October 16, 2017

Chartering a sailboat with crew supplied

By Robert Cross

Consider a boat charter with paid crew members who takes care of all the responsibilities that come with sailing, and the housekeeping chores as well. It’s your holiday, and you are free to put all your energies into enjoying it. Charter a bareboat with skipper and/or cook to look after you and the boat. Or consider a charter that comes complete with permanent crew. Both options are available and can be quoted separately in the same proposal. But which is better for your group of sailing vacationers?
Relax aboard with your own skipper and hostessRelax aboard with your own skipper and hostess
The main saloon on a Lagoon 52 with table set for guestsThe main saloon on a Lagoon 52 with table set for guests
Guest cabin on a larger crewed catamaranGuest cabin on a larger crewed catamaran
An experienced crew is what's required on the big cat Sunreef 70 An experienced crew is what's required on the big cat Sunreef 70
Lagoon 450 layout - four doubles and crew quarters in the bowLagoon 450 layout - four doubles and crew quarters in the bow

Crewed bareboat vs. permanently-crewed charter: explaining the difference

In the charter market, it has become common to find 'bareboat' charters with crew included to take care of the work and responsibility. Crew support allows you as charterer to relax and enjoy your holiday to the full. Here we explain the difference between 'crewed bareboat' and what we call the permanently-crewed charter boat.

Our offerings are sailboats ranging in size from 9-metre monohulls to 22-metre catamarans (and some motor cats). When we talk about crewed options, we are generally referring to the larger, roomy, well-appointed catamarans now so prevalent in the charter market. Boats such as the Lagoons 450 to 620, the Saba 50, Catana 55, and Sunreef semi-custom cats over 60ft. And some monohulls, like the Jeanneau 64 and the Hanse 575. These are serious sailboats that require hands on deck and below.

That's not to say smaller boats cannot be chartered 'crewed bareboat' if you wish. Just about every bareboat on offer has a crew option. People doing this work are freelance, and if there's room aboard for them to sleep and eat, there's likely to be one in every port, ready, willing and able to take responsibility for the boat while you enjoy your sailing holiday. 

But getting back to the larger boats one would expect to see with crew aboard, it's all about what's best for you the charterer. For the level of service that's right for your group, you need to have the right people aboard, so consider the different crew options available. If you dream of a sailing holiday with family and friends but don't have the full measure of experience or the confidence to charter full bareboat, rest easy. Support is at hand in the form of a crewed charter.

But what is the difference between 'crewed bareboat' and 'permanently crewed'?

Crewed bareboat: a contradiction in terms?

Consider the bareboat options available, select the model you dream of vacationing aboard, add a freelance contract skipper and you have a crewed bareboat charter. The boat is domiciled in your chosen destination, as is your skipper, selected from a pool of professional sailors who work the season there.

If you'd like some help with the catering, cooking and cleaning, hire a "hostess" too. But keep one important point in mind. Your "hostess" is not there to make up cabins and bathrooms. Unless you negotiate otherwise in advance, their cleaning role is limited to keeping the common areas - galley, saloon and cockpit - shipshape. 

These are people who know the boats, sailing grounds, local people, and attractions. They come aboard as part of your team, with experience to know what to do, how much support to offer, and how little to intrude. But of course they come at a cost. Consider the price, the boat's capacity to accommodate them, and the dynamics of having one or two extra people aboard on your bareboat charter. 

Permanently crewed catamaran: luxury living aboard

Or don't go sailing bareboat at all. Take a look at the specific boats that are available only with crew. These boats are generally at the top end of the size range and set up with luxury in mind. Their permanently employed crew members each has his and her pre-determined role, and they do all the work. That includes stocking the boat with provisions, managing all aspects of the boat, cleaning from stem to stern and treating you as hotel guests. Another step up in service, and in price.

Of course if you want to take the helm for a stretch, or cook your catch of the day to your own favourite recipe, that's never a problem, by arrangement with your willing crew. 

