Much has changed in the charter world since Commander Nicholson cast off on his first crewed yacht charter in 1949 and Virgin Islands’ sailors followed suit less than a decade later by chartering their homes for $400 dollars a week for a party of four. Today, yacht chartering continues to evolve and it’s shaped both by current events and yacht charter guests’ wish lists.
1. The Barometer is rising
Charter Bookings have long been the barometer of the yacht charter industry’s health.
Narendra ‘Seth’ Sethia, base manager for Barefoot Yacht Charters & Marine Centre in St. Vincent & The Grenadines, says, “Less affluent folks are still hurting from the recession and this has been reflected over the past couple of years in a reduction in bookings. This past high season was good, but those who charter at this time tend to have higher disposable incomes. Our low season is currently well below what we would have liked.”
Many people are now feeling comfortable enough with the economy to book in advance.
“There are still last minute charters,” says Ellen Stewart, broker/owner of Stewart Yacht Charters, in St. Thomas, USVI, “but people are booking way in advance as well, especially for groups of eight or more. The majority, though, are booked four to six months in advance.”
Steve McCrea, president of Ed Hamilton & Co, based in Edgecomb, Maine, adds, “We’re getting bookings now for one year in advance and inquiries for as far ahead as 2014.”
2. Cheaper charters that cut the pie differently
Charter clients are looking for traditional deals like last-minute discounts, says Kate Amor, the BVI-based marketing manager for Horizon Yacht Charters. “They are also shopping around a lot more and comparing prices.”
Some yachts, adds Ann McHorney, director of Select Yachts N.V., in St. Maarten, “run specials, like kids go free or at half price.”
Others, says Stewart Yacht Charters’ Stewart, “charter for less than a full week. There are more requests for five-night charters or less and many boats offer short term charters without the additional ten percent per night.”
“Another popular option,” says Kelly Kiernan, interim director of the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League, “are half board charters or only seven breakfasts, four lunches and three dinners included. This typically reduced the charter price by $1000.”
What has been doing extremely well for Barefoot Yacht Charters is its ASA Sailing School, says Sethia. “The very reasonable per person rate of $1,399 that is almost inclusive makes it affordable for even single travelers.”
3. Cats are where it’s at
Multihulls, says Stewart Yacht Charters’ Stewart, “are still the number one choice for more than two guests.”
At Christmas and especially in July and August, catamarans are popular due to kids being on vacation, adds Horizon Yacht Charter’s Amor.
A significantly higher percentage of first-time crewed yacht guests choose a multihull, says Barefoot Yacht Charters’ Sethia, “so this trend continues exponentially.”
4. Sometimes one hull is better than two
Rates for a single couple, says Stewart Yacht Charters’ Stewart, “makes the monohulls very competitive.”
Horizon Yacht Charter’s Amor adds, “We have a strong following that would never charter a cat and feel that going on a mono is real sailing.”
5. Power to the people
There are more motoryachts available for charter than ever, says Sarah Sebastian, a broker for Nicholson Yachts in Antigua. “The cost of fuel isn’t holding them back.”
The increased rate of fuel, adds Stewart Yacht Charters’ Stewart, “has led a few yachts to increase their all-inclusive rates.”
Fuel-efficient yachts such as the Moorings Powercats are popular, says Carol Hansen, the Clearwater, Florida-based North American marketing manager. “It’s a growing product for us. We haven’t seen gas prices keeping our customers from chartering.”
6. Service with a smile
The more expensive crewed yachts, says Barefoot Yacht Charters’ Sethia, “are still booking well because of affluent clients.”
The new 58ft Moorings 5800 catamaran will be available for crewed charter in December and bareboat for 2013. Amenities include electric winches and all sail control lines leading to the helm station, and a full suite of navigation electronics.
8. Must haves – just name that tune
Today’s yacht charter guests are seeking greater onboard comforts and upgraded electronics. For example, they always ask about iPod connections, says The Moorings’ Hansen. “We meet this need with air conditioning and generators on most yachts, iPod AUX connections, and even Apple TV on our latest Moorings 5800 catamaran.”
“Requests for bareboats with air conditioning are increasing,” adds Ed Hamilton & Co.’s McCrea, “although this is a challenge on small bareboats and monohulls due to space.”
Cell phone service, Wi-Fi, and satellite TV, says Nicholson’s Sebastian, “are considered standard aboard many yachts.”
9. Play with your toys
The ‘hot’ water toys are stand up paddleboards, says Select Yachts’ McHorney. “We also see interest for our yachts that have kite boarding and once again we’re being asked for windsurfers. On the cats those big beanbag ‘chairs’ are fun for lying around on the trampolines.”
10. Destination: More adventure
Charterers are seeking more adventure with fewer crowds; an ‘unspoiled’ Caribbean experience, says The Moorings’ Hansen.
“We’re receiving charter requests for Belize to the Grenadines to the Spanish Virgin Islands,” adds Nicholson’s Sebastian.
Barefoot Yacht Charter’s Sethia, adds, “Central America appears to be slowly opening up to charters.”
In more mainstream destinations, Horizon Yacht Charters’ Amor says, “There’s a slight increase in guests opting for ‘one way’ charter vacations, i.e. starting off in our St Maarten office and finishing in Antigua, enabling them to see more of what the down islands have to offer.”
St Maarten now has the second largest Caribbean airport so we are doing more charters of all kinds out of here, says Select Yachts’ McHorney. “It is an easy location for charters and provides everything from gorgeous private beaches to international night life and fine dining.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.