What to Know Before You Go: Bareboat Chartering in the Caribbean

Tobago Cays from Cat Sagittarius

\There’s nothing like taking the helm of a boat, even if it’s not your own and it’s only chartered for a week. Bareboat charters, those yachting vacations where guests are in total control of the vessel including skippering and cheffing, are a must-do for many. In fact, bareboat chartering reported five straight years of growth from 2009-2014, according to the Sailing Market 2016, State of the Industry report by Bonnier Corporation, in Winter Park, FL, publishers of Sailing World and Cruising World magazines. What’s more, this same study showed that the Caribbean continues to be the favorite destination for North American sailors, representing 74 percent of bareboat weeks. 

What do you need to know before bareboat chartering in the Caribbean? ALL AT SEA asked some of the industry’s top professionals and most frequently asked questions, they said, fall into four key areas.

Sunsail 454

EXPERIENCE
“Often the first question we are asked is: ‘What kind of captain’s requirements and sailing experience is needed?’” says Jody Krebs, marketing manager for the Americas with Clearwater, FL-based Sunsail, which charters yachts in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), St. Martin, Antigua, St. Lucia and Grenada.

As a general rule, answers Lesley Hayes, St. Vincent-based reservations specialist for Horizon Yacht Charters, with bases also in the BVI and Grenada, “two years of experience in charge of a yacht that is similar in size and type to what they wish to charter, plus another experienced crew member on board. If the client doesn’t meet these requirements, but comes close, then a ‘check-out’ skipper will be advised.”

A check-out skipper is a professional captain that sails aboard for the first day of charter.

More specifically, “experience should include overnighting, picking up a mooring ball and reading charts,” adds Raul Bermudez, vice president of Clearwater, FL-based MarineMax Vacations, with bases in the BVI and Bahamas.

Island directions on Palm Island Grenadines. Compliments Cat Sagitarrius

THE BOAT
Frequently asked is, “What is the best type of vessel to bareboat charter?” In general, experienced monohull sailors should charter a monohull and experienced catamaran sailors, a catamaran. 

Beyond this, “the larger the boat, the more experience will be required. So, anything 48- to 50-plus feet LOA will be for more experienced boaters, whether it’s a monohull or catamaran,” says Patty Angell, U.S. marketing manager for Annapolis, MD-headquartered Dream Yacht Charters, with fleets in nine Caribbean islands. “The reverse is also true. Smaller boats, either mono or cat, are easier to handle.”

Catamarans are easier to sail based on the movement of this type of boat, according to Sunsail’s Krebs. “If you don’t want to heel over, a catamaran is the best choice.”

Additionally, “ask how many boats a company has in its fleet,” suggests MarineMax’s Bermudez. “It’s important to know other boats are available in case the one you reserved breaks down. Also, ask if they have a chase boat and what the procedures are in case you have a break down.”

Major Caribbean-based bareboat companies frequently update their fleets.

“We continue to offer the latest models from all major manufacturers, so keep an eye out for some fun new models joining from Bali, Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot, as well as Dufour, Jeanneau and Beneteau,” says Dream Yacht’s Angell.

MarineMax recently introduced a new 36-foot powercat with outboard, which has been a big hit with younger boaters and those with small families. Next year, the company will add a new 54-foot and 70-foot power cat to its fleet. Similarly, Sunsail offers two new Lagoon models. The Sunsail Lagoon 464, named Multihull of the Year 2019, will arrive to bases in December, while the Sunsail Lagoon 424 is available this season too. The latter is a 4 cabin/4 head sailing cat fully outfitted with creature comforts such as a generator, air-conditioning and a watermaker.

THE DESTINATION
“What cruising grounds best match a charter guest’s boat handling experience?”

“For less experienced boaters, the BVIs are good because they are more sheltered and sailing is line of sight,” says Horizon Yacht Charters’ Hayes.

Anything further south like Martinique, St. Vincent and Grenada are best for more experienced boaters, says Dream Yacht’s Angell, “as they require more sailing between destinations, and most of the time, it is in open ocean.”

Sailing as part of a flotilla can be ideal for those bareboating in unknown waters.

“Flotillas offers the comforts of a professional lead crew to conduct morning briefings and assess weather conditions, point out ‘must see stops’ and coordinate evening moorings, social events and sailing routes,” says Sunsail’s Krebs. The company offers Caribbean flotillas in the BVI.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?
Finally, “What’s included in the charter fee?” is crucial to ask.

“It’s important to know if there are any additional fees collected upon arrival. For example, is a dinghy included and is there an additional charge? Is fuel included? Is there a fee for cleaning or linens? You don’t want any surprises,” says MarineMax’s Bermudez.

What is NOT included in a bareboat fee is crew.

“If you are unsure of your sailing abilities, or simply want the knowledge of a local skipper, you can hire a professional captain at a daily rate, then continue on your own when you feel comfortable,” says Dream Yacht’s Angell. 

“If you’d rather not cook, hire a chef and have all of your meals prepared for you. At most of our locations, if you opt to hire a cook, we then also offer the option of adding half or full board to your charter.  This gives you two or three meals per person per day, depending on which you choose.  Otherwise, you can always pre-provision on your own and have everything delivered to the boat for you!”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.