather jacket and trousers - always. Some companies will hire these to you if you don't have your own, but don't assume there will be any on board. Decent waterproofs are essential all year round in UK waters.
  • Wellies - yachting wellies have tight tops to stop water getting in if you go overboard, and deck-gripping non-marking soles. Wellies come pretty near the top of a 'must get' list for people contemplating cruising in the UK.
  • Deck shoes or non-slip, non-marking trainers.
  • Handheld GPS if you have one. Virtually all charter yachts will have a fixed GPS, but a backup is handy if the electrics go down and can be used in the cockpit if there is no repeater. Spare batteries.
  • Your own looseleaf log sheets or logbook so you have a record of your cruise. We use sheets photocopied from the Seafile, and prefer to keep a log on these and transfer it to the ships' log and our personal logbooks at the end of the voyage.
  • Mobile phone - indispensible for a quick chat with the charter company if there is something you don't understand, or a slight problem. You can also use it to reserve a table at your favourite restaurant, enquire about berth availability at a busy marina or even - if you must - keep in touch with the folks back home. Keep it somewhere secure - nearly every yachtsman I have met has lost a mobile overboard from a shirt pocket.
  • Don't underestimate the sun, even in the UK - take plenty of high-factor sun cream. A floppy hat is highly recommended, especially if you are balding. A woolly hat for colder days is also good.
  • A waterproof bag for taking stuff ashore in the dinghy can be useful.
  • Kitchen roll - indispensable for all sorts of mopping up operations.
  • Newspaper - we usually buy one when we go ashore not so much to read as to use for drying the cabin sole after a wet passage to windward. Sunday papers are best for this.
  • A roll of electrical tape. (There should be one on board, but you might not find it). Useful for all sorts of things including wrapping round noisy halliards when all else has failed.
  • A few clothes pegs and a tea towel. (There is usually one on board, but you never know).

Enjoy Yourself
If you have any other useful information you think should be on this page, or any charter anecdotes to pass on, please e-mail us and we will consider it for inclusion (with acknowledgement or anonymously, whichever you prefer). Our final advice is to get out there and do it - bareboat charter is 90% of the fun without the ongoing responsibility and financial headache of boat ownership. It is generally reckoned that it is cheaper to charter up to six weeks of the year than own your own boat!