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How to Charter a Luxury Yacht

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You’ve seen the gleaming megayachts along the canals and docks in Fort Lauderdale. The champagne is chilled and the Jacuzzi is bubbling as they cast off for posh ports of call, complete with every water toy imaginable and a gourmet menu.

If you’ve dreamed of cruising in one of these luxury vessels of the rich and famous, that dream can come true – for a price.

Chartering is the vacation of a lifetime and pure pleasure for guests, but they require forethought and preparation, not just mega bucks.  Here’s a quick run on “How to Charter a Luxury Yacht.”

How much does a Yacht Charter Cost?

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Base charter fees run upwards of $35,000 per week on a 60-foot yacht and over $200,000 for newer, larger yachts.

Chartering abroad or in U.S. waters requires the most up-to-date information regarding local laws and procedures. A charter broker can help navigate the legal nuances of your contract and negotiate the right price for your crewed charter yacht.

In addition to the charter fee, the charterer must pay for food and beverages and fuel costs for the vessel, its tenders, shore excursions and all water sports equipment. The client or charterer must also pay any harbor, pilot and diver’s fees; customs formalities; water, electricity; personal laundry; and all communications costs. Running fees are typically an additional 30 to 35 percent of the base cost of the charter.

A value added tax (VAT) is required in the Med and varies per country. Commercially registered yachts can usually have their charter company claim back the VAT, and are thereby exempt. A privately owned pleasure vessel is subject to VAT. A 4 percent sales tax on the charter fee applies in the Bahamas and sales tax is charged throughout most of the United States according to local and state rates.

Crew gratuities are dependent upon your level of satisfaction, but analogous to a restaurant, at 10 to 20 percent of the base charter fee. The tip is subject to your discretion and customized to the location, as well.

What are some hot charter yacht Destinations?

Many yachts are in the Caribbean during wintertime and the Leeward Islands are wonderful, as are St. Maarten or St Bart’s.

“The British Virgin Islands are great for families and are well protected from rough waters,” says Clancy Weller MacDonald, a charter manager with Camper & Nicholsons. “Many yachts are in the Bahamas and New England during the summer, and this is a great season for the Med.   Croatia is very popular, as are Italy and the south of France.”

Camper & Nicholsons represents Caribbean-based Symphony II, a 112-foot Westport, at $54,500 per week base charter rate. This yacht won the second place in the annual chef’s competition at the Antigua Yacht Charter Show. Sea Dreams, a 132-foot Northcoast, charters the Bahamas starting at $90,000 per week with One More Toy, a 155-foot Christensen, charging $150,000 per week in the Caribbean.

RJC Yacht Sales and Charters offers Serenity, a 116-foot Lazzara with a flexible five-stateroom configuration and a plethora of water toys, for Florida and Bahamas charters. It runs $53,000 per week with eight guests or $58,000 per week for 10 guests.

“Compared to a cruise ship, these megayachts offer a much higher standard of service, catered to exactly what you want,” says MacDonald.

Charterers plan their own itinerary with their captain, and it is much more private that renting a villa and much more high-end than any resort. If you want to be served buffalo mozzarella, truffles, lobster and champagne in the middle of nowhere, it’s yours to be had on a charter yacht.

While the price tag may seem steep, you can make an offer and negotiate with the assistance of your broker.

Should I use a Yacht Charter Broker?

Using a charter broker is free, and it is definitely worthwhile to work with a reputable, industry professional who knows the ins and outs of charter contract language and flag state regulations. Your broker also has the expertise to find the best boats.

Nicole Caulfield, a charter agent with RJC Yachts and Charters, personally inspects the boats at the yachts shows in Antigua, Genoa, Newport, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. She also interviews the crews in order to better match charter clients to the right crews and boats.

Reputable charter companies can be found through professional associations like the Florida Yacht Brokers Association and American Yacht Charter Association. You can find charter brokers through yachting magazines and online, as well.

“Get a good rapport with a broker with a solid reputation – one who has been in business for a while and who has an escrow account, especially if you found them on the Internet,” Caulfield advises.

Your broker can also help decipher the ABCs of charter agreements and contracts including common documents such as the FYBA (Florida Yacht Brokers Association agreement), 80/20, MYBA (Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Agreement) and AYCA (American Yacht Brokers Association agreement). Your contract should have everything spelled out that you are paying for: operating costs, delays, breakdowns and insurance.

“You should know your rights as a client,” says MacDonald. “The broker will help you understand your contract and how to protect yourself from a legal standpoint.”

Charter Parties (No not that kind of “party”)

A charter party is the maritime term for a written charter agreement. Charter parties recognized by international maritime law are demise or bareboat charters, time charters, and voyage charters.

Demise charters are common in the U.S., especially Florida,” says Danielle Butler, a maritime attorney with Hill, Betts and Nash, LLP. “The charterer assumes legal responsibility for the vessel, hires the crew, and pays for all operating expenses.”

What is a “Demise charter?”

The charterer takes full control of the vessel, its operation and navigation in a demise charter, just short of an outright transfer of ownership. The charterer must maintain the vessel and return in the same condition as received, so it’s a good idea to survey the vessel before and after the charter.

Liability for contracts and torts of the captain, crew and vessel fall upon the charterer and the vessel as a legal entity. Maritime liens attach to the yacht like a barnacle and the owner’s equity in the vessel remains at risk even though the contract relieves the owner of liability.

What is a “TIME charter?”

A time charter is the opposite of a demise charter. The charterer merely rents space on the vessel. The charterer creates the itinerary while the owner retains control, management and navigation of vessel. The owner is legally on the hook for any liability and negligence of the crew.

A voyage charter is just a trip between specific ports of call where the charterer rents space for a length of time. The owner retains control over management and navigation and is legally responsible and liable for the yacht and crew.

Once you’ve determined the ideal boat for you and walked through all of the options and paperwork with your broker, pop that cork – and get ready to cruise.


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