There is no question that a charter vacation to a sunny destination can be life changing—and at the very least a highlight to your long West Coast winter. The freedom, sense of adventure and never-ending night sky will make you never want to visit an all-inclusive again. Here are some tips to make your first charter experience smooth sailing.
1. Consider using a Broker
Depending on the destination you are looking at you could have a dozen or more charter companies to choose from. The advantage of using a broker is that they are knowledgeable about all boats across all companies. They can be helpful in finding the perfect model, configuration and amenities that are important to your specific needs. They can also be helpful in getting you a good price on a boat that might be a few years older, but is in really good condition. You gain their expertise and you can still take advantage of any discounts that the charter company would offer you if you were to deal with them directly. Win-win.
2. Provision Ahead of Time
Many charter companies will offer a provisioning service based on number of crew. In our experience, looking at a local provisioning company that you can order from online is a better option. Most online provisioning companies are grocery stores with extensive items to choose from. You can decide if you want to do a full or partial meal plan, order specific items for different people in your group, or special-order any items that might be required for dietary needs. Some provisioning companies also specialize in alcohol. Ordering refreshments in advance can often be less expensive, not to mention when you arrive at your boat after a long day of travelling, you’ll have a nice cold beer waiting for you.
3. Make a Loose Itinerary
Now, the beauty of a sailing vacation is the freedom on the open sea, so we strongly suggest keeping itineraries ‘loose’ and seeing where the wind takes you. That said, doing some research on potential stops and the amenities at each one can be really helpful in preparing for your adventure. If you plan on stopping at a few restaurants, you can provision for less meals. If your stops have a grocery store, you can purchase smaller containers of things like milk, which tend not to last quite as long with unpredictable refrigeration. It’s also a good idea to ensure you have adequate water, fuel and room left in your holding tank for the duration of your charter.
4. Order Gear Ahead of Time
On our very first charter, we brought much of our own gear. Then I learned you could provision for that as well. Fishing gear, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, even pool noodles are often all available to order online. Just book what you’d like, and it’ll be on your boat when you arrive and picked up when you disembark. It’s so simple and it makes your luggage so much lighter.
5. Pack Using a Rolling Duffel
I read a lot of opinions on what kind of bag to use when we were planning our first charter. The consensus was to use a small duffel bag as it is easily stowed and will keep you to only packing the essentials. The reality is, there is a lot of room to stow a soft, rolling duffel bag on most charter boats. Depending on your destination, there could be a lot of walking, ferries and customs lines, where you would be really grateful to have a set of wheels to pull instead of carrying everything on your back.
6. Pack Only the Essentials
This is a really tough one for most people, but when it comes to a sailing vacation, less truly is more. My tip is to make a pile of what you think you’ll need and then cut it in half. I always bring a small container of eco-friendly laundry detergent, just in case, but I’ve barely ever had to use it. Provisioning for all food and gear will make this step much easier.
7. Download Navigation Apps In Advance
Many charter companies are encouraging you to use your own tablets as a navigation tool, in addition to the other tools provided on the boat. I recommend downloading your navigation software in advance so you can play with it before you get there. On our last charter we downloaded Navionics when we arrived, and while it was fine, it would have been more useful if we were more familiar with the functionality. Ask your charter company or broker for details on what software to use when you confirm your booking so you can download the right version. If you do use your own tablet, make sure you have it in a durable, water-resistant case.