As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on, leaving boaters looking for more ways to get out onto the water safely with family and friends, charter companies are reporting a surge in bookings for multiboat charters in warm, sunny destinations.
The Moorings is now receiving 25 percent more requests for charters with at least five boats than during the same time period in 2019, before the pandemic even began, according to Ian Pedersen, senior marketing manager for the company. “This interest has come from many different sources—from families, corporations and event planners looking to put together sailing trips where everyone can be together, but in a private, somewhat secluded setting,” Pedersen says.
Raul Bermudez, vice president at MarineMax Vacations, says he’s now receiving charter bookings for groups wanting as many as eight to 10 boats at a time in the British Virgin Islands. Some people, he says, are already booking into 2023, on the assumption that the pandemic’s ebbs and flows will continue to cause headaches for shoreside gatherings and other types of vacation options. “It may be that they can’t do their normal events on land, or a cruise ship got canceled, or overseas travel got put on hold,” Bermudez says.
The Moorings and MarineMax Vacations both offer multiboat options with bareboats, crewed yachts or combinations of the two that are tailored to the charter party’s experience level at the helm. Clients booking these types of multiboat charters can pretty much tailor the vacation however they please, according to the companies.
Pedersen says The Moorings has a dedicated Groups Department that helps charterers create itineraries based on their skill level and desires, and that assists with any special requests to help celebrate events such as anniversaries and retirements, or to plan activities for corporate team-building. This group service is available within The Moorings network of destinations, which includes the Bahamas, Florida Keys and U.S. Virgin Islands. There are boat options for monohulls and catamarans, power and sail, depending on the location of the Moorings base.
Bermudez says MarineMax Vacations is now creating itineraries in the British Virgin Islands for everyone from corporate leaders who want to reward top employees and associates to families wanting to schedule 50th birthday celebrations. The MarineMax Vacations fleet in the BVI includes power catamarans with three to five staterooms apiece, based at Tortola.
“One of our groups chartered an all-inclusive boat with full crew, plus three others that are bareboats,” Bermudez says. “So yes, you can mix and match. Another group is actually all captained.”
Bookings are stacking up especially fast in the British Virgin Islands, Bermudez says, because there is no more need for Americans to quarantine on arrival as long as they’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (at least, as of this writing). Some restaurants in the BVI are also now accommodating flotilla-size groups, he says, as long as the boats are tied up at the dock and make reservations.
“Depending on the group, you can do all kinds of stuff,” he says. “If you have a big group, something like 10 boats, we can provide a lead boat with a technician and a concierge service to lead them like a flotilla. If the clients are not that comfortable with the boats and want the help, we can provide it.”
Bermudez urges clients to book at least six months in advance for multiboat charters. Cancellation fees do apply if clients reduce the initial number of boats booked, but additional boats can be added later if they’re available, he says. With demand so high, he adds, it’s important to lock down the paperwork for the core boats that a group will need. “Especially if it’s a peak time like Easter, Christmas or New Year’s, because those sell out way in advance,” he says. “The larger the group, you’d better book way in advance, sometimes a year out. That’s how you get the boats you want.” As people book multiboat charters, they tell friends who all want bookings too. Every available indicator suggests that demand for multiboat charters will remain unusually strong for as long as the pandemic and its restrictions continue to frustrate people seeking other types of group activities. Bermudez says that even he is even getting on board in the British Virgin Islands while the getting is still good.
“When I go with my family, it’s usually at least two boats,” he says. “It’s great. You get here and you’re out in the open air. You’re swimming, you’re snorkeling, you’re having fun. It’s terrific.”
This article was originally published in the December 2021 issue.