How to plan and book a charter

Quinta Essentia cruising
There are lots of things to consider when booking a yacht charter: Where to go, when to go, which yacht...?
© Jeff Brown / Superyacht Media
You have read charter features, you have seen the advertisements and thought how pleasant it all looks, so now let us examine the next step: How to plan and book your charter.
This article covers the following topics:

Dealing with a broker
Preference sheets
Insurance
Chartering tips
Chris Caswell
Words By
Chris Caswell

Use a charter broker to match your needs with the ideal yacht

In depth information is needed to match your detailed aspirations with a vessel that will deliver the perfect holiday. Crewed charter yachts are usually unique vessels, designed and laid out to the requirements of their owners. Because of this, they offer widely differing facilities and cabin layouts, while factors such as their suitability for the holiday activities that you foresee will also be widely contrasting. The crews that man these yachts are also very individual in character, and a crew that will suit one charter  might be less than ideal for another.

To be sure of booking the right vessel it is imperative to tap into the specialist knowledge and experience of a well-established charter broker. He or she will have detailed knowledge of a huge range of yachts, all gained from personal in depth visits to the yachts in his or her portfolio to check facilities, meet crew and sample the cuisine. Charter broking depends on satisfied clients, and brokers make enormous efforts to get it right first time, a process which depends on having this up-to-date knowledge.

The nuts and bolts of chartering

To fully understand the chartering process one has to know the mechanics of crewed chartering. In most cases, the owner of each charter yacht will have appointed a Central Agent (a ‘Clearing House’ or ‘Wholesaler’ in US terminology) – usually one of a handful of large international brokerage companies who will run the yacht’s programme, keeping all other charter brokers aware of the vessel’s availability, whereabouts and relevant specifications. The Central Agent is the vital link between a yacht’s owner and captain, and the retail charter brokers worldwide.

Major charter brokers therefore have two categories of yachts available, their own ‘Centrals’ to whom they have a responsibility to fill with bookings, and many other yachts that are tied in similar fashion to other brokerage companies. It is important to realise that any charter agency can arrange the charter of any vessel, but will usually have to deal with several Central Agencies to confirm the availability of yachts that they have identified as fulfilling your needs.

Ensure you tell your broker what type of experience you are looking for – do you want a massage therapist?

Your broker

Inevitably, some of the 200 or so charter-broking firms around the world are better than others, and many of them specialise in certain size or category brackets, but one way of ensuring that you are dealing with a top-flight company is to select a member of a trade association, such as the the Worldwide Yachting Association, (formerly named MYBA – the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association) or the American Yacht Charter Association (AYCA). As an extra safeguard, put your enquiry to at least two agencies and, based on the quality of service that you receive and whether they have intimate knowledge of the yachts that they recommend, decide which one will get your business.

Initial information

For a proficient broker, the only knowledge gap will be your own detailed requirements, so be prepared for some searching questions. Perhaps the very first thing he or she will want to know is your budget, whether you are inclined to a motor yacht or a sailing yacht, and the composition of the charter party. For instance, a group of friends who are sharing the charter cost would need cabins to be of equal size, luxury and facilities while a family party with a distinct pecking order would be happy with a range of cabins of varying size and luxury.

If your charter is more formal, with the entertainment of older people or business associates as its aim, this would perhaps call for a sophisticated yacht, perhaps, lined with custom carpets, exotic woods, and a veritable museum of art, whose crew have the ability to prepare cocktails and canapés a precursor to elegant silver service dinner parties or large scale buffet meals. But such a yacht would be very different from one that would suit a family with boisterous young children who, to avoid a large bill for damages, might need a more rugged and plainly decorated interior, multifunctional deck spaces and excellent watersports facilities. If it is a sailboat that you are seeking, you will need be clear to your broker if you are seeking a winch-intensive performance cruiser-racer to fulfill the aspirations of athletic young sailors, or a more sedate vessel with a powerful engine assisted by sails for sailing with less exertion and added comfort or maybe something in between.

Whatever type of yacht you require and whatever category your charter party falls into, the broker will need to know such things as:

Your dining preferences – formal or relaxed and whether you will eat exclusively aboard the yacht or mainly dine ashore. The latter is important as it could call for a yacht with a tender that will deliver your party ashore with unruffled hair and dry clothes.

The types of cuisine that you favour.
Fine dine: The chef is one of the most important people on your charter
Whether you have fixed ideas on a cruising area or whether you need advice. Once this is selected, local knowledge on items such as the most convenient airport and the best time of arrival will often make your journey and the initial day of your charter considerably more relaxed.

