The charter industry is rapidly changing - demand is high, but there are still bargains to be had. Rob Melotti explains how to charter a yacht in 2022.
What’s not to love about a yacht charter holiday? Skippered holidays are ideal for anyone feeling rusty or wishing to take advantage of a local guide and sailing coach to boost confidence and skills while enjoying the best anchorages and eateries of a destination.
Bareboat charters are far cheaper – suited for RYA Day Skipper qualified sailors looking to take the helm, while a flotilla holiday with other charter yachts and an expert lead crew provides the balance of independence, sociability, support and guidance.
Kate Staniforth, head of marketing for Sunsail and The Moorings, advises: “Whether you’re unqualified or learning the ropes, a newly-qualified skipper or an old hand, charter holidays can be as carefree as you want. There are great options for families, groups, couples and solo sailors.”
Recent yacht charter trends
In the wake of the third wave of Covid-19 in the UK, it was no surprise to find fewer charter holiday companies selling their flotillas and bareboat deals at Southampton International Boat Show last September.
Yet all of the firms spoken to reported a surge of bookings since June 2021 when the UK Government eased quarantine requirements for travellers returning from countries on the ‘amber’ list.
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This bodes well for the economic recovery required to make up for two disrupted sailing seasons – although it also means that a limited number of spaces are in high demand.
“One of the things that I think is going to be critical is booking early,” says John Connolly, product manager at Seafarer. “With the volume of deferrals we already have for 2022 and the pent up demand that everyone is hoping for… to get your choice of destination and boat, it’s important to get in early.”
Seafarer is a UK-based company that specialises in flotilla and bareboat packages in Greece, Croatia and other destinations, as well as running their own yachts in Greece.
Connolly explained how up until June 2021, the UK quarantine laws had affected British charter clients in ways that other EU nationals hadn’t felt:
“In Croatia we found that because the market was opened up much earlier to European nationals, a lot of our suppliers were busy selling, so when it came to the UK opening for our flotilla program, there was almost nothing available.”
Jeremy Friend, who runs Sailing Choices as a solo charter agent, and who has enjoyed a strong start to the year, taking 15% of his normal annual business in the first two weeks of January, thinks this could have longer lasting effects:
“One of the operators said to me: ‘Your clients are going to have fun next year.’ I said: Why’s that? He said: ‘Well we’ve discovered a whole new market. The eastern Europeans have found us.’ It’s not just the British that book flotillas and bareboat charters,” he adds.
Tommy Tognarelli, co-founder of PlainSailing.com, described last summer as “crazy”, with incredible demand for charter yachts and catamarans across the Med: “Even the battered, old boats were fully booked.”
He added: “This summer we’re expecting something similar because demand is going to outstrip supply again.”
How is the industry recovering from COVID?
“The whole industry’s taken a knock but we’ve used the time to really build the tech,” says Matt Ovenden, CEO and founder of borrowaboat.com, which has evolved rapidly since it was launched in 2016 and now advertises 35,000-plus boats from all over the world on its online marketplace.
Ovenden’s firm suffered like everyone else during lockdown, but in true ‘start-up’ spirit he and his team launched new versions of its website as well as acquiring ‘boutique’ charter firm Helm.
Borrow A Boat is in competition with French firm clickandboat.com in attempting to aggregate, market and display online the world’s entire fleet of charter vessels: sail, power, superyachts, catamarans and more.
They encourage boat owners to register their own boats for charter – a process known as peer-to-peer chartering. All boats on the site must prove they meet the legal coding and safety standards required by the country in which they are kept, but once those documents are uploaded and approved, the owner has control of who can sail it, when and where.
“Owners can determine their own prices on the site, they can choose what the minimum qualification for charter is…” explains Matt. “In the Med that tends to be RYA Day Skipper, but in the UK owners seem to want Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster.
“They can set whatever rules they want on board: no pets, no groups… the important thing with the peer-to-peer market is that people need to feel confident.
“It’s still not for everyone. Nor is putting your house on Airbnb, but a certain amount of people do want to do it because it offsets the cost of running their boat and that’s all we need.”
