21 tips for a perfect charter

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Who doesn’t want to have a memorable charter experience? But great charters don’t happen by luck. I should know. I’ve done about 60 charters, and I own a charter boat. Here are 21 of my tips to help ensure that your experience is second to none.

Who doesn’t want to have a memorable charter experience? But great charters don’t happen by luck. I should know. I’ve done about 60 charters, and I own a charter boat. Here are 21 of my tips to help ensure that your experience is second to none.

Booking and saving money

Use large charter companies’ in-house travel desks. They offer non-published discounted rates on some airlines. And remember, charter companies almost always offer special discounts at their boat show booths.

Book your charter immediately before or after high seasons. If the high season ends April 20, start your charter right after. It won’t be as crowded, and you will enjoy better discounts and service.

Ask the charter company specific questions about extras — for example, cruising/fishing licenses, marine park fees, local taxes, fuel and water costs, ice, staple items.

Fly midweek; it is usually cheaper, especially to the Caribbean. Two additional benefits: You escape the dreadful weekend connection in Puerto Rico, with hordes of cruise ship passengers, and you avoid the very busy weekend charter starts at your base.

Arrive one day before your charter starts. It isn’t a good idea to cast off on an unfamiliar boat in unfamiliar waters after a 10-hour trip. Plus, it gives you time to provision and have a relaxed chart/boat briefing.

Take advantage of the so-called “sleep aboard” or “5 p.m. early start” at 50 percent of the daily rate. For a party with three or four couples, it is much cheaper than paying for three or four hotel rooms. Also, you’ll be under way by 10:30 a.m. at the latest, including all the precharter chores. So by paying for an extra half-day to sleep on the boat, you gain an entire day of sailing.

Charter companies offer provisioning services, which for a six-person, seven-day charter will exceed $1,100 plus beverages. That’s some serious grocery shopping. Instead, either shop at the local market or bring your own food. Use a large duffel bag or a large cooler to be checked at the airline counter. Shop at your favorite discount store, and freeze everything before leaving. Upon arrival, everything is still frozen. We’ve never had a problem.

Living aboard

When packing, put all your stuff on your bed. Then take half of the clothes, and put them back in the closet. Trust me, it works.

A charter is unlike any other vacation with friends. Remember, a boat is an enclosed environment with no escape, so choose your crew very carefully. No whiners or short-fused people. Choose a crew you know you are compatible with, a crew that will be able to handle unexpected circumstances with good humor and grace.

Prepare. Work your itinerary, put the navigation together, and choose nice restaurants along the way. Do this with your crew, if possible. It is an opportunity to start the fun early and assess how all of you will behave.

Share all chores between crewmembers. You don’t want to hear, “Why am I doing the dishes all the time while Ms. Perfect Tan over there does nothing all day?” Set up an informal schedule of chores but don’t go overboard. Remember, keep it fun.

Assign an undisputed skipper who will have the last word in problematic situations. A boat with two skippers is a no-no.

Save water. Rinse dishes in a bucket in the ocean over the transom, then use dish soap and quickly rinse with fresh water. If there is a saltwater pump in the galley, use it whenever freshwater isn’t necessary.

Does the sound of the boom rocking and squeaking at anchor drive you crazy? Give some slack to mainsheet, and tie a line from one of the loops at the end of the boom to one of the handrails on either side of the cabin top. Take the slack off the line and off the mainsheet. Your boom won’t move, and is out of the way.

Seamanship and navigation

Understand at the very least: location and operation of seacocks; bilge pump procedures; location of flares, fire extinguishers and first-aid kit (fully stocked); windlass procedures (both electric and manual in case of power failure); reefing procedures; and location of the emergency tiller.

Start the dinghy outboard and be sure it spits water. You can make do with many flaws in a dinghy, but not with a faulty engine.

Plan a short, easy sail for your first day, without a long beat segment. Give yourself and the crew time to unwind and get adjusted.

Learn how to heave-to. In heave-to position, the sailboat slows considerably and moves forward at just 1 or 2 knots. The pounding felt in strong seas almost disappears, and the boat doesn’t heel as much. It’s like “parking” the boat at idle speed.

Be very careful about sunset times, especially in the Caribbean, where the sun sets very quickly. You don’t want to be caught sailing in the dark for two good reasons: Most charter companies strictly forbid it, and it can be a bit frightening if you’re not used to it.

To avoid writing on charts and damaging them, use self-stick notes to mark positions and make notes on the chart.

Negotiate tricky reefs or shallows around midday, when the sun is directly overhead. And always put safety first. Remember, it makes you a prudent mariner, not a party-pooper.

Michel Benarrosh’s Web site, www.sailonline.com, provides independent chartering information, including discounted unsold weeks from charter companies and how to charter directly from charter-boat owners, as well as in-depth guidance for charterers, charter-boat buyers and owners. Benarrosh has been a charter-boat owner for many years and has been president of the Moorings Owners Group, an independent association of 250 Moorings charter-yacht owners, for 10 years.