Five Tips for a Safer Charter Vacation
Bareboat charters evolve from hours of enjoyable, careful planning and preparation. You pick a boat, a place and time, add in friends and food, and sail off on a dream come true. Each year, tens of thousands of satisfied customers find chartering as good as the glossy ads that lured them into it. Many find it even better.
To make certain that the long-awaited adventure doesn’t become your worst nightmare, add safety to your list of preparations. First, be honest when you fill out your experience resume forms and stick with a size boat you are capable of handling comfortably. Second, after arriving at your charter base, remember that boats, like snowflakes, might look the same—but the minute intricacies of an unfamiliar yacht just might trip you up. Make sure that your fellow-sailors get to know the new-to-you boat, even those who’ve spent years afloat.
Third, all charter companies run clients through a thorough briefing on the equipment and operation of the boat. Make sure everyone on board pays close attention and takes it seriously. Fourth, don’t drink and drive; plan to take turns with your fellow-charterers as assigned captain and dinghy driver for the day. Bright sun and strong rum can make it especially difficult to read the water correctly and, for those new to the tropics, noticing the changing colors of shallows and reefs can be crucial.
Fifth, prepare your options mentally—think about and share with the crew various practices to follow daily and in the event of sudden emergencies. Weather often changes dramatically, for example, even in the balmy Caribbean.
One of the almost-worst-case-scenarios occurred last year when three men were on their way back to a charter base at the end of an uneventful seven-day cruise aboard a chartered 39 foot monohull in the British Virgin Islands. The weather that morning in the Sir Francis Drake Channel was Caribbean casual … until a black squall blew in, busting loose with stronger than normal wind. A wicked blast hit the boat, causing it to heel and, since the sailors had failed to close all the hatches, to quickly fill with water. Quickly. One can only imagine what was going through their minds.
They had just enough time to put out a VHF Mayday call before climbing into the dinghy. A passing boat picked them up and fortunately, no one was injured. The boat, however, went down … with their passports, money and possessions. The BVI Red Cross and BVI Tourism Department assisted the three men. To add insult to injury, the boat sank in the deepest part of the Channel making it initially impossible to retrieve. (See sidebar)
Personal injuries can put a damper on a vacation. One poor charter guest woke up a full anchorage with horrific screams when he confused the up and down buttons on the windlass switch and fouled one of his fingers in the chain. It was a tragic mistake that could have been avoided with an ounce of prevention and a quarter pound of practice.
Less painful but still frustrating, and potentially dangerous, are common mistakes like allowing the dinghy painter to foul the propeller. It’s an obvious error to avoid yet it happens often to folks on an unfamiliar boat. Simply by double-checking for stray lines before engaging the engine, this headache-inducing problem won’t be yours.
Gaining familiarity with your environment and your charter vessel and practicing with its systems can assure a safe voyage. To insure that the stories you take home from your charter will be nothing but great, add safety to your checklist, pack along some common sense and use it profusely.
Before you leave the dock, your charter company’s representative will brief you on board the boat. Watch your guide demonstrating all the systems being tested and try them yourself in his or her presence. Get your hands on the engine key and controls, the depth sounder, GPS, VHF, windlass controls, bilge pumps, roller furlers, and anything else that moves or wiggles. Use the radio. Make sure each person on board sees the location of PFDs. Ask every question imaginable and don’t forget the stupid ones, just in case. To give you an added comfort level, some companies offer the option of a temporary captain for an afternoon or day of drill before assuming full responsibility yourself.
The charter boat that returned from Davy Jones’ locker
After sinking in 170 feet of water due in June 2008, a sailboat was deemed abandoned by the charter company last year after a first salvage crew reported that it could not be brought up safely. It lay on the bottom, sails up, for months until another company tried a different approach. Christopher Juredin and his Commercial Dive Services team in the BVI made dozens of dives, re-rigged it and dragged it to shallower water where it was cleaned of all growth and shellfish. Several more days of technical diving brought it to the surface and it was towed to a dock. Miraculously, mechanics got the engine running in less than six hours. Juredin credits his team and says, “I thank Albion Hodge of Tortola for his help using his SABRE Catamaran Makana.” The former charter boat will sail again—but the slightly happy ending didn’t comfort the guys who failed to adjust their sails and close the hatches at the first sign of bad weather.
How to Charter a Boat!
Congratulations! You’re on your way to one of the BEST adventures you will ever have in your life!
We’ve taken some time and spoken to many experts to bring you a collection of Tips and Tricks on “How to Charter a Boat.” We’ve spoken to Bareboat Charter Experts as well as the Crewed Charter Companies.
The focus for this series is on “Boats” which we would categorize as anything UNDER 80′ or roughly 25 meters. When you are chartering a Yacht (Over 80 feet or > 25 Meters) the game changes.
These tips and tricks apply no matter where in the world you intend to Charter. It doesn’t matter if you are interested in the Caribbean or Washington, North Carolina. Hey – let’s face it… It’s “five o’clock somewhere.” (Thanks Jimmy Buffett)
Now… I have to warn you… Once you start chartering, it’s hard to stop! There’s just too many wonderful memories and too many amazing places to visit.
Of course, we’d love to hear from some of your adventures. Please share your story with All At Sea! Send us your Images and send us the story of YOUR charter adventure. Please help others learn how to charter a boat.
How to Charter a Boat – TIPS and TRICKS
- What to Charter? Power OR Sail? Monohull OR Catamaran?
- Chartering WithOUT Blowing the Budget
- Where to Charter a Boat to St. Somewhere
- What to Take on a Charter Boat
- Set Your Expectations to “Go With the Flow”
- FIVE Tips for a SAFER Charter Vacation
- Here’s a Handy List of Bareboat Charter Companies
- Here’s a Handy List of CREWED Charter Companies
- Here’s a Handy List of Fishing Charter Companies
- Even a Handy List of Day Boat Charter Companies (if you want to try it out…)
Comments and Questions are always appreciated! We’ll be looking for new ideas to bring to you!