As the saying goes: “A boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money.” Indeed, yachting can be an expensive hobby, where purchasing a vessel outright is not economically feasible for most people. However, chartering a boat may be an economical solution to enjoying the open seas, without the hefty upfront expenditures.

The three methods of chartering boats are “bareboat” agreements, “crewed charters” and “shared lease” memberships. All of these approaches are straightforward and offered in abundance by charter companies who have streamlined each process.

Bareboat Charter

A bareboat charter is a contractual agreement akin to leasing a vehicle, whereby the charterer (the person hiring the ship) is deemed the vessel’s temporary owner and consequently assumes the responsibilities that come with vessel ownership. The charterer is typically responsible for routine running expenses, including fuel, port fees, crew costs, maintenance, and insurance.

Key Takeaways

  • Charters offer a solution to those wanting to explore the open seas, but without the hefty costs of owning a yacht.
  • Charters come in three types: bareboat, crewed charter, and shared lease.
  • A bareboat charter offers the bare necessities and the charterer is also the boat's captain.
  • In a crewed charter, different types of vessels—sport boats, fishing boats, superyachts—are provided along with a full working crew.
  • The shared lease is an arrangement where the lessee pays fees and can choose from a variety of different vessels.

The charterer in a bareboat agreement is also the boat’s captain, in charge of sailing, navigating, and anchoring the vessel. At the end of the charter term, the boat must be returned in pristine condition, or funds will be deducted from any bonds paid. 

The terms of bareboat agreements can vary from company to company. As the name implies, some firms only supply “bare” necessities, like safety equipment and tools. Other chartering companies that cater to vacationers can provide extras, like food, linens, fishing equipment, and personal products.

Crewed Charter

In a crewed charter, the lessee acquires the boat for a particular voyage, where the chartering company pays for crew fees and other expenses, like fuel, port fees, and meals. Most importantly, an experienced crew manages any issues that can occur, which is extremely helpful in foreign ports.

There are numerous crewed chartering operations in the United States, offering a variety of boat types, including modest vessels, superyachts, sport fishing boats, motorboats, and classic America’s Cup-winning yachts. 

Shared Leasing

Shared leases give members unlimited access to an entire boat fleet, letting them try out different vessels without committing to one in particular. Lease shares are commonly available for a season for an all-inclusive fee. The chartering club maintains, insures, and handles all headaches associated boat ownership, so you’re free to enjoy sailing with ease. However, the boat you desire may not always be available when you require it, which might thwart your plans to sail to your private island.

How To Do It

1. Think about the boat. What type of vessel will meet your needs? Will it accommodate your passengers and support the activities you have planned, such as fishing and events? Once you identify your needs, the charter service can facilitate the ideal boating option.

2. Consider your budget. If you’re considering a bareboat charter, make sure to have sufficient funds to pay the full rental fee and bond upfront, along with any mandatory insurance premiums. And if you’re not qualified to captain the vessel, be sure you can afford to hire a qualified captain and crew.

3. Review your qualifications. If you desire total freedom, explore the numerous requirements prescribed by different ports of call, especially if you plan to venture outside of United States waters. A range of certificates must be considered before you decide on your preferred route.

For instance, if you intend to bring pets on board, special clearances may be required for the animals to leave the boat. If you intend to dive, prepare to present proof of qualifications, along with visas, international proficiency certificates, and local cruising permits. The website Noonsite provides a comprehensive list of documents required both in the U.S. and abroad. The American Sailing Association website also offers a checklist of proof-of-competency certificates and documents.

4. Check your credit history. A solid credit report is generally required in order for you to be cleared to charter pricey yachts. 

5. Research your chartering company’s record. If you’re planning a crewed charter, make sure the service levels will meet your expectations, especially if you’re trying to impress clients or friends. Cruising World offers a directory of worldwide fleets, reputable companies, brokers, services, and lists of sailing destinations. Other valuable charter sites include CharterWorld, YachtWorldCharters, Boatbookings, and The Moorings.

The Bottom Line

Bareboat agreements, crewed charters, and boat clubs can remove financial and management headaches from the boating equation. But cultivate a clear idea of your boating needs first. Fortunately, there are copious websites, chartering companies, and management services to aid you in your journey.