A Beginner’s Guide to Chartering a Yacht
The Choice is Yours
There’s more to chartering a boat for a week than just choosing from a pretty picture.
Sailing charters have been around for decades, and they’re a great way to explore well beyond your home waters. But powerboaters have been shy to sign up, primarily because of the whole sailing obstacle. If you’re in this group, here are two secrets: Sailors motor on charter, a lot, and the number of powerboats available to charter has been growing rapidly over the past 10 years, so you now have a choice of exotic destinations to visit nearly year-round without ever raising a sail.
Let’s first outline the kinds of charter available: fishing, superyacht, small boat crewed, and bareboat. The first three have always been powerboat-based and are crewed, which means you get a captain and a variably sized crew to take care of all the things you don’t want to or don’t know how to do. The last one is bareboat chartering where you’re the skipper with all the decision-making power and freedom…and the headaches that go with it.
Let’s dive into what each means and what to look for in a boat.
Fishing charters have been run on powerboats since there’s been power. They vary greatly—everything from day trips on center consoles with just a captain to overnight deep-sea outings on 80-foot-plus battlewagons with a full crew. When choosing one that’s right for you, determine what kind of fishing you want to do and for which species. Assess your skill level and decide on the duration of the trip you can afford. Short trips in protected waters will be calmer while offshore excursions will put you onto bigger fish.
Things to look for in the boat will differ by the factors just mentioned. Useful features include good deck space, a fighting chair, plenty of room for gear and tackle, and a day head close to the action.
For bigger boats, a gyrostabilizer will make the deck steadier and reduce fatigue as well as seasickness. Check for the latest electronics and powerful engines to get you to the fish and back quickly because that’s downtime you’re still paying for.
If you’re bringing non-fishing family members, room to relax out of the way is key as is a galley for refreshments. More than the boat, the captain will make the difference so do your research on proper licensing, extensive experience, and great reviews.
Luxury charters come in many flavors, and they’re always crewed because no owner will let you out on his superyacht with just a VISA card. You can opt for a day trip on a midsize Prestige, Azimut, or Sunseeker yacht, or go big with a Sunreef cat or a 200-foot monohull that will set you back $250,000 a week or more.
Things to look for in the boat include enough accommodations to sleep your entire party, multiple relaxation zones to separate guests and enhance privacy, and maybe even a hot tub, cinema, or beach club for exercise and waterside respite. Review the list of toys the yacht carries including SCUBA tanks, PWCs, slides, and more. Inquire about the yacht’s cruising speed and grounds so you get to see as much as possible. Again, it’s all about the captain and crew, so find out the crew-to-guest ratio and the captain’s reputation for accommodating guests.
Small Boat Charter
“Small boat” is a misnomer here because we’re talking charters on vessels up to 55 feet. They come in crewed and bareboat versions and, these days, are typically catamarans. On a crewed charter, check out their preference sheets for provisioning. Ask about crew experience, if they allow kids, and a sample itinerary.
If you go it alone, rest assured you now have lots of choices in both the kind of boat as well as the destinations you’re likely to find with outfits like The Moorings, Dream Yacht Charter, Horizon Yacht Charters, and MarineMax Vacations.
There are plenty of powercat brands out there, including Aspen, World Cat, Fountaine Pajot, Arrowcat, Leopard, and more. But only a few appear in charter and, therefore, are available to you without writing a big check to buy one. The sweet spot for charters is in the mid-40-foot range but some reach beyond that. Let’s look at how to evaluate the options.
“The appeal of power is that you can get everywhere faster in a shorter amount of time, and you can do multiple stops in a day,” says Ian Pedersen, senior marketing manager of The Moorings. Yes, big engines get the job done, but you’re responsible for the fuel you consume, so large engines aren’t always better and powercats differ in fuel efficiency. A 46-footer may offer all the same creature features for a great vacation, but it will burn less than a 54-footer.
In general, powercats offer 1.2 times the accommodations and deck space of a same-length monohull, and that makes them ideal for groups who like to spread out. Most powercats will have a flybridge which includes a full helm station, summer galley, and wraparound seating. This adds more living space and creates a lounge from where to enjoy panoramic views. The foredeck, cockpit, and salon are commodious, too, as are the cabins below, so they’re perfect for new boaters who don’t like to feel claustrophobic.
A powercat creates natural divisions for semi-private zones. If your kids are playing in the cockpit, you can enjoy happy hour on the foredeck sunbed or up on the flybridge. Check to see if your cat is set up well for privacy zones.
