Fed up with days holed up due to bad weather? Why not put your boating skills to good use on a charter holiday, says Katy Stickland

Whether you own your boat or not, chartering offers the chance to explore new cruising grounds and sail different boats, usually catamarans.

But choosing a sailing holiday can sometimes be bewildering, with the endless choice of locations and companies, and for some, a charter can become a stressful week (or two) away, rather than relaxing, especially if you’re not confident about handling a different boat’s systems, different mooring techniques (stern-to is very common in the Mediterranean) or you are holidaying with family who may not be natural crew.

Two women sitting on a swimming platform on a boat

Careful planning will mean your charter holiday should go without a hitch! Credit: Joe Manning

However, with some planning, your charter can deliver more than any luxury beach holiday and can leave you with some treasured memories.

Where to go for your charter holiday in Europe?

Chartering in Europe, particularly the Mediterranean, is the easiest way to experience sailing in the sun, especially if you’re limited with holiday time. Before deciding on your final choice it’s advisable to look at the weather patterns in each different destination, as this can vary widely.

For example, Croatia can be less windy between July and August, offering easier sailing, while it can be windier in the Cyclades in Greece in July and August, so the Ionian might be a better choice.

Popular Mediterranean charter destinations include Greece, Croatia, Italy, France, and Turkey.

Although most of us undertake a coastal charter, inland waters offer a holiday at a different pace.

A boat sailing on a lake under blue skies

There are more than 2,000 lakes to explore in Poland’s Masurian Lake District. Credit: Mieczyslaw Wieliczko/Alamy

The French canals have long been popular, but there are many other less-known charter destinations.

Berlin in Germany stands on the River Spree, with easy access to the Mecklenburg Lake District, the Haval Lakes, the Brandenburgh inshore waters and the Lustia Lakeland.

Or for those wanting to go off the beaten track, why not charter in the little explored Masurian Lake District in east Poland, with canals and forest-lined rivers?

Tip: charter bases are often sited in remote locations, away from local airports, so make sure you arrange transfers with your operator or be prepared to book a taxi.

When to go on charter holiday?

As with any holiday, peak charter period is during school holidays, but if you aren’t tied down by school holidays the best time to go isn’t necessarily from July to August.

For most European charters, April, June, September and October represent a great mix of weather, lower costs and quieter waters.

From May, you can also expect most restaurants to be open too.

Why type of boat?

People sitting around a table eating on a boat while on a charter holiday

The right boat to suit your crew will make chartering memorable for the right reasons!

The first thing to decide on is how many hulls.

If you’re a keen and experienced sailor, and the holiday is all about sailing, then a monohull might be preferable.

Although cruising catamarans have the huge advantage of living space, can go shallow and are excellent for manoeuvring in tight marinas due to their two engines, they tend to have little feel in light airs and struggle to sail fast or close to the wind.

However, it is all about choosing a yacht to suit your crew, and ensuring there is enough privacy and space for those on board.

If you’re sailing with inexperienced crew who look at the boat as a floating holiday home, then a catamaran might be the best option.

Skippered, bareboat or flotilla charter holiday?

If you don’t want the pressure of skippering, and you’re travelling with less experienced crew, then an organised flotilla – where the lead boat will include a professional skipper and engineer – could work for you, and be a good stepping stone to chartering on your own.

A man wearing sunglasses at the helm of a boat during a charter holiday

If your sailing skills are rusty, why not hire a skipper for 24 hours to get you up to speed? Credit: Laura Hodgetts

If you are very new to boating, a skippered charter is another good way to build confidence, as a professional skipper will take the helm and navigate throughout your sailing holiday; they can also provide expert sailing tips and advice on places to explore.

For those with the confidence and experience, a bareboat charter will allow you to explore cruising grounds at your own pace.

Experience levels and training


A coastal bareboat (no paid-for skipper) charter in the Mediterranean will need one of the crew to have some level of qualification, the International Certificate of Competence (ICC) being the usual minimum requirement.

You may be asked to write out a skipper CV to detail your experience. It is also preferred that at least one other member of the crew has a competent level of boating knowledge.

