February 01, 2017

Tips & advice for an enjoyable charter sailing holiday

By Robert Cross

So the sun is setting on the sailing holiday of your dreams. Your crew of family and friends looks back on an adventure that met all their expectations and more. Everyone is happy after time spent exploring new places and encountering different cultural experiences, if a little sad it has to end.

You reflect on your success and what you did to make your vacation so. You’ve completed a fun-filled itinerary, on a craft that exactly suited your transport and accommodation needs. Inevitably there were some surprises, mostly nice ones.

What do you put it all down to, this collective enjoyment that you know will linger long in the memory? How did you go about planning your charter to ensure the best possible outcomes for all aboard? What did you learn that kept your sailing vacation pleasurable at every tack? What will you suggest to others whose imagination is captured by your stories and want to experience their own sailing charter?

Think carefully about your destination

Every holiday destination has its particular attractions, from the sights to the food to the water sports to the sheer thrill of sailing. There are also likely to be some challenges, hopefully just the sort that makes the trip more interesting. Picking the right sailing destination means first knowing your crew’s collective and individual hopes and expectations for the adventure. So before talking to your broker about destinations, research your options and consult your crew, guiding them towards a decision that everyone can be satisfied with.

Your broker will assess your group objectives and freely offer advice and comment around your ideas and decisions. A good charter broker acts as a sounding board for the expectations of your entire crew, and we will always urge due consideration of crew comfort. We want to see you have a holiday that is challenging only to the extent anticipated, one that will be enjoyed by everyone on board.

 Select the right boat for your crew

If you are an experienced charterer, you’ll know the size and type of boat that works best for you and your crew. You will tell your broker so, and we will find the closest match available where and when you want to go. If this is your first charter, you may be confused by all the different boats out there. Taking account of your preferred destination, crew size and capabilities etc., we assess the available options and make recommendations based on our years of experience.  

Your boat is not only your transport from this idyllic cove to that pumping seaside town, it is your accommodation. Catamarans are increasingly popular for charter, and for good reason. Their stability and spaciousness adds a whole level of comfort in transit and at anchor. And while they are more expensive on a per metre of length basis, they can work out cheaper for a larger group on a per cabin basis. But if the sailing is your thing and you are seeking a destination with wide open stretches of water, then perhaps the good old monohull will be your boat of choice.

The charter boat industry is always evolving and sailing holidays are tending to become more and more affordable. Discuss your boat ideas and requirements with your broker, then let us do our job. You will probably find we’ve exceeded your expectations.

Chose to sail with the best operator

Internationally, ownership of the type of sailboats suitable for charter is increasingly structured around a charter management agreement. The success of this ownership model has seen an explosion in the number and range of new boats entering charter fleets. A good broker keeps up with fleet replacement programmes, and for sound business reasons works with operators who adhere to high quality standards.

Some companies however are geared to serve only the very wealthy, especially in their permanently crewed offerings. Our aim is to make sailing accessible to all who wish to take a charter holiday. That requires us to identify the best boats in the best places at prices that are right for you.

At the other end of the scale, all the new boats mean there are a lot of older ones out there, replaced and relocated with brokers of lesser reputation in lesser destinations. Older and poorly maintained boats do not disappear from the market, they just become the holiday vessel of choice for the less-well informed and advised.

Make the most of your skipper’s briefing and base time

At commencement of every charter you are given a skipper’s briefing. Expect your broker to stress the importance of this meeting with the operator’s representative. Despite all you’ve read and been told before travelling to your destination base, there’s still a lot to learn when your feet first hit the deck. You are taken through the various workings of the boat, given a chart briefing on local navigational considerations and points of interest, and an updated weather forecast for your sailing area.

While you are somewhat familiar with your planned route by way of pre-trip research, wait until the hour of departure before finalizing your course. Up-to-date local knowledge is invaluable, so take the opportunity to ask questions.  Based on what you learn at the briefing, make the first day and night as easy possible. If it means a short sail to the next bay or even staying in the base marina overnight instead of a four-hour sail to that island on the horizon, that may be a wise way to start your holiday.

While you and your designated first mate are engaged in the briefing, your crew can be checking out the boat to ensure all is as you expect. Count the plates, cups, towels and linen and any extra items ordered. Check the snorkel gear has the right shoe sizes (taken from the crew list provided on booking), and that everything looks to be in good working order. Make sure you are happy with the outboard motor’s operation before departing.  It is much easier to check everything out while still at base rather than once at sea.  

