How to Charter a Yacht: The Ultimate Guide
This guide covers everything you need to know about chartering a luxury yacht
Getting ready to plan a yacht charter vacation? While chartering a yacht is nothing but an experience of ultimate relaxation and indulgence, the planning and the booking process can be a little overwhelming, especially for a new charterer.
There are so many different yachts to choose from, ranging in size, price and amenities. And that can leave you with plenty of questions:
- Which yacht is the right for me?
- Do I need a broker to help me with this process?
- What is a yacht brokers fee?
Don’t get overwhelmed! We prepared this Ultimate Charter Guide to make planning your charter as easy and stress-free as possible. If you’ve never chartered a yacht before, or if you’re a seasoned veteran, this yacht charter planning guide will answer any questions you might have.
Quick Steps for Simple, Streamlined Yacht Booking
If chartering a yacht is a new experience for you, chances are you won’t know where to start. The process, though, can be fairly simple. In fact, by working with a charter broker, you’ll have a personal concierge to help you plan, book and make your vacation perfect.
1. Contact a charter broker.
To charter a yacht, first find a reputable yacht broker. Your yacht broker will guide you through the process, taking care of all the hard work for you. From contacting the yacht, to managing the contracts, your broker handles all the details. Once you’ve selected a yacht, your broker also personalizes the on-board experience, helping you select an itinerary, plan menus, choose destinations and more.
Here’s the good news: This service is completely free of charge to you; the broker’s fees are paid by yacht owners.
2. Ask for advice on destinations and yachts.
A yacht charter is one of the most personalized vacations you can take. All of the details are catered to your specifications – from the yachts, to the places you go. Brokers have in-depth knowledge of yachts and destinations, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Your broker can walk you through all the types of yachts, from catamarans, to mega yachts, and help you plan the perfect experience. Whether you want a quiet escape or an adventure at sea, brokers know how to deliver an experience that meets all your expectations… and then some.
3. Confirm your charter contract and make a deposit.
Your yacht broker will put together your charter agreement, which will include all the important details about your trip. Contracts include: the yacht you choose, dates, intended destinations, price, onboard menus and more.
There are different types of contracts, but the three most common ones are MYBA Terms, Standard Eastern Mediterranean Terms and the Caribbean Terms Inclusive. We touch on the differences in these types of contracts below.
4. Talk to your charter broker and Captain about your itinerary.
After you book a crewed yacht charter, it’s time to plan where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do while on charter. Maybe you aren’t sure? You broker can help!
Brokers plan dozens of one-of-a-kind getaways each year. Let them put this experience to work for you. Your broker will help you plan a personalized itinerary that covers everything you want to do.
5. Fill out your preference form.
Prior to departing, you’ll receive a preference sheet. This short questionnaire allows you to provide helpful information to the crew so they can tailor the experience for you and your guests. Your preference sheet will include:
- Food and wine preferences
- Guest lists
- Special excursions or experiences you’d like to have
- Any medical issues
For crews and your captain, the preference sheet helps ensure the best possible experience for you and all your guests. This sheet also helps your captain make sure all your needs and requests are met at sea.
6. Pay the remainder of the balance.
One month before your scheduled charter date, you’ll need to pay the remaining 50% of your charter balance. Your Advance Provisioning Allowance (APA) will also be due at this time. An APA covers the cost of all fuel, food, special equipment and any other provisions you might need, and constitutes about 35% of the total cost of your charter.
7. Enjoy Your Yacht Charter
A yacht charter is a stress-free vacation. All of the details are managed for you, so when you arrive, your only goal is to sit back, sip a cocktail and enjoy the voyage.
Yacht Charter Contracts Explained: Key Concepts to Look For
Your charter contract is a document between you, the charterer, and the owner of the yacht. This agreement covers all the details of your vacation:
- Ports of Calls
- Your Rights as a Charterers
- All Obligations
- Cancellation Policies
- Payment Structures
- Insurance Details
Charter brokers will help you read through the contract and understand what your obligations are and what to expect. Yet, it’s helpful to understand the basics of what you’re getting into. The three most common types of yacht charter contracts include:
1. Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association Terms (MYBA)
MYBA terms, which are developed by Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association, covers many Mediterranean yacht charters. Typically referred to as a “plus all expenses” contract, the MYBA is very comprehensive.
MYBA Terms cover hire of the yacht including all water toys and equipment, wages and food for the crew, and the ship’s laundry. Expenses such and food and beverages for the guests, fuel for the yacht and water toys, berthing fees, communications costs and other additions, though, are paid from an escrow account you set up prior to embarking.
