Sailing Charter Gone Wrong 
By Lori Schmidt & Co-Author: Paul D. Harrison

Thirteen DO'S and DON'TS on a Sailing Charter

We had never heard of a sailing charter gone wrong.  We were so excited to start our honeymoon in the beautiful British Virgin Islands.

My wife and I both had some sailing experience, but never sailed together, although we did take a Coast Guard 3-day navigation course together.

We booked a 10-day sailing trip on a Beneteau 463 with a local chartering company in the Caribbean.  

The pictures of the boat on the website looked alluring, and the owner of the chartering company, led us to believe he was an honest, nice man. We were really looking forward to our first romantic time on the water.

Do Your Homework:

We didn't foresee the problems we were about to encounter on this sailing charter.  We made some bad choices that could have been avoided had we done a bit more homework, and had some good solid advice like what follows in this article.

You MUST be careful with whom you do business with in regards to sailing charters or you're setting yourself up for frustration and lies and most definitely a sailing charter gone wrong.

In order for you to avoid the bad experiences we had, we've put together some helpful DOs and Don'ts that all vacationers considering chartering a boat should know...

Hiring a charter company:

  1. Year and condition of the boat make sure you know these details. Have it in writing and make sure it's clear in your contract. Add a clause that allows you to decline the boat or switch to another comparable boat the meets your approval. In the case of Caribbean Sailing, there were no other boats that were ready or better. 
  2. Steer clear of small chartering companies with low inventory. Ask how many boats are available before agreeing to charter. As we noticed on the water, over 90% of the other chartered boats we came into contact with were newer, nicer, better equipped boats. Moorings, Sunsail, and Footloose appeared to be the best choices. 
  3. Get a list of equipment in writing and approve the list prior to chartering. We were promised air conditioning and a dodger that we ended up needing desperately, were promised, but didn't get it. 
  4. Make sure you get a boat that's easy to sail!  Make sure the boat comes with electric winches, auto-pilot, GPS and Chart Plotter at the helm (not in the cabin). Our auto-pilot did not work! Sails were old and sticky and with no electric winches, difficult to hoist. 
  5. Make sure you go through each item and test it!  If it does not work, make sure they fix it or give you another boat. Again, always make sure there are other boats, unless you completely trust the chartering company to deliver the boat you agreed upon. Be careful and thorough as it often takes a few days to notice the problems.
  6. Safety equipment and other necessities must work!  We did not have steaming lights, anchor lights, deck lights, cockpit lights, stove was not lighting properly, GPS was useless, inverter worked haphazardly, refrigerator not working, get a sailing guide, one water tank cracked, water tank and gas tank gauges not working. The gauges alone could have saved us over $120 in gas and water we did not need. 
  7. Make sure your chartering contract covers you if the boat needs repairs!  The company should either exchange the boat within 24 hours and, at their expense, put you up at an "equivalent to the boat rate" hotel. Most sailing charter can run $280 to $500 a day, so make sure you have a reimbursement agreement. 
  8. Try to pay by credit card so you have a least some leverage to dispute or partially dispute the charges. If your chartering company does not accept credit cards-and preferably American Express, as they are the best at disputes-you should steer clear of them and find another company.

DO's and DON'TS when hiring a captain:

  1. Provide ONLY on-board provisions when you hire a captain for a few days or your entire trip, for him or her or agree on a per diem. You are only required to make sure they have food on-board, otherwise they can go anywhere they wish to eat or drink.
  2. You DO NOT have to entertain or have them come with you when you leave the boat. Your captain is a service professional who is there to navigate and drive the boat. You are not responsible to take him or her to dinner if you do not wish to do so. 
  3. If you want to provide drinks, like beer, on board for your captain, then be clear as to how much you are comfortable with them drinking. 

Check on Captain:

  1. Free check on captain!  Make sure your charter company provides a check on the skipper or charter employee. All reputable chartering companies include a basic check out with your chartering package. 
  2. You should interview your captain by phone and ask him/her pertinent questions to qualify them as someone you want to spend time with. When you are on a boat, it's close quarters and everyone needs to get along. Take your time and interview the captain. Make sure the chartering company is finding the right person for you. The owner led us to believe it was a honeymoon gift when actually he wasn't being charged at all by the captain. 
  3. Get your exact costs for your captain and usual tipping schedule (if any) in writing. Know with whom you are dealing and what it will cost you. 
  4. Charter company provides a proper sailing guide!  The captain should take time to go over the hazards as well as popular destinations to avoid a sailing charter gone wrong. Make sure you understand the buoys, signage, mooring colours, dingy mooring, reefs, and so on. You should spend at least an hour with the captain and plot a course that you feel comfortable with. The captain should also review the beach flag colours in the area you will be sailing. For instance, a purple flag in the BVI's means marine sea life -which in our case really meant jellyfish. We swam into the beach at The Baths in Virgin Gorda under a red flag not knowing that this is dangerous and swimming is not advised. It was a good hard swim back to the dingy.

Moral of story, make sure you are dealing with a reputable chartering company and heed the points in the Do's and Don'ts section and you're on your way to a perfect sailing vacation. Not a sailing charter gone wrong.  Most of all, have fun and may the wind be right so you can find the joy as "the canvas can do miracles."


Paul Harrison, AIA, is the author of the books Where's My Zen? and The Ten Paradoxes: The Science of Where's My Zen?,

With this knowledge, he created the Zen Advantage Program (ZAP) for the everyday person, distilling all this work into three clear, practical processes which can be applied to all areas of life: business, relationships, academics, athletic, and home.

Article Source: Ezine Articles - Lori Schmidt


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