Differences between crewed bareboat and permanently-crewed charter

1. Location
As with all bareboat charter options advertised, crewed bareboats are domiciled in a specific location. Contract crews work as required, picking up and returning to base under the direction of the operator, helping you sail to the itinerary of your choice within the particular destination.

Permanently crewed charters are also based in all the popular destinations. However in different seasons the same boat may be in a different part of the world, often in an unlikely place. It is not uncommon for the owner to require the boat himself for part of the season. If they happen to sail in Burma for instance, that's where his boat will be available for a time either side of their own dates.

So if you fancy a charter in Fiji, Vietnam or elsewhere that's not on the mainstream destination list, there may be a permanently-crewed charter available. It can be very appealing, the freedom to cherry-pick from the world's most exotic locations, where a charter boat's presence is based on an owner's whim rather than commercial imperatives.

The permanent crews of these boats generally report to the owner and carry out the full operator role. When you engage them they are free to work your program, meet you when you arrive and take you where you want to go (within reason).

2. Local knowledge
The people we appoint to your crewed bareboat are seasonal contractors. They may be locals, or they may for their own lifestyle reasons work somewhere new each season. We only appoint crews who have our confidence. They are well briefed by the local operators, and have taken the time to gather knowledge of the region concerned. They are passionate about sailing, and provide support not only by running the boat but by making suggestions about things to do and places to go.

As charterer of a bareboat, even a crewed one, you are in charge of your holiday. But be guided by your crew. If they are new to the region, say early in the season, they may not know everything about it. But first and foremost they are competent and friendly. Have fun getting to know the place together!

Due to the nature of freelance personnel allocations, it is not practical to provide details of the crew prior to your booking. Selection is made close to the start of your charter, and we endeavour to supply details at the earliest opportunity once the people contracted are known to us. 

On a permanently-crewed charter boat your crew may include one or more locals, or those on board will have spent sufficient time locally to have every aspect well worked out. They have contact with water sports and excursion operators, know the best fresh produce providers, and understand the local customs. In more exotic locations a professional local guide may join your crew - a big plus in getting the utmost out of your travel experience.

We often know permanent crew personnel at the time of your booking, in which case we can share their resumés with you.   

3. Crew in residence
When you charter a crewed bareboat, the crew lives aboard with you. Generally on larger boats, crew quarters have separate access via the foredeck hatch, and they live quite unobtrusively. It is likely they spent the previous week on another boat, and will be on another one again next week.

Those paid to operate a crewed bareboat are resourceful people who understand boat systems and can deal with all the sundry operational tasks. Their responsibilities lie with giving you a good holiday and taking care of the boat accordingly. They don't concern themselves with other than running maintenance - that's the role of the base team.

By comparison, a permanent crew is fully responsible for their boat at all times. They have access to external service providers such as engineers, but are just as likely to deal with any issues themselves as required. If something's not as it should be they either remedy the situation immediately or phone ahead for repairs at the next port of call. They have a special relationship with their charge, a commitment to keeping her gleaming in the sun and running like a Swiss watch.

4. Crew Training.
The best training is time on the water, where lessons are learned when things happen and challenges must be faced. On any crewed charter, you don't need the benefit of such experience - there's a crew there to keep everyone safe and the boat sound. Nevertheless, it is not realistic for us as brokers to always find crew members who have personally been through every conceivable scenario. And if we did find them, chances are they would be old and crusty and not so pleasant to be around. Instead, we look for crews who are fit, professional sailors and good company.

On your crewed bareboat, the skipper has an Ocean Yachtmaster qualification or equivalent, and your hostess is an expert 'cook and bottle washer' who has some seamanship skills as well. The skipper understands his or her role - to look after the boat and your safety - and is on call 24/7 to make sure that happens. Crew members will most likely report individually to you as charterer, neither outranking the other.

On the permanently-crewed charter work routines are formally assigned. More often than not the skipper has a merchant seaman's ticket, the hostess is a qualified chef, and a third person is aboard to back them up. The bigger the boat the more crew and more specialised the roles. Crew may be brought on as required to suit the needs of you as client, or of the location. On this ship the skipper is boss, and a line of command exists at all times.