Many of the larger cats have hydraulic swim platforms where they carry the dinghy rather than on davits, and that’s a bonus. First, once the dinghy is in the water, you can lower the platform to the waterline and create a teak beach club that’s perfect for lounging or entertaining kids. Second, it’s a great way to exit the water. The elderly, mobility impaired, or kids often have a tough time climbing the ladders, so just lower the platform, let them swim onto it, and then raise it. Easy peasy.
Most cats offer three to four cabins with or without ensuite heads. The cabins are larger than on monohulls or converted sailing cats, and they generally offer better light via ports because they’re not buried in the hulls. A private head per couple goes a long way to making guests comfortable. A rule of thumb on cabin count is the last number of the model. If a model is a 484, it’s a 48-footer with four cabins. A 433 is 43 feet and is the owner’s version (three cabins) for maximum privacy in one of the hulls.
Raul Bermudez, vice president of MarineMax Vacations, adds some other things to look for: Are the air-conditioning systems individually controlled for each cabin? Are the heads electric or manual? Is there a watermaker? How is the galley equipped, and how large is it? The key is comfort.
Powercat charter popularity is on the rise but that doesn’t mean you can get one anywhere. The Moorings offers Leopard powercats in the Abaco Sea/Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Croatia, and Thailand. MarineMax has a fleet of Aquila cats in the BVI and the Abacos. Horizon Yacht Charters has a Nautitech 47 and a crewed Lagoon 64 in the BVI, while Dream Yacht Charters offers Leopard, Fountaine Pajot, Aquila, and Bali in numerous destinations including Key West, the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, Exumas/Bahamas, Martinique, St. Martin, Croatia, Whitsunday Islands in Australia, and Nouméa in New Caledonia.
“Vacation time is precious, and powercats aren’t reliant on the local weather so they’re much faster, up to 10 knots faster in fact,” says Dan Lockyer, vice president of global tourism of Dream Yacht Charter. “Plus, they’re easier to maneuver than sailcats.”
Distances where you want to cover a lot of ground in a week, like the Exumas and the Sea of Cortez, are ideal for power charters. That said, destinations with shorter legs, like the BVI and the Abacos, are great, too, because you can check out four anchorages in a day and not burn a lot of fuel. “With the powerboats, you have the option to go as slow or as fast as you want, and you get to the mooring balls a little faster than the sailboats,” says Bermudez.
Leopard 46 and 53
The Moorings partners with South African builder Robertson and Caine who delivers Leopard cats. Leopard offers the 53 and the new 46 which is expected in charter soon. The 53 has twin sunbeds on the foredeck, a flybridge with a full staircase for easy access, a door from the salon directly to the bows, and that fabulous hydraulic swim platform. It also has a split galley so multiple chefs can work simultaneously.
Lagoon 65, 67, and 78
A charter on a Lagoon powercat will likely be crewed because Lagoon doesn’t currently build models less than 60 feet. However, you’ll find ultimate luxury on any of the models that are most likely in charter right now. Depending on the size, expect to find five or six cabins, a hot tub, superyacht-like amenities, and on some models, a separate galley where the crew prepares meals out of sight, leaving the salon strictly to the guests.
The Nautitech 47 with 300-hp Volvo Penta engines has a max speed of 22 knots and an interior helm so you can drive in comfort even if the weather is frightful. A dozen people can relax on twin lounges on the foredeck or take the party to the flybridge. A nice feature is the high bridge clearance that should minimize pounding from underneath when running into head seas.
Bali Catspace MY and 4.3 MY
Bali Catamarans are built by Catana of France, and they have two models in their motoryacht range. Bali has dabbled in some layout innovations. First, they’ve done away with the idea of a separate salon and cockpit. Instead, the entire aft bulkhead lifts like a tilt-up garage door so the inside becomes the outside and it works well. Bali powercats also have an interior helm and full-size refrigerators that guests love.
Aquila 36, 44, 48, and 54
MarineMax Vacations is exclusive to Aquila powercats. They offer various models between 36 and 54 feet. For two couples, the 36 is a fantastic express-style boat with the helm and dinette outside under the hardtop and a summer galley with a grill aft. It’s powered by twin 350-hp outboards so it can really get up and go. The behemoth 54, on the other hand, has five cabins and five heads for bigger groups and may be offered with crew.
Don’t Be Shy
“The demand for powercats has grown consistently each year for the past decade,” says Pedersen. “That trend looks to continue in the years to come.”
Bermudez agrees. “Power catamarans are the future of the charter industry,” he says. Indeed, powercats have made progress, from being too weird for most boaters to contemplate to becoming the ideal way to experience some of the world’s greatest charter destinations. Check out available models with a large charter company and then dive in. The water’s great.
-by Zuzana Prochazka