superyacht charter etiquette guide

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Superyacht charter etiquette: A guide to on board dos and don’ts

6 December 2021

Will this season be your first time chartering a superyacht, or being invited on board? We've broken down some of the unspoken rules of on-board etiquette for those new to the superyacht  charter scene. From why to take your shoes off to tipping the crew, we've outlined some essential dos and don'ts to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.

Shoes can dent or scuff teak decks, so many yachts will have a barefoot policy that needs to be adhered to while on board.
Credit: Unsplash

Superyacht "dos"

Do respect the crew

Treat them as you would valued employees. The crew have an extremely busy job; each one is there entirely to make sure your holiday exceeds expectations. As Saul Varndell-Baxter of Ocean Independence, who was a crew member for six years, elaborates: "I can attest that having a polite, happy guest made me work that extra bit harder to make their charter perfect". Equally, the crew can be great fun too.

Do listen to safety briefings

Safety is the prime responsibility for the captain and crew, and they take it very seriously. You will have a safety briefing about life jackets and life rafts, so ensure you digest the information given. It is a requirement of both insurance and maritime laws.

Do treat the yacht as you would your own home

A simple rule to follow. The crew want you to feel at home and equally the boat owner will appreciate care taken with his property.

Superyacht owners want charter guests to treat the yacht like it's their own home.
Image credit: Sean Gleason

Do keep the crew informed

One of the pleasures of a charter yacht is the ability to entertain in grand style, but plan it in advance. Don’t return to the yacht from an evening of partying ashore with a half-dozen friends-in-tow and expect the chef to prepare a late-night meal for everyone. If you want to invite extra guests aboard for cocktails or a meal, be sure to clear it with the captain first so there will be no embarrassing shortage of food or drink and the chef will be prepared for the event. Eva Hiebert of Dension Yachting adds that, as well as any changes of plans, crew should also be alerted as soon as possible if any accidental spillages or breakages occur during the trip.

Do ask about pets

Ocean Independence's Amanda Thibaut notes that "if you wish to travel with your pet, please ensure that you have advised your charter broker so that they can find you a pet-friendly yacht". If you're a guest, make sure you've had a discussion with the superyacht owner or head of the charter party prior to boarding. Many yachts are perfect for bringing pets on board, but make sure you check if they have a suitable setup for your furry friends.

Do follow the “bare foot” rule

Stiletto heels that can dent the teak decks and black soles that leave scuffmarks are a no-no. Many yachts have a “bare feet” rule that shoes stay outside the cabin, and others ask that no shoes be worn on deck too. In each case, the crew will provide a basket either at the end of the gangway or outside the salon door for you to deposit shoes. If shoes are allowed on deck, keep in mind that they should be soft-soled “boat shoes”.

Many yachts are pet-friendly, but check in advance.
Image credit: Jesse Orrico

Do allow time for housekeeping

Give the crew a chance to make up the beds, do the laundry and perhaps service the various systems while you spend time onshore exploring or shopping. If there's no chance of getting off the yacht, do try to leave the crew time to do their job while you sunbathe and swim.

Do pre-assign cabins

"The main charterer should decide cabin allocation for all guests in advance", says Fraser's Pierrik Devic. "This avoids tension upon arrival".

Do bring suitable luggage

Storage is always a big issue, so hard-sided luggage is discouraged in favour of soft luggage that can be collapsed for stowing. Steamer trunks might be the “in thing” on ocean liners, but not on yachts, so try to pack light.

Do be prepared to tip

Confused about how to tip on a superyacht? Kim Vickery of Westport explains that "crew gratuity is customary, as in any hospitality industry. It should be regarded as a gift for a job well done and is based on the satisfaction level of the entire experience". As a rule of thumb, brokers advise tipping between five and 20 per cent of the charter rate.

Storage space can be an issue on superyachts, so it's best to bring small or soft luggage on board.
Image credit: Adobe Stock

Superyacht "don'ts"

Don’t expect the crew to be your childcare

While many yachts encourage charter clients to bring children of all ages and often stock a wide variety of water toys, games and videos just for youngsters, the crew members are not babysitters. If you bring small children, plan to care for them yourself or bring a nanny, who can often be accommodated in a spare cabin.

Don’t do anything illegal

The tolerance level aboard yachts for illegal or illicit activities is absolutely zero. The penalty for any such behaviour is the yacht itself being seized and the license lost, therefore the captain and crew will turn you in to the authorities. In most countries, the penalty is jail for such behaviour too. "If any charter guest harasses anyone in the crew or does something illegal, they are off. Period", clarifies the owner of 60 metre charter superyacht Dream.

Don’t take matters into your own hands

The correct way to deal with any problems is via the captain, as they are the only one with the authority to put it right. Do not take matters into your own hands and lecture a crew member yourself. That is what the captain is there for.

The owner of 60 metre Dream stresses the importance of respecting rules while chartering his superyacht.

Don’t disrespect boundaries

Always honour the “upstairs/downstairs” concept, and don’t ever invade the private crew areas without a specific invitation. Aboard many yachts, the galley (kitchen) is a sacred area that you should leave to the chef unless invited. Most yachts have mini-refrigerators in the guest areas and a word to a crew member will ensure they are stocked and replenished with your favourite drinks and snacks throughout your stay.

Don't violate the smoking policy

Smoking on most yachts is prohibited inside the cabin, but there may be specific areas on deck set aside for smokers. If you or some of your party are smokers, make sure that is clear to your charter broker from the outset. If smoking is permitted on deck, a thoughtful guest will enjoy their dessert cigar on the stern or downwind side of the yacht where the smoke blows away.

Charter guests should have fun on board but still remember any boundaries in place.
Image credit: Unsplash

Don’t expect the crew to come on your sightseeing junkets

On American yachts, there is often more informality between crew and clients, while on European yachts, the crews are almost invisible and trained to keep their distance except when providing services. Either way, remember that the crew have more than enough work to keep them busy, so don’t expect them to join you on your sightseeing junkets, although they stand ready to ferry you to and from the shore. You can invite the captain to join you ashore for a meal, but don’t be offended if he declines. He may have projects he needs to accomplish in your absence (a charter yacht creates mountains of paperwork), or he may simply prefer to keep a slight distance from his clients.

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