With flights cancelled and travel bans implemented across the world, the COVID-19 crisis has thrown the entire travel industry disarray – but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As countries begin to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, small pockets are slowly starting to open their doors to travellers, starting with a lifting of restrictions on airports and – more importantly – marinas and waterways. But what does this mean for your summer charter vacation? Find out when you can charter, where you can charter, and how charter yachts are managing the coronavirus crisis.
When can I charter?
From as early as June, countries have slowly started to lift their travel restrictions, which is good news for charterers looking to get out on the water. However, it won't be as simple as hopping on a plane and meeting your yacht as planned. Being able to travel to your destination of choice will depend on the restrictions in place between your country of origin and your country of arrival. In many cases, travel will be restricted from certain countries considered to be high risk, which currently includes the UK. In other cases, even if travel is permissible you may have to provide a negative COVID-19 test before you arrive.
Where can I charter a yacht?
Destinations are lifting their travel restrictions each day. Here are the places currently open for charter… For further details and the most up to date information please visit the government website for your chosen destination.
Greece: From June 15, Greece is officially open for charter with international commercial flights set to resume on July 1. However, tourists arriving from countries with high infection rates must take a test for the coronavirus and be quarantined for up to two weeks. Existing restrictions on flights from countries considered high risk — including the United States, the United Kingdom and Turkey — will remain in place at least until July 1. Travellers from countries with low infection rates will be subject to random testing but will avoid quarantine.
Croatia: Croatia has had one of the lowest incidences of COVID-19 in Europe. Tourists may enter the country as long as they have booked accommodation in advance, so those looking to charter should be cleared.
France: On June 15, France lifted entry restrictions on non-essential travel to the country for citizens of the European Union and the Schengen Area countries, excluding only Spain and the United Kingdom. Travellers from the UK will be allowed to enter France but will have to submit to a 14-day quarantine.
Italy: Italy opened its borders on June 3 to visitors from the EU, UK, and Schengen area. Tourists from the rest of the world are still required to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
Spain: Spain will open its borders to members of the EU’s Schengen Zone on June 21 as well as to those travelling from the UK. The border was originally due to remain closed until July 1 but changes have been brought forward to kickstart summer tourism.
Malta: While all commercial flights to Malta are currently suspended, the prime minister announced that Malta International Airport will reopen from July 2020. The first group of destinations that are being reopened for travel comprises Germany, Austria, Sicily, Cyprus, Switzerland, Sardinia, Iceland, Slovakia, Norway, Denmark, Hungary, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Israel, Latvia, Estonia, Luxembourg, and the Czech Republic. The country’s tourist board is set to lift restrictions across all flights on July 15.
The Caribbean and Bahamas
The Caribbean: Several Caribbean islands and US destinations have successfully controlled coronavirus locally, and have announced border reopening dates. Although, many islands have introduced curfews with mandatory testing for international travellers.
The Bahamas: The Bahamas have announced a “soft opening” of its international borders starting from June 15. International visitors may enter The Bahamas during this period via yacht or private aircraft, but must submit a health form online and present a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival in order to avoid quarantine. A broader re-opening of the international borders is set for July 1 which will involve an electronic health declaration form with no test required.
St Barths: St Barths will be open to visitors on June 22 but only if they can produce negative COVID-19 test results. If a traveller does not have a test result to share upon arrival they have to be tested within 24 hours of arrival and self-quarantine until confirmed as negative. If a visitor's stay exceeds seven nights, they must agree to be tested again on the 7th day. As of Monday, June 8 there is a restoration of free movement between the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy and St. Martin.
Antigua & Barbuda: Flights from the US will recommence on June 4, 2020. To be allowed into the country, travellers will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test at least 48 hours prior to arrival, anyone unable to do so must pay for a test upon arrival or quarantine at a hotel for 14 days. All arriving passengers must also complete a Health Declaration Form and will be subjected to screening and temperature checks by Port Health authorities upon arrival.
Turks and Caicos: All airports and seaports will remain closed to incoming regional and international flights (both commercial and private) and seafaring vessels until July 22. From this date, each passenger will have their temperature tested upon arrival.
US Virgin Islands: The islands reopened for tourism on June 1 as the first phase in a five step plan, with bars and restaurants limited to 50% capacity. Airports are open, but flight schedules have been reduced.
Grenada: The government of Grenada has announced that it expects to re-open its borders at the end of June.
Rest of the world
The Maldives: The Maldives have announced they will be reopening to tourists on July 1 with no restrictions to international travellers.
Is it safe to charter a yacht?
Chartering a superyacht is often considered to be one of the safest ways to enjoy a vacation. Ocean Independence says that a yacht charter can be an “excellent alternative” to other luxury holiday options. “Private charter ensures guests can stay safeguarded in smaller, immaculately-clean environments, while minimising the need to frequent public areas where risks naturally increase,” the brokerage firm said in a statement.
“If we can all promote can promote a COVID-free zone by adequately testing the captain the crew and clients, then it's a no brainer - you're going to go for a yacht charter versus a luxury villa this summer”, says Graham Sullivan, charter broker at Worth Avenue Yachts, speaking during Part One of our Charter Insights Series.