2. Caribbean Terms Inclusive (CTI)
CTI terms are primarily used with small vessels sailing throughout the Caribbean. This type of contract is commonly referred to as the Standard Caribbean Terms, and it’s often described as a “mostly all-inclusive” contract.
Under a contract like this, the basic charter fee includes: use of the yacht, water toys, equipment, crew food and wages, three meals a day for guests onboard and four hours a day worth of fuel. Items like premium beverages, any extra fuel, berthing fees and communications come at an additional cost.
3. Standard Eastern Mediterranean Terms (SEMT)
Used less frequently than the MYBA terms, SEMT contracts are similar to terms used in the Caribbean. A key difference, though, is that just two meals are included, as most guests dine at restaurants most evenings.
Also included in the SEMT terms are items like: water toys, equipment, crew and food wages, and four hours a day of fuel. Additional costs include beverages, extra fuel, communication costs and berthing fees outside of normal cruising grounds.
Why This Is Important: Understanding all the details of your contract protects both you and the yacht owner. So, if you have questions or unsure about details, ask your broker. Yacht brokers have extensive experience with each type of contract, and can help you understand any details. Once you have agreed to the contract terms, your broker will put it all together for you to review and sign.
Charter Packing Dos and Don’ts: Tips for Packing Smart and Light
Packing for a yacht charter is a source of stress for any first-time charterer. But a few tips can go a long way to helping you pack like a pro.
One handy tip: Plan on packing in a soft, mid-sized bag. (This makes it easier to store your suitcase, as yachts typically have less drawer and closet space than you’re likely accustomed to). Then follow our handy DOs and DONTs of packing for a stress-free experience:
DON’T leave home without your travel documents.
If you’re traveling abroad, you’ll need to carry travel documents with you as you sail through international waters. Be sure to bring:
- Cash and credit cards
- And another form of identification, like a driver’s license, just to be safe.
DO pack versatile footwear options.
When you charter a yacht, you’ll find yourself hopping from sundecks, to sandy shores, to the sea. And you’ll need the right shoes for each experience.
Also, most yachts don’t allow passengers to wear street shoes onboard, so you’ll need to have flip-flops or light-soled shoes to wear around the boat. Bring shoes you can get dirty for your shoreside excursions, and if you’re with young kids, pack water shoes so children can protect their feet from sharp rocks, corals or sea urchins.
DON’T forget your swimsuit.
You’re on a boat. Needless to say, you’ll need a swimsuit… or five. Remember: Your yacht is your own personal paradise, so there’s no dress code. Your bathing suit will likely be both the first thing you throw on in the morning and the last thing you take off.
DO bring a cover up.
When you live in your bathing suit, you’ll eventually need a cover up. Tees, tank tops and sarongs are great options for women, while lightweight pants promise to protect all passengers from sunburned legs. Unless you’re going into a church or monastery, where dress code rules are stricter, you can usually stay in your cover up when you anchor and explore a destination.
DO bring a lightweight sweater.
Yes, you’re on a yacht. That means it’s likely hot outside. However, those sea breezes (especially at night) are no joke – so bring a light sweater or jacket to prepare for all occasions.
DON’T go in the sun unprotected.
If you’re going to be in the sun all day, pack sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and anything else you need to protect yourself from the sun. When choosing sunscreens, avoid those that contain oil, as they can stain teak decks, canvas decks and sunbed cushions.
DON’T forget basic medications.
There’s no predicting how “choppy” the water will be, so if you’re sensitive to waves, make sure you bring seasickness medicine, like Dramamine or Bonine.
Plus, since you’re going to be in foreign countries with medications that might be unfamiliar to you, it’s helpful to bring basic over-the-counter pain, cold and allergy medications like Advil, Nyquil, Tylenol, and Benadryl.
Understanding How Your Crew Provides a Perfect Charter
Charter yachts come in all shapes and sizes, and like their exteriors, crews range in size as well. On a small yacht, you might have a three-person crew: stewardess, chef and deck hand. On luxury megayachts, you might have a crew of 30 or more. No matter how small or large, the crew is critical in making your charter as memorable as possible.
