If chartering a yacht is something that floats your boat, FTF can tell you how to find a great charter on the Caribbean.
Whether you’ve been “Swept Away,” entranced by “A Perfect Storm,” or inspired by shipping magnates ranging from J.P. Morgan to Aristotle Onassis, every traveler dreams of chartering his own yacht. For the novice captain, his or her mate and a crew of young swabbies, there are no better seas to contemplate than the mellow, aquamarine waters of the Caribbean.
Here’s a basic guide to commanding your own family yacht.
1. Choose the Destination
For a first-time family charter, I recommend you head for the British Virgin Islands which are justly famed for attractive scenery, a variety of shore activities, short distances between islands, plenty of good sailing room, steady moderate winds, and protected waters (from Atlantic swells.) This is a perfect locale for a family odyssey with, or without, a captain and cook.
2. Select a Vessel
Since stability is important for small people; consider chartering a catamaran. Catamarans are spacious in all respects, comfortable on deck and below, and offer multiple berths and cabins, well separated for privacy. Families who prefer to sail a mono-hull will always have a wide variety of boats to choose from.
3. Select a Charter Company
Interview each prospective charter company carefully, making the following inquiries:
- What experience has the captain/cook had in sailing with and catering to children? Ask for their individual resumes, and for references from other families who had multiple children in the charter party. Check them out; never take references for granted.
- How old is the boat you will be on? The newer the better.
- Is it owned by the charter company? If yes, has this crew worked regularly for them, and for how long? If the boat is privately owned (and chartered by a broker or on a fleet management basis), does the crew work for the owner full time, and how long have they been with this boat?
- How long have this captain and this cook sailed together? Obviously the answers will be telling.
- Inquire if the company can provide properly sized life-jackets for each child? If not, take your own (USCG-approved jackets are not very expensive and all but the smallest can be handed down for future use.) Smaller children should be required to wear them at all times when they are on deck and the boat is under way.
- Next, can they provide properly sized snorkel masks and flippers for everyone? If not, take your own. There’s nothing worse than an ill-fitting snorkel mask, though feet do work when flippers don’t fit.
- In planning for mealtimes, ask for a “special catering requests” sheet to be sent to you in advance so that the cook can try to stock up on requested items. Take some favorite snacks or other family-preferred goodies which may well be unobtainable in the islands.
- Also important: what transportation will meet your party and return you to the local airport? Take soft-sided luggage only and encourage every child to pack and be responsible for his/her own bag (or backpack.)
- Lastly, check out what audio/visual/electronic equipment is on board for daily (evening) entertainment, and take favorite CD’s and an iPod. A cell phone on board is a real plus in case of emergency; most charter boats have them these days, but ask before you go. (Don’t give anyone — especially your office — the inbound number.)
4. Take Family Essentials
Water-proof bags, especially day bags for shore excursions via dinghy, and shoreside or beach picnics (small backpacks are good, they leave both hands free); mesh bags for wet items; reef shoes (or equivalent); a lightweight waterproof jacket, cotton sweater and at least two swimsuits for each person; diversions for the kids (fun and educational things, too); and plenty of high density waterproof sunblock (insist on it, all day, everyday).
Remember, skin is damaged by the sun’s reflection from water and sand as well as direct rays, and the wind burns as well. Take (or buy locally) extra T-shirts to swim in (insist on that, too) and bring Polaroid or UV filtering sunglasses for all ages, as well as wide-brimmed sunhats (with under-chin ties) for everyone. Wearing the favorite baseball-type caps quickly leads to burnt small ears, cheeks, noses and necks. Don’t forget decent binoculars for each sailor above 6 years. Most boats provide a pair or two, but bird-watching and marinelife-spotting are difficult if several people must share a single pair.
5. Prepare All Hands
Involve the whole family, especially the kids, in a program of appreciation about marine life, pirate lore, local history, culture and geography. Study basic navigation and the workings of a GPS, the stars, and nautical charts. Let the children know where you will be sailing each day and what you’ll do when you get to each destination. Keep a logbook and take a waterproof camera.
6. Shop Around
Many charter companies and charter brokers serve the Caribbean and most are reputable. Each in their own way is likely to provide you with a good boat, good crew and good support services, sometimes including their own hotel facilities at key locations, as well as travel services. Contact more than one charter company (some recommendations listed alphabetically below) to discuss your needs, dates, and budget, and request a full information package before making your final decision. Some offer special rates in non-peak months.
Then, hoist the sails! Batten down the kids! And away you go!
Caribbean Yacht Charter Companies: A Short List
The Catamaran Company
North South Yacht Vacations
Mississauga, ON, Canada and Tortola, BVI.
Tortola Marine Management
Nicholson Yacht Charters
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