If a health spa and a professional masseuse is on your wish list

What water sports interest you and if so what tenders, water toys and qualified instructors you might need

If scuba diving is high on your agenda

If your party contains elderly or disabled members who might need a yacht with an internal lift and easy access to water level for swimming or to board a tender

If you need a child-friendly yacht with a crew that is used to entertaining children

Whether high speed internet access and sophisticated entertainment systems are essential, or just a bonus.

Perhaps one of the best indications of a thorough broker is his ability to ask questions that you had not even thought about. Whatever is asked, do give detailed consideration to your answers as, without a doubt, such accuracy will directly influence the selection of yachts that you receive.

The first yacht selection

Following the initial telephone call to brokers you should expect six to a dozen yacht brochures from each company as well as detailed information on prices and the terms of the charter. In today’s electronic world, the first proposal is usually sent by email and will include digitised brochures of the yacht. After studying your brochures, and having further frank and detailed discussions with your broker, attention will probably focus on one particular yacht. Be sure to ask the broker about its record of mechanical reliability and perhaps for a reference from an earlier charterer. You should also be clear that it conforms with the internationally recognised MCA safety standards.

Following this, it might take a day or so to finally book the vessel as the owner is usually consulted, and he may not be immediately available.

Charter contracts

Once a suitable yacht has been selected, the broker then prepares a charter contract – a legally binding document. Most large yachts are chartered in the Mediterranean under a standard agreement put together by MYBA – The Worldwide Yachting Association. The conditions of this agreement, commonly known as ‘Western Mediterranean Terms’ (WMT) will usually be signed by four people; the ‘head’ of the charter party, the owner, a stakeholder – usually the yacht’s Central Agent, and the broker.
You should be aware from the outset that the quoted charter fee is is only a part of the cost that you could end up paying. This might seem like deception but it is part of a pricing system that operates in the charterers favour by asking for payment only for those items that the charterer actually uses. For instance, because of the Mediterranean’s concentration of shoreside attractions, yachts often cover only small distances, and charter parties may dine ashore regularly.

Other charter parties might wish to berth in a marina every night while others will prefer to stay at anchor. So rather than including a relatively high ‘catch-all’ fee for items such as fuel, food and marina charges in the quoted charter price, WMT does not include such items in the quoted fee, and charterers are only asked to pay for the commodities that they actually consume.

Standard Eastern Mediterranean Terms (SEMT) are a variant of WMT, and are used by smaller yachts in Turkish waters. These terms are slightly more inclusive, usually including up to five hours fuel per day, dockage and the crew’s food.
In the Caribbean, yachts of less than 35m (115ft) are usually chartered under Caribbean Terms (CT), are inclusive of food, fuel and drinks.

Once the contract is signed, the charterer deposits 50 per cent of the agreed charter fee with the broker and the remaining 50 per cent plus a provisioning fee to pay for the required food (if applicable) follows one month before the charter commences.

Preference sheets

Once the deal is done the leader of the charter party should be prepared to answer even more questions so that the yacht can offer you the best service. The crew need to prepare in advance, so at this point you will be asked to complete a preference sheet – up to 12 pages of detailed enquiries about all your needs. This covers topics such as special dietary requirements and allergies, any guest medical conditions that the crew should be aware of, water sports preferences, sizes for fins and wetsuits, any special events or anniversaries that might occur during the charter, the magazines and newspapers that you require and your taste in drinks.

Completing a ‘Preference Sheet’ will allow your crew to ensure that you every need is met | © Superyacht Media
When completing the preference sheet, you should be sure to take the trouble to consult the remainder of your group – it is their holiday too and they may be disappointed if they have to always eat the food you like and drink your favourite drinks. Once in the hands of the captain, the chef and the chief stewardess, the preference sheet will often generate more direct enquiries by phone or e-mail to fine tune the arrangements. The captain will also want to know if you have any particular itinerary in mind, or whether you would like him to make suggestions. Take his advice – he will know the distances and transit times involved, the prevailing wind directions, and local attractions, and he will be able to build in some flexibility. It is all too easy for the inexperienced charterer to turn what should be a relaxing cruise into an exhausting race to complete an overcrowded, rigid itinerary.