Crews ensure you’re always taken care of – you’ll never have a want for anything. Crew members maintain the condition of the yacht, cook and serve delicious meals tailored to your preference sheet and provide a relaxing and stress-free voyage. Here’s a quick guideline of each crew member’s role in providing the perfect experience:
The captain, of course, is the top dog on any vessel, planning the course for the trip. Whatever the captain says, goes. So, make sure he or she knows your itinerary preferences and help you plan. Captains often know the best, most beautiful anchorages in every location, as well as the best ports of call to visit.
Yet, captains have a priority to keep someone safe. They’ll make every effort to meet your expectations, but be respectful. Captains can’t meet unrealistic itinerary demands, and they can’t control the weather.
Charter guests love the chef. That makes sense. Chefs craft every meal to delight guests and inspire on-board diners with innovative, delicious dishes. The chef is responsible for all food and beverages you’ll enjoy during your vacation – from those morning mimosas and fresh-baked muffins, to the six-course tasting menu you’ve requested.
A few tips for working with the chef:
- Tip 1: First, ask for sample menus and learn about the chef’s expertise, prior to departing. If you love French cuisine, you’ll want a chef with French cooking experience.
- Tip 2: Provide detailed info on your preference sheet: Any food allergies, your favorite dishes and drinks, and anything that you’d never eat.
- Tip 3: Finally, yacht chefs work long hours; be cosiderate of early morning breakfasts and late dinners, especially on the same day.
Your chief steward oversees and coordinates the interior services through your charter. This includes on-board service, in-room service, as well as shoreside meals and excursions. Great crews provide world-class service, ensuring that all your needs are met.
- Bonus Tip: Although the chief steward’s role varies by yacht, guests can typically view the steward as a concierge. A chief stewardess can help you plan transfers, make reservations for you and your guests, and serve as a guide for a shore side excursion, in most cases.
Interior crews provide all of your on-board service; their goal is to transform the yacht into a floating resort. From al fresco dinner services, to nightly turndown service, the interior crew provides true luxury service, while you’re on the yacht.
Deck crews maintain the deck of the yacht. Deck crews provide a wide range of services: from tidying the deck, to setting up water toys for you and your guests and provide water taxi service (on larger yachts). On some smaller yachts, deck crew members may double as servers or bartenders, as well.
You probably won’t see the ship’s engineer while on charter, but you’ll be glad he’s working for you! Engineers make sure the engines run properly, and occasionally fill in as tender drivers and or help with water toy setup. In general, though, they spend their time below deck.
Yacht Charter Cuisine: Helpful Tips for Personalizing Your On-Board Dining Experience
Picture this: You wake up, and you are in the middle of the Caribbean. You’re relaxing on your yacht’s deck, soaking in the sun, and letting the fresh ocean breeze flow through your hair. The only thing that could make this blissful: Eggs Benedict and a chilled mimosa.
On a luxury yacht, you just have to ask! Charter cuisine is often guests’ favorite experience, because it’s so personalized. Every meal item – whether you’d like contemporary American fare, or an Italian-inspired wine pairing menu – is up to you. Your chef will work to accommodate everything that you want, from hearty breakfasts to Gatsby-esque soirees.
Looking for a few tips for working with your charter chef? Here are some things everyone should do before departing on a charter:
- Complete Your Preference Sheet – You and your guests should submit and complete your preference sheet prior to departing.
- Expect a Tailored Experience – Chefs create custom menus for every charter; make sure all your special requests are on your preference sheet.
- Add Your Likes and Dislikes on the Preference Sheet – Chefs use the info on the preference sheet to provision. If you can’t go a week without strawberry ice cream, make sure you include that info.
- Dietary Restrictions Are Not A Problem – Make sure any dietary restrictions are included on your sheet. Charter chefs have the culinary know-how to create a perfect menu for you, whether you need gluten-free, low-carb or some Southern-style BBQ.
- Don’t Forget to Add Your Beverage Preferences – Like a particular wine or have a brand preference on whiskey? Make sure you include favorite beers, wines, spirits and mixers on your sheet.
- Kid-Friendly Menus Work Too – Add preferences for any younger guests; your chef is happy to create non-as-exotic dishes for the kiddos.
Get Ready for an Adventure: Activities Available On-Board
You’ve chosen your yacht, you’ve set up your itinerary and you’ve packed your bags. Your adventure is finally here! It’s time to set sail and see the world, and you couldn’t be more excited.
But now you’re wondering; Will I be bored on the yacht? Will I feel trapped? How will I spend my days at sea?
