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What to Take on a Charter Boat

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What to take on a Charter Boat

The charter destination is chosen, your boat is booked and now it’s time to pack for that long awaited Caribbean charter. It’s easy enough to throw a few swimsuits into a bag along with a hat, flip-flops and a couple of good reads but what will you bring for dinners ashore, the captain’s birthday or that long-awaited sundowner celebration?

You’ll want to have it all with you, including those tiny drink umbrellas. But hauling too much stuff, hoping it makes the plane, clearing it through customs and finding a place to stow it all adds an extra element of stress. On the other had, if you run out of underwear midweek or are forced to wear the same pair of blister-producing sandals every time you go ashore, you’ll be wishing you’d brought some spares.

To learn about that perfect balance between packing too little and too much, I went in search of the experts who were anchored all around me in the BVI. Most charter guests I spoke with were veterans on their annual cruise, full of advice, opinions and some entertaining ideas.

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A boatload of enthusiastic Canadian men topped their “must-have” list with a spotlight they use for locating mooring balls when they come in after dark and, handily, it doubles as illumination for the barbeque chef. These guys also carry playing cards, games, their favorite munchies and, since it was the holiday season when I met them, they had Frosty the giant blow-up Snowman onboard. I didn’t ask why.

Another crew wisely brings their own handheld GPS, a trick they learned one year when the unit on their bareboat broke. Some folks carry walkie-talkies to choreograph shore-side forays with the mother ship. One group swore they’d never again leave home without their own handheld VHF because the one on their boat didn’t have a weather channel.

Other boat gear some sailors haul down from the frozen north includes sailing gloves, boat shoes, foul weather gear, personalized binoculars and a myriad of specialty flashlights. Expert divers bring their favorite masks and snorkels (but for the once-in-a-blue-moon snorkeler, good-enough gear is usually supplied by the charterer.)

Some answers to my question, “What’s the best thing you brought along” were odd, but apparently true. Laurie Martin from Austin, Texas answered emphatically, “Oh, I know the answer to this: tweezers!” One of her crewmates thought it was the electric mosquito repellent gizmo, although they had yet to give it a try. The quietest member of their team looked lovingly at his fiance and replied, “The best thing? I packed Stephanie.”

Colby McVey, enjoying a respite from chilly Chicago, reported that his IPOD connector auxiliary jack was an essential piece of gear for his crew. “We made a huge play list at home on the IPOD and, with the jack, we’ve played it during the whole cruise.”

One mechanically-minded group from Huntsville, Alabama praised a package of plastic wire ties they brought and used profusely. They also thought that bringing a butane lighter was a brilliant idea but beyond that, they’d kept it pretty simple, explaining, “We’re boaters so we know you don’t need much.”

Next to them, a boatload of Seattle’s best bypassed gizmos and instead topped their don’t-leave-home-without-it list with Starbucks coffee. Some charter guests packed bags with nothing but food items, from candy and dried fruit to frozen cuts of beef.

My follow up question of “What should you have left at home?” heard mostly answers about too many cold weather clothes, but Chicagoan, Rory McVey gave the surprising answer, “Underwear! I just switch bathing suits everyday.”

Word has spread that it’s a good idea to bring along a flag or two to make it easy to find your boat in a crowded anchorage. Some groups take it a step further by flying long banners or signal flags spelling out secret messages. Texans, of course, fly the largest state flag a suitcase can hold.

The trickiest packing happens near a holiday when folding or blowup trees come in handy along with Santa hats and abbreviated suits. On New Year’s Eve, one fun-loving family sported head-to-toe pirate outfits that included swashbuckling, battery-powered swords, stuffed parrots, lace up boots and eye patches for all. Judging from the attention they garnered, it was worth the extra baggage.

Pack Light, Pack Tight, Pack Right

Before you begin to throw things in your sea bags, weigh need against want, simplicity versus extravagance, and find your perfect balance. Some airlines now charge extra for checked luggage and inter-island planes are usually small.

One carry on bag can easily sail you through a cruise. If you run out of T-shirts, sunscreen and snacks, or if you blow out a flip-flop, they’re all readily available throughout the islands.

Soft-side duffel bags that can be flattened and stowed will net more storage space on the boat. Furl your clothes well; the wrinkles will blow away with the wind. Forego space hogs like straw hats, fancy shoes and hairdryers. Island dress is casual and this is a cruise, not a cotillion.

Decide what’s important for a successful trip. Contact your charter company to get their complete list of provided onboard gear and options, and then – start packing.

Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end.

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 


Comments and Questions are always appreciated!  We’ll be looking for new ideas to bring to you!


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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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