All staff on a permanently-crewed boat have met the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), as required by the boat's insurers. This certification covers everything from firefighting to first aid and environmental protection. Crew members are professionals who have done their time in the classroom. There is something akin to a corporate culture on board, with procedures to maintain that all-important state of grace afloat.

5. Teamwork
On any charter the ship's papers require a first mate. So should you engage a skipper only, you as charterer must take that responsibility, which you must carry out under direction of the skipper. If your crew comprises a skipper and hostess, the latter can be designated first mate.

Should you require two crew to join your bareboat charter, we endeavour to engage a couple if possible. Interestingly, even where skipper and hostess are not familiar with each other, it can be quite normal in some destinations to see them share a cabin. If they demand separate sleeping arrangements, the size of boat can become a consideration. When we assemble a crewed bareboat crew it cannot be assumed that they are a well-practiced team. But invariably it all comes together on the day!

On a permanently-crewed charter the crew will have done their drills, had their practice runs and rehearsed their procedures before you meet. Even if yours is the first charter of the season, you won't even notice. The crew will have everything prepared for your arrival.

6. Boat provisioning 
For all bareboat charters, we discuss provisioning in advance and can arrange the boat to be stocked for your arrival. When you book a crewed bareboat, we strongly recommend that you provision the charter in discussion with the crew. They will be more familiar with supply options, quantities needed aboard, and of course any local specialties worth sampling.

There are two good options for provisioning a crewed bareboat before departure. If you plan to arrive at base early on the day of departure (even better the day before), you may be able to work with the hostess and shop together. Or at least have some advance dialogue about preferences. Alternatively, leave everything to us and your cook, who will stock the boat with everything needed to serve three meals a day to all aboard. Given there will be times you'll want to eat ashore, that may not be the most cost-effective option. 

There are numerous variables when it comes to stocking up on food and drink. So talk to us about the options, the process and the costs involved. Regardless, get to base in time for that last-minute excursion to the local market. Just to be sure you have what you need, at least to get started on your travels. 

On a crewed bareboat, your crew generally arrives to start work at the date and time the charter is due to start. But with advance notice, they'll go the extra mile!

On a permanently-crewed charter, those responsible for the boat have been working aboard well before your arrival. They have discussed a meal plan and done all the shopping. Any special requests have been organised. You will have paid an upfront fee, known as an APA (Advanced Provisioning Allowance) to cover provisioning. Receipts are kept and money unspent is refunded.

7. Condition of the boat.
Whenever possible we work with bareboat operators we know well, ones we can rely on to keep their fleet well-maintained. But do understand that because charter boats get a lot of use, by the time they have been in bareboat charter for three years or so, they can be expected to show signs of wear and tear, regardless of all the good intentions of operators and users.

By comparison, expect a permanently-crewed catamaran or monohull to be in immaculate condition, even after three years or more of regular charter use.

In Summary

So two options for a sailing holiday with paid crew aboard. Choosing how to configure your crewed charter comes down to your expectations and how we as brokers present our recommendations. For various reasons a crewed bareboat is generally the lower-priced option of the two. But it's not just about getting what you pay for. It's also about getting the holiday that's right for you.

We like to think that everyone in our industry shares a common purpose - to make the wonderful marine and coastal environment accessible to more people every day. Certainly expect the unexpected, especially at sea. But also expect the people you meet on charter to make all the difference. To our way of thinking, your crew members are exactly the people you would want to have along. Regardless of whom you have aboard to crew your charter, boats are their passion and sharing the joys of sailing is their vocation. Taking you out on the water to have a good time; it's the reason we all work in this business.

Your Comments

The Sail Connections Guarantee

One contact - every option - advice you can trust.

  • Matching any competitive offer 
  • Sourcing boats with discounts available
  • Personalising our proposal just for you
  • Qualifying the operator as well as the boat
  • Advising without bias based on 25+ years of experience

We will match any discount website offer on charter boat price, and still provide our customary high level of service. We do more than just book yachts!

Read our free charter guide for all you need to know about planning your sailing holiday.