That’s an anxiety any first-time yachter has had. But here’s the good news: Charter yachts are floating resorts. They offer a wide range of activities and entertainment options, not to mention you’ll have a chance to head ashore most days, if you’re looking for a change of scenery. Here are a few ways you’ll spend your days onboard:
You’ll find an endless array of activities to keep you occupied onboard. Looking to let off some steam? Head to the onboard jump, throw a cocktail party, or dance the day (or night) away on your beach club. Craving something hands-on and creative? Get a cooking lesson from the chef or a mixology class from the interior crew.
If you’re after relaxation, well, there’s so many options: From a quiet sunrise with a mimosa, to an onboard massage, to a long spa soak. Not to mention, every day you’ll have the option to throw a yacht party. Whether you’d prefer a dinner party where the wine flows, or a classy cocktail hour with friends, that’s all possible.
The sea is your oyster while you’re on a yacht charter. And depending on the yacht you charter, you’ll have your pick of water toys and activities. Fast tenders, sea kayaks, sea bobs, paddle boards and jet skis are just a few common options. Want to spend some time in the water? Plan a snorkeling trip to view the coral up close. And of course, almost everyone looks forward to the thrill of flying down two stories on the yacht’s slide.
Quick Tip: Every yacht’s selection of water toys is different. So, be sure you tell your broker a few toys you wouldn’t want to go without, when you book your charter.
Yacht charters whisk guests away to some of the most incredible corners of the globe, from the iconic seaside towns of the Amalfi Coast, to deserted islands in the Bahamas. And as a charter guest, the shoreside experiences are incredible.
From checking out uninhabited islands or world-class beaches, to enjoying a glass of wine at a bar overlooking the sea, a new experience or must-see destination is in every port of call. Your interior crew can offer suggestions. But depending on your destination, a few favorites include: ATV tours, hiking, cliff-diving, tours, wine tastings, dancing, and beach picnics.
A Typical Day on Charter: What to Expect from Sun Up to Sun Down
Chartering a yacht comes with one, undeniable freedom: You can do whatever pretty much whatever you want. And because each charter is tailored to the preferences of the client, no two itineraries are the same.
You might be wondering though: What’s a typical day like? Here’s a sample itinerary to give you a taste of what to expect:
Wake up and watch the sunrise with a latte in hand, or sleep in and come down for an al fresco breakfast a little later. No one is there telling you what to do, so wake up as late (or early) as you want.
Whether you’re in the Mediterranean, Thailand or New England, anchor your yacht for some early morning water toy play. Not in the mood to get in the water? Stay onboard, grab a lounge chair and work on your tan. If diving in sounds good to you, hop on jetskis or grab a kayak and explore the surrounds.
After an hour or two of swimming and tanning, you once again set sail and have now arrived at your next port of call. And good thing, too, because it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. After your captain docks the boat, disembark and head onshore to get a taste of the local life. If you don’t know where to go, ask your captain for some tips, or immerse yourself in the scene and ask a local onshore.
After a delicious shore lunch, roam through eclectic shops, head to the beach, or check out a UNESCO World Heritage Site (if there’s one nearby). Bottom line, wherever you dock, you’ll have a chance to see what your destination has to offer. That is, unless you just want to relax all day and eat a delicious meal, prepared by your very own chef, onboard. (Remember: On a yacht, you always decide!)
You’ve enjoyed an afternoon layover on a tiny island, but now you’re ready to harbor overnight at a bigger port just a few hours away. You go back to your yacht, shower, and get ready for dinner. Tonight, it’s a sunset feast on the sunset!
Dinner is served! You walk outside, friends and family in tow, and you see a table that could be featured in a magazine. The sun is beginning to set, so you all sit down. A member of your crew comes around with a choice of still or sparkling water, then red or white wine, and dinner is served. Tonight, it’s Mediterranean Sea Bass prepared by the yacht’s dedicated, five-star chef.
As you open your table’s third bottle of wine, you anchor in your new port and discuss all of the activities you plan to do onshore the next day. There are so many options! Some of your group wants to snorkel, some want to shop, some want to lounge on the beach, and one wants to stay onboard and spend a day relaxing in peaceful solitude.
But before you get to tomorrow, there’s still more fun, food, drinking and laughter to be had. After all, your night in paradise has only just begun. Just sit back, listen to waves crash just beyond the harbor, and watch the stars come out.
