Luxury superyacht charter: how to make the most of it

A week aboard a chartered luxury yacht can be a perfect experience. Everything can go right: the weather will be impeccable, the interior furnishings pleasant, the food delectable, the crew always available, all the systems running, and the cruising totally relaxing. It all sounds so easy.

It’s not.

The key to finding that just-right cruise is all about creating the right expectations. Flexibility is the name of the game

Complex advance work begins with a lot of discussion between the client, the charter broker and the yacht captain before all the right elements come together to make a memorable charter experience. The client, who’s prepared to spend a lot of money on the trip, has certain expectations and desires. It’s the charter broker’s job to track on those desires and find just the right vessel. Often, however, the broker finds him or herself faced correcting imperfect wish lists, fitting that round peg of the client’s desires into the square hole of what’s available or best for them. And even when the almost-right match is found, sometimes unforeseen or uncontrollable situations can interfere with that perfect trip. Given these variables, the key to finding that just-right cruise is all about creating the right expectations. Notes Robin O’Brien, a senior charter broker with Fraser Yachts in Fort Lauderdale, ‘Flexibility is the name of the game.’ So, how do you choose a charter yacht.

Setting your mind on just one thing

One common mistake first-time charterers make is a preoccupation with a specific itinerary and a specific boat. ‘You want to go to Croatia, but the yacht you have in your mind’s eye is based on the south of France,’ says Agnes Howard of Camper and Nicholsons. ‘You really need to look at another yacht headed that way.’ Weather can also interfere, or the charterers may find a great anchorage and not want to move. The charter client must be willing to amend the trip happily or they’ll wind up grumpily blaming the wind for ruining his vacation.

Research your destination thoroughly before.

A lot of times [older yachts] can be exceptional value, especially if well-maintained

Focusing on age

Many clients want a new boat, believing new means better. But a brand-new yacht, or one just entering the charter business, can be still in the ‘shakedown mode’, ironing out systems or crew synergies. An older vessel, meanwhile, can have all the features of a new yacht, including state-of-the-art communications, toys and entertainment systems, with a well-seasoned, unified crew, often for up to 20 per cent less than the cost of a new vessel. ‘A lot of times [older yachts] can be exceptional value, especially if well-maintained,’ says Howard. Older yachts, moreover, have developed a reputation – some of the busiest charter yachts have been well known for years in the industry – with multiple references and predictable success ratios. You know what you’re getting with an older vessel.

Research the yachts available on the market

Seeing only the bottom line

What creates the best value in a charter yacht? In large part, value is in the eye of the beholder: one charter client likes lots of toys to play with, another prefers a four-star chef, another likes a minimalist interior. Some clients, brokers say, focus mistakenly on price to determine value, when a lot of other factors – number of toys, availability at a certain time and place, crew compatibility, the quality of the food… – are more important.

One of the most popular, relatively inexpensive yachts in the charter business is a Broward with red sofas and leopard carpets. People love it, however, because the crew is so good to the guests. The weekly rate, moreover, is just a base figure; when you include fuel, food, beverages, transport and tips the final tally can add another 50 per cent to the bill. Fuel use, particularly, can sometimes surprise a charterer. He may remain at anchor for days thinking he’s saving on fuel, but forget the generators suck up a lot of diesel.

Look at the different toys that can be chartered along with your yacht

Forgetting about crew

Many clients ask the obvious questions – price, available toys, possible itineraries, things to do on and off the boat – but the quality and number of crew is a critical factor in a successful cruise.

‘A crew can make or break a charter,’ says broker Nicole Caulfield of RJ Cury & Assoc. ‘If you have a great crew and a so-so boat it can be a fabulous charter. If you have a fabulous boat and a so-so crew it’s a so-so charter in [the client’s] mind.’

Crews vary widely from yacht to yacht, and the captain usually dictates the tenor of crew service. In getting-to-know-you conversations with charter clients, for example, brokers will develop a lengthy profile of the prospective charterers likes and dislikes. Are they planning to bring children or family aboard? What sort of dining do they expect? Are they snorkellers or fishermen? Do they like a casual, or a more formal button-down crew? Putting more reserved charter guests on a yacht with a relaxed, casual crew can come back as a negative. Equally important is the number of crew on board; the bigger the number, the better the service. As a rule of thumb, yachts up to 37 metres work best with five to six crew; larger vessels need eight to 10 to operate effectively. Finally, crew compatibility – is there tension or do they connect well? – can impact the charter.

Brokers are divided on how important frequent crew turnover is in the charter industry and how it impacts a charter. Crew lower on the food chain come and go; with the captain and chef, it can be different. Fine dining is often a major component of a successful charter, and while individuals may not be important, the fact that they’re five-star quality is. Knowledgeable repeat charter customers sometimes choose a boat simply because they like the captain or the food. In any event, it’s important that potential charter clients know what’s going on with the crew. Fortunately, charter brokers personally inspect most of the yachts and crews they recommend.

Booking late

Book early. For several years, as the charter industry declined with the recession, it was relatively easy to get a yacht a couple of months out or even closer to the date. Recently, though, there’s been a surge, and prospective charter clients should think several months in advance. One broker said two of her clients stayed home last Christmas because they waited too late. But then, they were very particular, inflexible customers.

The bottom line, of course, is that finding the right vessel for that perfect cruise depends as much on the client’s attitude as it does the yacht. The interior’s wonderful, but it’s in The Bahamas and you want it in Antigua. The Jet Skis are great, but they’re outlawed in the British Virgin Islands, just where you want to go. Your favorite chef just left, hopefully the captain can find another one. A good broker can manage the compromises so you’ll get mostly what you want, ultimately ending up with that perfect experience.

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