SuperYachtsMonaco also pointed out the advantage of a superyacht holiday. “A yacht offers an easily controlled environment in terms of the comings and goings of guests and other personnel. The passerelle is effectively a drawbridge and nobody need step on board the yacht as deliveries are left on the quay and loaded by the permanent crew,” the firm added.
In light of the coronavirus pandemic charter companies are going further than ever before to ensure that yachts are entirely safe. “The yachts in our charter fleet have enhanced their current cleaning and hygiene regimes and are putting new protocols into place to ensure the health and safety of both charter guests and their crews,” said Northrop & Johnson’s Cromwell Littlejohn. These protocols include extending turnaround times between charters to allow for extensive cleaning, regularly testing crew, and isolating rotating crew ashore before they re-join the boat.
Where is the safest destination to charter a yacht?
Countries in the East Mediterranean have been much less affected by the coronavirus in comparison to the rest of Europe. Greece is one of the least affected European countries and is reopening to some travellers on July 1 (up to 50 times less people were infected than in the most affected European countries). Croatia has also experienced relatively fewer cases than the rest of Europe – up to 20 times fewer than in any other European country - and will also reopen to some travellers on July 1, as well as Malta and Montenegro with the capital of Kotor remaining a “green zone” having no cases of coronavirus detected.
Of course, travellers must still be vigilant and adhere to the rules and restrictions of their destination. These might include two-metre distancing rules, curfews and mandatory face mask requirements when using public transport.
Elsewhere, Fraser chief executive Raphael Sauleau said that the firm is “seeing more and more requests for the Caribbean” as charter clients shift their summer charter plans to the winter months. Sauleau added: “The increase of bookings for the Caribbean is mainly from the US customer base because they don’t necessarily fancy the idea of travelling to Europe for this summer.”
How will chartering a yacht be different after COVID-19?
Once you’re on board, the charter experience will remain largely unchanged. However, trips ashore will be much more limited depending on the restrictions of your destination. A lot of islands, particularly in the Caribbean, have introduced a curfew as well as limited restaurant capacities which puts a halt to evening dining ashore. On the plus side, it will be much easier for captains to seek out peaceful and uncrowded anchorages.
Marta Inglesias, senior charter broker at Camper & Nicholsons said the experience will be different this year but that doesn't have to be a negative. "Different doesn't mean bad, on the contrary, this is going to be the year where the yachts will be used to the maximum, where the crew will have the chance to shine in offering all these extra services and experiences on board, in order to replace the things that cannot be done ashore."
Can I cancel a yacht charter?
Given the difficult circumstances, a number of charter yachts are offering addendums to charter contracts that allow travellers to re-book or cancel without a penalty.
How can I get to a yacht charter?
Air travel might be tricky but it’s not impossible. With more flight paths opening up each week the summer season is beginning to get back on track. But being able to get to your destination will depend on your country of origin and where you intend to charter and the travel restrictions between the two. If you’re struggling to secure flights, there’s always private aviation which is expected to be a popular choice this year, says Camper & Nicholsons senior charter broker Marta Iglesias. “Private aviation is a safe way of ensuring that clients have minimum exposure, from the moment they leave their doorstep until the moment they arrive at the yacht.”
However, it’s important to note that some destinations, whether you fly privately or not, will require a negative COVID-19 test to be able to enter the country, or have to face a 14-day quarantine.
Will I have to quarantine before I step on board?
This will be dependent on your nationality, where you’re travelling from and the restrictions in place in the country of your charter. These can vary from country to country, and in some cases from port to port. Port and travel restrictions are changing daily so it’s best to contact your charter broker with any questions.
Will chartering a yacht be more expensive after COVID-19?
In short, no. While charter yachts will be incurring costs for additional cleaning, personal protective equipment (PPE), onboard testing and isolating crew ashore, these will not be reflected in the charter fees, says Camper & Nicholsons senior charter broker Marta Iglesias. “Charter fees will not go up because of this”.
Captain Tom Filby, of 72 metre charter yacht Axioma, believes that the onus is on the owner. “There are additional costs associated with COVID-19 for protecting the boat, the crew and the passengers… All these things have additional costs to the owner but we don't anticipate this being passed on down the line to the charterer.”
At the same time, prospective charterers shouldn’t expect rates to decrease either, says Iglesias. “I think some clients out there have the false expectation that the rates are going to drop but this isn't going to be the case. Rates will not drop because the need to keep the boat at a top-level is going to be even higher than ever.”
Will a charter crew be tested for COVID-19?
Some yachts have implemented rigorous testing for crew to make sure the environment onboard is as safe as possible. On charter yacht Axioma for example, managed by YPI, crews rotating on and off the ship will have to undergo an enforced isolation period ashore whether it is required or not by the local authorities, as well as a double testing process as part of a new COVID safety plan. This also includes onboard antibody tests, thermal imaging cameras, deeper sanitisation between charters. “We're trying to go to the extreme of what we can do to accommodate everyone on board as much as possible”, said captain Tom Filby.
Images courtesy of Adobe Stock