Yacht Charter Etiquette: Dos and Don’ts to Make Your Experience the Most Enjoyable
Chartering a yacht combines privacy with impeccable service in a relaxed environment. However, following a few simple yacht charter etiquette rules help your trip run smoothly. Here are a few dos and don’ts to make your trip more enjoyable:
Yacht Charter Etiquette: DOS
DO fill out the preference form in advance
This handy document goes a long way in making your trip the most enjoyable. Return it prior to setting sail – everything, the service, the cuisine, the onboard experience will be better because of it.
DO listen to safety briefing
Your captain and crew take safety very seriously. And that’s why all charters begin with a brief safety talk. So, make sure you provide undivided attention, in the case of rough seas or an issue onboard, the information you’ll learn can be very helpful.
DO be flexible on your itinerary (weather dependent)
Your captain and crew will do everything possible to follow your itinerary suggestions. But remember: Safety is always the most important. Weather can throw your plans off course; it’s helpful to be understanding if the changes have to be made for weather-related reasons.
DO respect your crew
All crew members work tirelessly to provide impeccable service and meet your high expectations. Everyone is there to make sure you have a truly memorable time. Treat them as you would your most-valued employees.
DO tip the crew
Crew gratuity is typically 10-20 percent of the total charter fee. This, of course, is up to your discretion. It can be scaled up or down depending on your satisfaction of the service. At the end of your charter, you can hand an envelope with the tip to the captain, who will divide it equally among the crew, unless otherwise specified.
Yacht Charter Etiquette: DON’TS
DON’T do anything illegal
There is zero tolerance aboard yachts for illegal or illicit activities. The penalty for any such behavior is the yacht itself being seized and the license lost. Therefore, the captain and crew will end your charter and return you to shore, if any illegal activities have taken place.
DON’T enter the crew quarters
Avoid crew areas, unless you’ve been invited. The galley, or kitchen, is typically off-limits to guests, unless invited by the chef. Most yachts have mini-refrigerators with drinks and snacks, if needed. Plus, your crew will be on hand to provide beverage service and take any food orders throughout your stay.
DON’T expect the crew to babysit
Many yachts encourage charter guests to bring children of all ages, and they have a wide variety of water toys, video games and DVDs just for kids onboard. Fishing or movie nights are a popular evening pastime.
But remember: The crew members are not babysitters. They’re very busy and cannot always provide a watchful eye. If you’d like nanny service, while onboard, just let your charter broker know. They can help you choose a yacht or make prior accommodations.
Don’t walk on the boat in your street shoes
As soon as you step onboard, you’ll notice a familiar sight on any yacht: a basket for shoes by the gangway. Street shoes track in dirt, dust and other contaminants that can ruin a vessel’s custom carpets and other exotic floor coverings. Dark-soled shoes and boots leave dents, dings or marks in wood decks and floors, no matter how carefully you tread. So, it’s not unusual for owners and captains to request that guests leave their shoes at the door.
DON’T waste fresh water
A yacht is a self-sufficient unit, and as such, the crew needs to manage all aspects of power generation, waste disposal, and water consumption. Showers aboard should be short and, in some cases, it may be suggested that you turn the water off when you soap up. Follow the water restrictions to ensure there’s always hot available.
Stress-Free Tipping: How to Determine Tip for Your Crew
How much should you tip on a yacht charter? And how do you leave a tip for the crew? That’s something almost every yacht charter guest wonders.
According to the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association (MYBA) tipping guidelines, the general rule is to tip between 5% and 15% of your weekly charter fee, excluding running expenses and taxes. With that in mind, here are some other tipping “rule” for your charter:
Let the captain decide who gets how much.
On your last day on your yacht, it’s customary to put your entire tip in an envelope and hand it directly to your captain. If your trip was wonderful (and why wouldn’t it be?), include a personal note, tell the captain how wonderful the crew was, and leave it to the captain’s discretion on how to split up the tip.
Treat everyone equally.
Many crew members are involved in the operation of your yacht, from stewardesses refreshing your cocktails, to the deckhands setting up the slide for you. While it may be tempting to leave forward-facing members a more generous tip, it’s not recommended. Remember, the crew works as a team, and it’s important to reward them as a team.
Let your destination be your guide.
Tipping rules change by destination. As a general rule, a 10% to 15% tip is customary when yachting in the Mediterranean, while a 15% to 20% tip is more common in the Caribbean.
Your tip should be proportional to the service you received.
Ultimately, it’s up to you on how much to tip. Most guests, though, base it on the quality of service. But remember: Most crew members are working 16- to 18-hour days, and a tip rewards them for all that hard work and service. If you have questions about how much to tip, consult with your charter broker – brokers can help you understand what’s customary.