Power charters: try before you buy
Posted on 30 October 2008
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By customarily referring to boats as “she,” we invite the comparison between boat ownership and marriage. So what does that make chartering?
For a price, you can enjoy the most pleasurable aspects of boating without the headaches and never-ending expense of a long-term relationship.
Your money buys the opportunity to dally in the very best places for a week or two with a model that’s a lot younger, and maybe more attractive, than what might otherwise be possible for you.
As power charters become increasingly popular, however, it has become clear this pleasure analogy applies less to them than the sailboat vacations upon which the charter industry was built and which still dominate. Not that power charters aren’t pleasurable; it’s just that more of the power customers have a purpose beyond fun in the Margaritaville sun.
These purposeful customers are nearly always couples. Some have owned and chartered sailboats in the past. Many are retired or soon to be, and they’ve chartered a powerboat because they want to be informed.
Power chartering is a lagging indicator of 20 years of steady growth in trawler yacht ownership, as the post-World War II generation reaches retirement. As an end-game strategy, the trawler (or power cat) lifestyle has tremendous appeal, particularly as fuel costs ravage boating’s performance sector. Even so, getting into the trawler game typically requires an investment of at least $100,000 — and up to more than a million.
Many customers are using power charters as a trial run to see if they enjoy the lifestyle before spending all that money. Often he’s certain, but she is not. Often she is quite certain she doesn’t want to cruise long-term in a sailboat, but might not mind doing so in the less-confining spaces of a trawler or catamaran. As any yacht broker will tell you, a deposit check rarely takes ink until she has given “the nod.” A power charter in pleasant surroundings is often male strategy to put his wife in the mood.
Those couples who have not been steeped in boating from a young age often lack the confidence to go for ownership because they lack the skills. These couples look to charter companies for training as well as an opportunity to test the lifestyle.
Southwest Florida Yacht Charters, which offers sail- and powerboat vacations, learned long ago there was demand for instruction on living aboard, so its owners launched Florida Sailing and Cruising School as an adjunct to their core business. It includes a separate course of instruction for those who would cruise under power, taught from Marinatown Marina in North Fort Myers (www.swfyachts.com).
Blue Goose Charters had done the same on Chesapeake Bay from its headquarters in Baltimore under the banner of its quaintly named Mother Goose Trawler School (www.bluegoosecharters.com). Both teach the basics of piloting, docking, navigation, power management, safety, communications and weather, often in conjunction with a weeklong charter after classes end.
With so many people chartering, not to avoid the complications of boat ownership but as a prelude to embracing the sport, it should be no surprise manufacturers and dealers are beginning to see the benefits of in-house charter operations.
I was working at Mirage Manufacturing, the Gainesville, Fla., builder of the Great Harbour trawler line (www.greatharbourtrawlers.com), when the company decided to offer a factory-owned N37 for charter on the St. Johns River in Florida. I managed all aspects of the startup and was on-site during the first season the boat was offered in the Abacos.
Mirage is a small company, and the Great Harbour is a unique boat in many ways. Small company, unique product — that’s a recipe for skepticism, and buyers often need a lot of convincing before they’ll shell out upward of a half-million dollars.