Jeremy Friend of Sailing Choices warned peer-to-peer chartering had its downsides: “Yes it can be cheaper for the charterer, yes it’s a way of owners possibly making more than they would placing the yacht with an established charter operator.
“But you also have no assurance about quality nor the support in the event of a breakdown and charterers need to look carefully at financial protection should the “owner” disappear with their money!
“I spoke to one charterer a few years back who was handed a yacht crammed with the owner’s loose knick-knacks. And in the event of a breakdown does the owner have access to a store room of spares?
“Does he even have the technical knowledge to diagnose the problem or fix it? And is he chartering it himself because the charter operators wouldn’t accept it (without extra spend – many charter companies want all their yachts to have the same make of outboard, dinghy, instruments etc as it makes for easier maintenance).”
Trying it out
I searched borrowaboat.com for sailing yachts and catamarans less than 22 years old in Greece at a maximum price of r200 per day and the search engine did indeed produce 4,000 results from more than 100 ports in Greek waters.
You’ll find similar results searching clickandboat.com – but the more traditional charter companies also accommodate individual client requests.
“If you said to me I want to go to this area on this boat, we will find it,” insists Jonathan Shears of Nautilus. “We’ll listen to what the client wants.”
How to work on a charter yacht
Another knock-on effect of the resurgence in the travel industry is the need for some companies to recruit new staff.
Josie Tucci, vice president of sales and marketing for Sunsail, said: “We’ve seen a massive increase in activity so we’re probably 50% ahead compared to FY19, which is just incredible. We have to fill all the positions as fast as we can.”
However, recruiting British staff to work overseas has become a lot more difficult since the final Brexit agreement came into force on 1 January 2021.
“Our clients are used to having English-speaking crew, particularly on the flotillas,” says John Connolly at Seafarer.
“We’ll employ any [nationality], but obviously we want people who are going to be able to converse happily with our guests in English.
“We are negotiating the quagmire of work permits for our overseas staff. That’s about the only impact from our point of view.
“We have a Greek company as well, so in terms of our day-to-day operations, there hasn’t really been any effect from Brexit apart from the crewing issue.
“Recruitment has been more of a challenge since Brexit’ says Lottie Nickson, sales executive at Sailing Holidays.
“We do however still have fantastic staff from the UK with increasing numbers heading from Ireland to join our team in Greece.”
UK citizens with European passports are in high demand for the charter companies and the UK travel sector more generally.
How much does it cost to charter a yacht and where can you do it?
Yacht charters come in all shapes and sizes. You can pick up a bareboat sailing yacht for under £1,000 per week or relax in sheer luxury on a crewed yacht from £15,000 per week. The type of boat you hire can make a huge difference to the experience, too.
Borrow A Boat’s Matt Ovenden said: “Traditionally, our most popular charter countries have been Croatia, Greece and Italy, but, in recent years, growing numbers of clients are looking further afield for more adventurous holidays in the likes of Thailand and the Caribbean.
“The UK has also grown in popularity in recent years. In fact, research we commissioned revealed that Scotland is now the most popular destination in the UK.
“If you have an RYA Day Skipper, International Certificate of Competence (ICC) or equivalent qualification, then you can bareboat charter anywhere you choose.
“Skippered charters are a great option for those without certificates, while crewed charters offer a more luxurious experience with a professional crew looking after you.
“Deciding when you go on a charter is all about figuring out what you and your group are looking for.
“If you have a young family with school-age children, you’re probably tied to August and should consider Greece or Croatia as a first port of call.
“Beginners are well served by the gentle breezes of the Southern Ionian, while more experienced sailors may prefer the Cyclades and the famous Meltemi winds.
“If you’re looking to get off the beaten track, then the Seychelles in October may be more your sort of thing.”
Kate Staniforth, head of marketing for Sunsail and The Moorings, said: “Greece remains to be a top destination for sailing holidays, with average temperatures rising from 18°C at the start of May to 28°C in July, and can hit the mid-30°Cs in July and August. Calm conditions and easy moorings make Lefkas the perfect destination for newly qualified seafarers.
