How to Charter a Private Yacht

Two snorkelers dive under the water with a yacht in the background

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The idea of chartering a private yacht to explore a tropical island or coastal destination sounds like a dream trip for many seasoned travelers. After all, those swanky vessels often include a wide array of amenities that make life at sea not only comfortable, but downright luxurious. In the past, such an experience was usually reserved for the extremely wealthy, but today that isn't necessarily the case. In fact, thanks to increasing demand, improved technology, a greater availability of ships, and a number of other factors, this style of travel is more within reach than it has ever been in the past.

If you've been considering chartering a yacht for your next vacation, but aren't sure how to proceed, we're here to help. This is our handy guide for how to make that happen, opening the doors to an entirely new way to see the world. Be warned: Once you've enjoyed life aboard a private yacht, it can be challenging to go back to other modes of travel.

What is a Yacht?

Before diving too deeply into the logistics of chartering your own ship, it is important to first start with defining exactly what a yacht is. The simplest definition is that a yacht is a ship that is designed for prolonged journeys by sea. These types of vessels are typically used for pleasure cruises, but some are also meant for racing. A yacht can range in size from small enough to accommodate just a few people to sprawling ships that can hold dozens, with larger versions typically requiring a full crew. Propelled by sail or motor, yachts can be found in just about every major body of water in the world.

What Does it Mean to Charter a Yacht?

Put simply, chartering a yacht means that you are essentially renting a ship for your own personal use for a designated time. Unlike going on a cruise, you'll have the ship completely to yourself and whomever you invite. You'll also be able to create your own itinerary, deciding where you go, how long you want to stay, and what kind of activities you want to do along the way. Chartering your own boat provides a sense of freedom that you don't get even with a small-ship cruise.

Four travelers lounge in the sun aboard a sailing ship
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Getting Started: Choosing Your Destination

One of the first—and most important—decisions that you'll have to make when it comes to chartering a yacht is where to you want to go. Traditionally speaking, the two most popular locations for booking a private ship have been in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, although these days you can find options for chartered yachts in just about every corner of the globe, including the South Pacific, Australia, Central and South America, and even the Arctic and Antarctic.

Where you decide to go on your aquatic adventure may also dictate when you'll go. For instance, many chartered yachts spend the summer months in the Mediterranean, then cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean for the winter. If you want to book a charter in either of those locations, you'll more likely to do so at those times of the year. Similarly, if the Arctic or Antarctic is on your agenda, you'll need to plan on a summer sailing excursion in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere respectively. While some destinations have yachts available all year round, the supply of ships may ebb and flow based on demand and affect pricing. Keep that in mind as you start to plan your trip.

Choosing a Type of Yacht

It is important to think of your yacht as your traveling hotel for the length of your journey. You want it to be comfortable, relaxing, and provide the experience you crave, while also keeping it within your budget.

After deciding on your destination, you'll want to consider the type of yacht that you want to travel aboard. There are many different styles of ships to choose from and the one you select will likely have an impact on your trip. For example, a sailing ship will offer a very different type of voyage from one that is propelled by an engine. Traveling under sail may be a bit slower, but is also less prone to mechanical failure. It may also allow travelers to visit certain locations where fossil fuel-burning vessels simply aren't allowed.

Similarly, the size of the yacht will be an important factor. If you're looking for a romantic, intimate journey for two, a smaller ship designed with heightened privacy may be more to your liking. On the other hand, if you're traveling with a larger group, you'll definitely need a ship that can comfortably accommodate everyone, with a little room to spare. Days at sea can lead to cramped quarters from time to time.

Planning Your Voyage

The versatility and freedom that comes with yachting is part of its appeal, and plans can be changed based on how the trip unfolds. But having at least a rough outline of what you would like to do on your vacation will not only lead to a more efficient use of your time, it will also help deliver the experience you're hoping to get.

If your goal is to simply relax aboard the ship and sail through a scenic destination, you can do just that without creating a complicated itinerary. On the other hand, if your trip includes regular shore excursions for sightseeing, shopping, and dining, more thought will have to be put into the schedule. If you'd also like to go diving and snorkeling, fishing, or whale watching, you'll have to discuss that with your captain and crew.

a row of luxury yachts parked next to one another in a harbor.
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Should I Use a Charter Broker or Go it Alone?

