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Everything You Need to Know to Plan the Perfect Family Charter Yacht Trip

The Caribbean dive liveaboard Cuan Law cruises the British Virgin Islands

Planning a charter yacht trip can be a lot to take on – especially for first-timers – so here’s some tips and terminology that will make it a little easier to figure out what kind of trip to put together.

Many people only think of a charter yacht as an extremely expensive trip, reserved only for the super-wealthy. This is just not true! Chartering a yacht can be an affordable – and unforgettable – adventure. $500k weeks on enormous luxury cruises come to mind for many travelers, but an entire boat charter on Cat Ppalu in the Bahamas is only $17,995 – all inclusive!

Where to Charter a Yacht?

Yachts can be chartered all around the world! The Caribbean is a beautiful place to cruise past islands and admire the pristine waters in style. Many people book charter yachts in island chains throughout Southeastern Asia, as well.

The British Virgin Islands are famous for their sailing charter yachts, which glide from island to island across gorgeous calm water. Passengers on these charters love bar-hopping on different islands and enjoying their luxury yacht accommodations.

The BVIs are also home to some very interesting shipwrecks, including the RMS Rhone, which attracts divers from all over the world! Watersports in in the British Virgin Islands are often part of the itinerary aboard a yacht charter.

The Bahamas are another amazing charter yacht destination, and it’s often underrated – despite being an amazing place to sail and cruise! Passengers on boats in the Bahamas enjoy visiting primarily uninhabited islands throughout the Exuma Cays (searching for conch shells on a rarely visited beach is truly special).

In the Bahamas, there are also some unique activities that can only be accessed aboard a boat, such as visiting the swimming pigs on Big Major Cay or feeding grapes to iguanas on Allen’s Cay!

Bareboat or Crewed Charter?

The first decision to make when you start planning your trip is whether you want a crewed charter yacht or a bareboat charter yacht. For those of us who don’t know how to sail, it’s an easy decision!

A bareboat charter is essentially just the rental of a sailing yacht for which the charterers will act as crew during the trip. There will be no captain or crew included in the charter! People love bareboat charters because it gives them complete control over the trip – hoisting sails and setting a course is all part of the fun!

However, the downside of bareboat charters is the risk of problems which charterers aren’t able to fix. If the engine fails or something breaks, even a seemingly minor problem can waste an entire trip. Most of us aren’t even equipped to handle a simple plumping issue at sea.

The fact that the destination for a bareboat charter is generally fairly remote also adds a level of risk to the safety of oneself, as well as the fate of the vacation. So, unless you’re experienced and comfortable with sailing without supervision, you should probably look into a crewed yacht charter.

A crewed charter includes the service of a group of people who know the ins and outs of sailing. They take care of everything so the charterer can relax and enjoy the ride. The yacht’s captain will work on an itinerary based on the wants of the charterer, and the crew will hoist sails, prepare meals, and/or whatever else is included in the ships itinerary.

BVI Dive Liveaboard Cuan Law

For example, Cuan Law is a luxury sailing crewed charter yacht in the British Virgin Islands. Up to 16 dives per week can be offered during a week on this boat, so 2 crew members are dive instructors! There is also a gourmet chef, as well as a captain, engineer, and 2 stewards.

You may also come across yachts offering a captain-only or skippered bareboat charter. This just means that the boat only comes with a captain, while the charterer is expected to handle the crew duties (the skipper often takes care of cooking on these charters).

Many of the captain-only charters are with an owner-operator, which means the owner of the boat actually takes the role of skipper during charters while guests act as crew. Captain-only charters are a good choice if you want to put your sailing skills to the test without so much risk as a bareboat charter.

However, there’s always the option to just ask a crewed-charter about helping with the crew’s sailing duties – which would mean you could stick to doing the fun parts without having to be stuck with the less fun responsibilities!

Monohull or Multihull Charter Yacht?

Most of the us, when imagining a sailboat, visualize a classic monohull sailboat. Many people don’t even realize that there are other options, each with its own benefits!

Blackbeard's Bahamas dive liveaboard
Cat Ppalu is a Bahamas scuba liveaboard catamaran

Monohulls are often preferred by sailors who enjoy the novelty of sailing the old-school way. The thrill of heeling while underway is fun for those who don’t mind a rougher ride!

Multihull vessels, such as catamarans and trimarans provide more stability, making your sailing smoother. Having multiple hulls to distribute the weight of the boat helps keep it from rolling and making everyone seasick.

Sailing in a multihull charter yacht is also faster, often quite a bit faster. The reduced draft of a multihull vessel makes it possible to reach more remote destinations, as well. This is often very important to those who want to snorkel or scuba dive while on their yacht charter vacation.

Scuba Diving in the BVI aboard Cuan Law sailing charter yacht

Some Helpful Yacht Charter Terminology

  • Bareboat – A yacht charter with no crew
  • Captain-Only Charter/Skippered Bareboat – A charter that comes with a captain but no crew
  • Beam – Distance across width of boat at its widest point
  • LOA – Length Over All; Normally this is the most important measurement of a boat
  • Nautical Mile (Knot) – Equal to 1.15 miles or 1.85 kilometers
  • Schooner – Sailboat with 2 or more masts, and aft mainmast is taller than foremast
  • Ketch – 2-masted yacht
  • Sloop – Ship with 1 mast
  • Inboard – Motor is within the hull
  • Outboard – Motor is attached on the stern, outside of the hull
  • Draft – The depth of the boat below the waterline
  • Mainsail – The largest sail
  • Jib – The sail positioned out in front of the mast
  • Tender – The dinghy
  • Monohull – The boat has a single hull; the shape most people think of as a sailboat
  • Multihull – Boat with more than one hull; Catamarans have 2 pontoons, Trimarans have 3
  • Galley – The kitchen
  • Head – The toilet
  • Pump Toilet – A toilet that you flush by manually pumping a handle
  • Wet Head – Bathroom containing toilet, sink, and shower; toilet and sink get wet when shower is used
  • Double Cabin – Cabin with a bed for 2 passengers (share a single bed)
  • Twin Cabin – Cabin with 2 separate beds for passengers (separate beds)
  • Pullman Berth – Twin bunk bed style berth that usually pulls out from the wall
  • V-Berth – Bunk in the v-shaped bow
  • Base Charter Rate – Rate paid for the yacht and crew; doesn’t usually include port fees, fuel, gratuities, and sometimes even provisions
  • Owner-Operator – Owner of a yacht who comes on a skippered bareboat charter as captain
  • Tandem-Charter – Charter including more than one yacht