Additional payments

A charterer should be aware that, depending on the terms of the contract, the location and itinerary that you choose, together with the cost of  foods, fuel and marina charges, can increase the final bill by as much as 30 per cent above the brochure price. It would be wise to ask your broker about possible additional charges before the charter starts while, at the end of the charter, the head charterer should review such extras with the captain, who will be able to present the relevant receipts. Additionally, if the plan calls for a Western Mediterranean-based yacht to pick up a charter party in the Eastern Mediterranean, or vice versa, this will attract a substantial repositioning charge to cover the cost of delivering the yacht to the desired pick-up point.

Gratuities

Attitudes vary throughout the world on the subject of tipping. Europeans generally think Americans tip excessively, while to many Australians the whole concept of tipping is practically obscene. How much to tip is a question often asked of brokers but as a general rule leave around 10 – 15 per cent of the charter fee for the captain to distribute amongst the crew – but only if you are happy with the service they provided. Crews work extremely hard to make a success of a charter, and tipping is an appropriate way to say thank you.

Charter insurance

No one goes on holiday thinking that they are likely to meet with misfortune, but it is wise to be prepared. One of the questions that must be put to your charter broker is the level of insurance built into the contract. Check in particular whether the yacht’s insurance policy covers guests for Third Party Liability (for instance if they cause injury to a swimmer whilst driving one of the yacht’s boats), loss of possessions and personal accidents. Any specific items not covered can then be insured privately if required. Cancellation and Curtailment insurance is also available at a cost of approximately 2.5 per cent of the charter fee to cover a possible loss of the charter fee if the holiday has to be cancelled for unforeseen reasons.

If you are cruising in Third World waters, the standards of local medical services may be well below those of one’s own country and this might result in a requirement for expensive aero-medical evacuation. At a low annual cost membership of the US-based Medical Air Services Association will provide immediate access to an air ambulance for repatriation in lifesaving circumstances, as well as other benefits.

Chartering tips

If you have never chartered before and have no experience of boats, don’t be afraid to put your questions to the charter broker or your yacht’s captain before the start of the charter. Some basic advice includes:

? Laundry. Large yachts (above 55-metres in length) have very efficient laundries, so don’t bring too many clothes but, equally, do not neglect to bring something warm to wear inside as a yacht’s air-conditioning can be super efficient. For yachts below this size a few items can be washed and ironed but the size of the crew will usually inhibit a comprehensive laundry service.

? Suitcases. For yachts smaller than 45-metres, it’s best to pack your luggage in soft bags if possible as storing hard suitcases can sometimes present problems on smaller yachts.

? High heeled shoes, and hard shoes in general will not be welcomed (or allowed) aboard as they cause expensive damage to teak decks – take them only for shore use.

? Sunscreens. Sunburn will almost certainly be a health risk, as sunlight reflected from water can double normal exposure. Of course, the yacht will have a good range of sun creams, but it is always best to let them know your preference or, better still, take your own, especially the high-factor waterproof creams that might not be available locally. Do avoid oil-based sunscreens as these tend to stain expensive chair fabrics and teak decks. Even in the hottest areas, take some light, long-sleeved cover-up clothes – at some time during a cruise in a hot climate you will certainly need to reduce your exposure to the sun.

? Smoking. Very few boats allow smoking inside – if you wish to smoke inside the yacht you should check with the captain or broker if this is a potential problem before the charter is signed.

? Complaints. If you have the slightest problem with operating any of the yachts facilities, or have a complaint about the behaviour of a crew member, or any other matter, speak immediately with the captain or the chief steward/stewardess – bottled up grievances can ruin holidays and a word in time will certainly lead to the problem being solved.

Drugs and antisocial activities

It is a rare occurrence, but charter parties should be aware that yacht owners do not condone the use of drugs, antisocial behaviour or illegal activities, as these bring disrepute on his vessel, and in some cases these may lead to the confiscation of the yacht by local officials. The captain has the final say in these matters and, should his warnings go unheeded, he may – with full rights – ask any offenders to leave the yacht.

Brokers will tell you that there are three types of charterer – once in a lifetime, occasional and regular. Many new charterers start with the premise that a charter will be a once in a lifetime holiday and, properly prepared, it will – but many will find the experience so good that they will soon join the ranks of the regulars.
High heeled shoes, will not be welcomed aboard
High heeled shoes, and hard shoes in general will not be welcomed aboard | © Superyacht Media
Sunburn could be a health risk
Sunburn can be a health risk, as sunlight reflected from water can double normal exposure |© Courtesy of Tom Isitt
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