An ICC (International Certificate of Competance)

An International Certificate of Competence (ICC) is usually needed when bareboat chartering

Although the ICC is generally accepted in most European countries, it’s advisable to check with the charter company what evidence of competence is accepted for chartering a boat to avoid disappointment.

These fairly basic requirements are designed to accommodate all kinds of experience.

It is fair to say that the cruising grounds most charter companies operate in are easily accessible for any boater with a base knowledge of navigation, boat-handling and general seamanship and safety.


An ICC is sometimes required for inland waters.

Again, it’s best to check with the charter company what is required, if anything, to show competence. Experienced boaters, whether inland or coastal, will find the inland charter experience very straightforward.

Boats moored stern to

Stern-to mooring is common in the Mediterranean. If you’ve never done this before, request a boat-handling session with the charter company before casting off. Credit: Chris Beeson

Tip: make sure your sailing skills are not too rusty before going on your charter holiday, especially when it comes to stern-to mooring or anchoring.

It’s a good idea to find the nearest anchorage to the charter base and drop the hook so you can get used to your boat’s habits.

Alternatively, some charter firms, like Sunsail, allow you to hire a skipper for 24 hours so you can get up to speed.

Insurance and deposits for your charter holiday

You’ll be expected to take out boat security insurance for loss or damage, then give a security deposit locally, usually in the form of a credit card number given but not charged, subject to there being no loss or damage to the vessel at the end of the charter.

In some cases, you may be able to pay for an insurance waiver to protect yourself against any claims for damage or breakages.

What to take with you

Your boat should come with charts, pilot books and local information guides, giving you everything you need to navigate around the local cruising grounds, but they might not be up to date, so taking your own charts and pilot book is a good idea.

This will also give you the chance to plan an itinerary before you leave home, even though this might change when you get there.

A man looking through binoculars on a deck of a boat

Charter binoculars are invariably awful so bring your own for navigation and rigging checks before leaving the charter base. Credit: Getty

Noonsite (noonsite.com) is a valuable online resource, and there are now plenty of sailing apps, like Navily, which are a mix of a pilot book and social media, where sailors leave their experiences of recent anchorages and marinas.

Safety equipment should be provided (see checklist below).

Think about taking the small things that can make life more comfortable on board, such as a sharp cooking knife, binoculars, LED torch, cool pack, spark lighter, duct tape, a sink plug, a multi-tool knife and silicone spray, to lubricate cars or blocks (just check with the airline that you can take it in the hold).

Checklist before casting off

Regardless of your experience, or how keen you are to cast off, make sure you receive a full handover on your charter boat.

This should include a rundown on safety and other onboard systems, equipment and the general cruising inventory.

Remember in most areas of the Med, you can’t pump waste into the sea, instead you are expected, rightly, to use pump-out stations, but these can be few and far between, so make sure to get a list of shoreside facilities.

A man moving sails on a yacht

Run the mainsail up the track to make sure the cars do not stick or fall. Credit: Graham Snook

Allow at least one hour for the handover process, ideally more.

Make sure to take photographs of any damage and report it.

Crews with less hands-on experience should request a boat-handling and helming tutorial from an experienced skipper.

Make sure you agree on a time and date when the boat is to return to base.

The following is not an exhaustive checklist, but a suggestion of things to consider:

  • Walk the boat from bow to stern to see what systems are in use. Are winches located at the mast? How does the reefing system work?
  • Anchor: is it secured with a lashing or drop-nose pin (to stop the cable from jumping off the bow roller)? Is the anchor chain marked? Is there a remote control for the electric windlass? Is the anchor rode bitter end attached to the boat? Is the anchor shackled to the cable? Is the shackle moused?
  • Unfurl the headsail to check it moves freely on the fuller and the rope/wire moves smoothly without riding turns. Is the sail in good condition? Is the luff secure? Is the halyard taut? Are the sheets in good condition? Does the halyard run free if the sails are hanked-on?
  • Are the side lights working? Do you have a motoring cone and an anchor ball? How full is the gas bottle? How do you turn it on and off? Does it drain overboard?
  • Check clevis pins for stays and shrouds to make sure they are secured with a split pin or ring. Are they bent? If so, they could jump out.
  • Turn on steaming lights to make sure they work. Use silicone spray in the mast slot or on sliders and batten cars to make raising the sail easier.
  • Check deck gear, is it secure? Do blocks and cars move freely? Are rope clutches clearly labelled?
  • Check winches and rope clutches run smoothly. Do the winch handles fit? Make sure you know the mainsheet system.
  • Does the wheel or tiller run freely? If not, ask the charter company to sort it out before leaving.
  • Is the steering compass correct? It is a good idea to bring your own hand-bearing compass and compare it
  • Make sure you understand the instruments and chartplotter and that they’re set up so you understand them
  • Check safety equipment, like lifejackets, danbuoy, throwing line or man overboard (MOB) retrieval system and make sure you know how these work. Discuss and practice MOB recovery with the crew. Check distress signalling is up to date. Where is the manual bilge pump and handle? Check the automatic bilge pump. Check the first aid kit
  • Make sure you know how to turn everything on and off at the switch panels
  • Know how the VHF works and how to make a Mayday. Make sure you know the vessel’s call sign
  • Do all seacocks have a wooden bung next to them? Make sure the whole crew know how to operate seacocks and especially the heads
  • Check the engine before casting off. Remember WOBLE. W = water levels: check the filter and the antifreeze water level. O = oil: check both the gearbox oil and the fuel oil. B = belts: check the tension of the belts by giving them a short twist – if you can twist more than 90° it’s too slack. L = look for leaks. E = exhaust is pumping water
  • Run the engine to ensure the rev counter and temperature gauge are in the green, and make sure the fuel level is full.
  • If you can get to it, check the rudder for damage.

Insider tips for securing the best deal on your Mediterranean charter holiday

A yacht sailing at sea

Researching your charter destination before you arrive will mean a happier and stress free holiday. Credit: Sunsail/Tony Demin

As travellers seek to book the perfect Mediterranean or European escape, we asked yacht charter company Sunsail for a few insider tips on how to get the best package, price and value when booking a yacht charter in 2024.

Book early: a top tip is to book in advance to access early bird discounts or off-season deals when demand is lower. Early birds often get a wider choice of yachts, and destinations to suit their budget and holiday needs, so it really does pay to get in early.

Get inspired: check out yacht charter blogs for inspiration on the right destination for holiday crews, with tips on sailing grounds and best places to eat.

Stay connected: following social media or subscribing to newsletters can give early access to exclusive deals and promotions, so be sure to hit those ‘follow’ or ‘sign up’ buttons.

Be flexible with dates: opting to travel during shoulder seasons, which lie just before or after peak seasons, can offer significant savings, while still benefiting from favourable weather.

A little boy wearing a lifejacket laughing on a boat

Chartering can be fun for the whole family. Credit: Sunsail/Tony Demin

Be flexible with locations: be open-minded to alternatives. Sometimes shifting preferred schedules slightly can lead to significant cost savings and amazing new adventures!

Complete a sailing CV: an online ‘holiday sailing CV’ can help you identify destinations and/or products to match the sailing experience for your holiday party.

Check out the offers pages: there are two key booking periods for the Med to ensure the best deals – the month of September, marked by boat show season, and early in the new year. These are when the best seasonal promotions are available. Beyond these peak booking seasons, be sure to keep an eye on dedicated offers pages as last-minute deals can pop up for those who can move quickly.

How to book: most companies offer online and telephone booking services. Some services, like flight-inclusive packages, might only be available by phone booking. Some companies will offer discounts to returning customers so it’s always worth asking.

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Be clear on inclusions: double check what’s covered in the price of your holiday to avoid unexpected extra expenses during your trip. Some companies have itemised pricing that includes everything a boater should need for a yachting holiday, others don’t offer extras as standard, so check exactly what’s included especially when comparing prices.

Essential information: when booking, review local information such as the base address, the nearest airport, local currency, moorings fees, nearest supermarket, base facilities, weather and wind information to help you plan ahead.

Meal planning: use time ahead of checking-in to buy provisions, including dry goods, and long-life foods. Larger charter companies like Sunsail, have an online provisioning store, which will stock yachts with chosen shopping lists of fresh and dried goods ahead of check-in.

Get to the base early: all charter bookings have a set check-in time. Arriving early allows you the time and space to get to know the local area, and meet local support crews.

Enjoy reading How to plan the perfect European charter holiday?

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