Think ahead, and ensure all your time is well-used

Your charter is booked for specified start and finish dates, with times for your pre-charter briefing and final return to dock. The broken days at start and finish of charter do not in practice make up a free day; you need the time for processing onto and off the boat.

Regardless of your stated boarding time, try to arrive at the base early. You can’t expect to jump the queue, but by checking in you are telling the operator you have arrived, and you may well be afforded some priority. Confirm the time and place of your briefing, leave your bags at the base office and go shopping for provisions. Day one is hectic and the more time you give yourself and others, the better it will be all round.  

In places such as the Mediterranean where all charters begin and end on a Saturday, operators have the monumental task of getting all their boats cleaned and refreshed ready for the next charter starting the same day. So spend your last night no more than a short sail from base. Please be punctual and tie up by the prescribed time.   

Take your own personal-use items where practical

While a certain amount of personal-use equipment (snorkeling gear, life vests, etc.) is supplied with charter boats, it are likely to be well-used, and in the case of life vests designed for abandoning ship rather than comfort. Wet-weather gear provided may fall short of expectations and do no more good than a cheap coat. So pack your own gear if you have it and there’s room in your bags. Luggage should be of the soft type for storing under the bunks. You’ll have plenty of cabin drawers to unpack into, and it is good seamanship to avoid having items with hard corners and edges aboard

You may want to invest in a power inverter to charge your electronics via the boat’s 12-volt system. Repowering small electronics from the boat’s batteries is necessary if the craft does not have a generator, and preferable if it does. Keep an eye on the amp meter, and don’t let it drop below 60%. Larger boats equipped with aircon have generators, enabling 220-240 volt outlets. Use these with care as the in-built inverter cannot handle a big load, so try not to draw more than 1.5kw at a time. If you try to run a hair dryer, toaster and microwave at the same time, the inverter will trip out and have to be reset.

Before you leave home with your own music, you may want to confirm your media’s compatibility with the boat’s entertainment system.

Look after the built-in electronics aboard

While on the subject of electronics, keep in mind that the boat’s built-in appliances are recreational standard, and not as robust as what you are used to at home. In particular take care of the air conditioning. Restrict it to night use with ports and hatches closed, and use the natural a/c of the breeze by day. With charter boats having a fast turnaround, there is not much time for operators to complete repairs between clients. Nobody wants to come aboard to find equipment paid for is broken.

Stay healthy while on holiday

There is a first aid kit on board your charter boat, but take the necessities with you just in case. Cuts and scrapes are common on any active vacation. Probably the most important yet simple health tip is to treat even the smallest abrasion immediately with an antiseptic. In the tropical heat, bacteria can bloom into something nasty very quickly. It seems to us that salt water as a healing agent is a myth, at least in tropical climes. There the sea is full of things that fester. Wash in fresh water and sterilise with antiseptic.

Salt water is also the major cause of smells aboard. Make a habit of rinsing swimwear and drying off any salt-water towels before bringing below decks.

Be aware of local plant and animal life that may put you at risk. That risk is always small, and becomes negligible with understanding of the potential hazards and the application of common sense.  

Act local when shopping, and save

This advice applies to sailboat vacationers and landlubbers alike. You are visiting a popular destination where market forces mean prices are high. But you don’t need to shop at the waterfront convenience store or the high-end mall a block back. Follow the locals to where they shop. Not only do you get access to the best produce and save money buying it. You can also expect to enjoy a positive cultural experience. Live as the locals do, if only for an hour or so. It’s an important part of the travel experience.

A distinct benefit of a crewed charter is that you have your own private guide along for the ride; a local expert who will always point you in the right direction for the tastiest food and the best bargains.

Local mobile phone and data coverage

The pirates of the high seas come in the form of your telecoms company, with their exorbitant roaming charges that don’t hit until you return home to reality. Many charter boats are equipped with wifi routers, and the data you use is on-charged at a reasonable rates. A better option may be to buy a pre-paid data/phone card from the local service provider. In most destinations, at least when at anchor, you are close enough to transmitters to have a reasonable signal.

Your charter broker is always ready and willing to offer sailing holiday advice. Some is at the heart of the profession and critical to your holiday’s success, like the important questions of where to go, when to travel and which boat to sail in. Others are more general tips, like what to take and how to prepare. A lot of those are based on our own personal experience. We have all been there and done that, and as a group we are here to share our knowledge with you. 

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.