Once you know where you want to travel and have a sense of the type of trip you want out on the water, it's time to actually reserve your yacht. There are a number of ways that you can do that these days, including using a charter broker or booking the ship directly yourself. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, although often times it comes down to your budget.

By hiring a charter broker, you may end up spending a little more money, but you're also more likely to get a yacht, crew, and itinerary that matches exactly what you have envisioned for your vacation. Good brokers such as Worth Avenue Yachts, Frasier Yachts, and Ocean Getaways can make the entire experience a simple and straightforward affair, working with you to match you with the right ship and advise on where to go and what to do on your trip. It is also important to keep in mind that many yachts can only be chartered through a broker, which brings a level of safety and security to the process.

On the other hand, it is possible for travelers to book their own yachts directly, cutting out the middleman and potentially saving some money in the process. Using a website such as Ahoy Club or Yotha, you can search through available ships based on the destination and planned travel dates. However, this approach does tend to require more time and planning on the part of the traveler since you'll be handling some of the duties that would normally be taken on by a charter broker.

It is also possible to deal directly with a ship's owner or captain to charter a boat without using a broker or website. We would recommend using extreme caution with this approach as it could potentially leave you more exposed to being taken advantage of through unexpected additional expenses or outright fraud. Unless you have a good, solid connection with the yacht owner, we recommend sticking to more established and reliable chartering services.

Do I Need a Crew?

The size of the crew will often cause the price of a charter to go up dramatically. Some ships will not only include a captain and first mate to pilot the vessel, but a chef, personal wait staff, excursion guides, and others. Obviously, smaller ships will have fewer staff, which can affect—both positively and negatively—your experience.

It is possible to have just a captain onboard to navigate the vessel. In those circumstances, you'll become part of the crew, helping to prepare meals, assisting in sailing the vessel, and so on. This approach can save some money, but may not be the type of vacation you're looking for.

Of course, if you already know how to sail, feel comfortable handling the ship, and have the necessary boat licenses, you can also operate a boat yourself.

A large luxury yacht floats on blue water at sunset
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How Much Does Chartering a Yacht Cost?

When it comes to chartering a yacht, without a doubt the most common question is "how much does it cost?" Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to that, as there are a lot of variables that go into determining price. The most important of those variables is the size of the ship and the destination you'll be visiting. A small sailing ship chartered in the offseason in the Caribbean, for example, will cost much less than a large luxury yacht would at the height of the summer in the Mediterranean. The length of the voyage, size of the crew, number of ports of call, and the types of activities done en route will all figure into the price of a chartered yacht vacation.

That said, Ocean Getaways—one of the charter brokers listed above—indicates that on the low end, a chartered luxury catamaran in the British Virgin Islands starts at about $2,500 per person for a full week. This price includes all meals and an open bar, making it a reasonably-priced vacation for many people. The expenses can spiral upwards quickly from there, with motorized yachts climbing to $4,000 per person thanks to added fuel costs. If you jump into the "superyacht" category, the price can balloon to $50,000 a person for one week.

Many of the charters are all-inclusive, but it is important to read the fine-print on your contract to be sure. Some yachts will have added expenses; not all activities may be covered and you'll want to factor in a tip for the crew. Typically, tips are about 20 percent of the total cost of the charter.

What to Bring Onboard

As with any vacation, what you bring on your chartered yacht will largely be determined by the destination you're visiting. If you're going to a tropical locale and you like to travel light, you might not need much more than a swimsuit, T-shirt, sun hat, and a pair of flip-flops. However, if you're making a more adventurous journey into the Antarctic, you'll definitely want to bring a few more layers. When packing, simply bring clothing that is appropriate to the setting.

Once you're aboard your ship and settled into your cabin, you won't have to worry about repacking suitcases or lugging them from one hotel to the next. Unless your yacht specifically mentions keeping your luggage to a minimum, you'll have the freedom to pack a few extra items that you may have left at home in order to save space or weight. Provided you have room in your suitcase, why not bring an extra outfit or two? You'll likely appreciate the versatility that this style of travel affords.

Most modern yachts are nicely equipped with entertainment systems for watching television shows and movies. Some have well-stocked book shelves or even full libraries. You'll also find plenty of places to plug in electronic devices for recharging and you may even get wireless internet. While it is always nice to unplug while away from home, having things to distract and keep you entertained while at sea for hours at a time can come in handy.

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