“Croatia is another great choice with average temperatures from April to May is from 22°C to 28°C. June to August you can expect Sunny, blue skies every day, with temperatures from 26°C to 30°C. More experienced sailors can enjoy longer spells out on the open ocean and take part in regattas and other events.
“Further afield, the British Virgin Islands offer warm weather in the winter. Easy line-of-sight navigation and sheltered anchorages makes bareboat and flotilla holidays ideal options for new sailors and skilled skippers.
“When most people think about a sailing a yacht, they have the traditional monohull in mind. A monohull offers a more dynamic sailing experience but spread across two hulls, catamarans offer much larger and more spacious living environment, perfect for large groups, and sit higher on the water, meaning they can explore much shallower areas.”
When to book for discount yacht charters?
So when is the ideal time to book a charter to get a discount? Last-minute bookings are often available – social media channels and email newsletters are the best way of keeping your finger on the pulse. Boat shows and bookings at low or high season can also help you bag a bargain.
“We’ll have people come to the boat show asking to go next week and some of those discounts are up to 35%,” says Jonathan Shears at Nautilus. “But those are boats that are slightly harder to sell: like a Lagoon 52, which is a lovely boat so it will still be an expensive holiday, but at 35% saving.”
However, Jeremy Friend believes the balance has shifted in recent years away from last-minute deals towards early booking deals.
“For companies that are operating boats on behalf of owners, they often have a bottom floor beyond which they can’t go anyway – because they’d otherwise be giving away money that is due to the boat owner. The better deals tend to be for those who book early rather than people who book late.”
How to save on a yacht charter vacation
Buying a boat for charter can provide a regular income (your cut of charter fees), plus you can sail your yacht, or any yacht of similar size within the worldwide fleet for free (apart from a small turnover fee).
If you prefer a larger yacht, just pay the difference in the brochure charter price between your size yacht and the larger one. Sunsail and The Moorings have around 1,500 yachts in more than 15 worldwide bases – so that is a lot of choice!
Now Borrow A Boat has relaunched its ‘ownaboat’ scheme, which differs from the aforementioned schemes by allowing owners to purchase any boat they want.
“We might be able to get you a discount on it,” says Matt Ovenden. “We can put it on borrowaboat.com for charter, and we can put it with one of our charter operators to look after it.
“At the moment we’ve certain areas that are heavily over-subscribed, the south coast of the UK being one of them… we get far more requests than we have boats available. So if anyone were to keep a boat there on charter…”
Yacht charter news and offers
- Sunsail has launched two new motorcat designs and opened three new bases: in Abacos, which has been rebuilt from the ground up after Hurricane Dorian in 2018; in US Virgin Islands and Florida Keys.
- Did you know? According to sailgrenadines.com the Grenadines in the Caribbean never locked down throughout the pandemic.
- Seafarer is a fan of the ‘pop-up charter’. They ran two over-subscribed flotillas from Southampton last August and plan to do more this season. For winter clients they have a Thailand flotilla running from March.
General travel advice
- Useful advice on booking flights can be found on sailingchoices.com
- For the latest advice from the UK Foreign Office for your specific destination visit gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
- Professional Charter Association (PCA), based in Hamble, has a published membership of around 100 companies across the UK. RIB and powerboat rides, skippered day-trip companies and sport-fishing tour operators feature strongly, but there are also sea schools and sailing charters
- The Association of Scottish Yacht Charterers (ASYC) is a more sailing and leisure focussed organisation (compared to the PCA) and essential reading for sail charters in Scotland
- British Marine (formerly the British Marine Federation) is the UK marine industry representative body and features a wide array of UK coastal and inland charter companies on its membership list
Where to book a yacht charter
- Sailing Holidays
- DI Yachting
- The Moorings
- Cosmos Yachting
- Dream Yacht Charter
- Ocean Elements
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This feature appeared in the April 2022 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.
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