I like to pay special attention during my charter checkout because from years of learning the hard way, I’ve come to realize that the time to figure out what will go wrong later is before you leave. Also, while I listen to what the base managers are telling me, I also keep an ear open for the what they’re not telling me. They know their boats better than anyone, trust me, so listen carefully during the checkout. Don’t let them off the boat until you know the ins and outs of all the onboard equipment and feel comfortable with how it works.
Test the VHF Radio
Most charter boats will come with a fixed VHF radio. You could easily assume that it works, but don’t. My rule of thumb is always bring a handheld VHF as backup. Don’t just turn it on, but make a call to another boat nearby and have them call you back. Also, make sure you have a plan B if it fails later on.
Turn on the Chartplotter and Instruments
Chartplotters come standard on charter boats these days. You want to make sure that you turn yours on, and that you understand its basic functionality before you leave. If it uses another language (like French), ask the checkout manager to change it to English; chartplotters don’t come with subtitles.
The same thing goes for instruments. If you’re uncomfortable converting meters to feet, reset everything before your first anchoring. Also, Be sure to ask about any offsets that many have been programmed in so you know whether the instruments are reading from the waterline or from the keel.
Get Personal with the Engine
Charter boat engines do a lot of work, partly because they’re used for both propulsion and battery charging, and partly because people often drive from point to point without ever setting sail. Charter engines are also usually in good shape. That said, make sure you know where your toolkit is and that you have extra engine oil aboard. Have the checkout manager open up the engine compartment and check the bilge, oil level and the coolant before you leave. On a catamaran, do this with both engines.
Evaluate the Electrical System
Electrical systems have been my No. 1 problem on charter boats. The batteries are often mistreated by guests. Because they’re expensive, charter companies tend to use them well past their prime. Because of this, you should know where the batteries are and how many amp hours you have remaining to use. It would be a shame for your trip to be ruined because someone forgot to turn a fan off or left a light on. A good preventative measure is to ask how to combine the batteries in case of low voltage due to the fan/light scenario. Understand and test your battery monitor, and ask if there is an inverter.
Ask about Fuel and Water Tanks
Know the size of your fuel and water tanks, and how many of each you have onboard. If there is a tank monitor, find out if it works–they seldom do. I’ve been on boats that indicated the fuel tanks were full at both the start and end of a seven-day charter, clearly not accounting for the fuel we used along the way.
Guests tend to use quite a bit of water, so it helps to know where the fill is and if you have a key for the deck fitting. Locate the water hose onboard and visually inspect the manifold you’ll need to use to switch from an empty tank to a full one.
Test the Galley Basics
Ask the checkout manager to show you the steps of starting the stove and see if there is a breaker on the panel, as well as a solenoid. Lift your propane tank to see how full it is and make sure you have the proper tools to switch propane bottles if the fitting is corroded.
If there is a foot pump at the sink, see if it’s fresh or saltwater and check the freshwater pump breaker on the panel. Ask if the fridge is engine driven, and how it’s turned on/off. If you plan to barbecue, lay eyes on the grill to see if it’s charcoal or propane. Make sure you have a supply of one or the other.
Go Through the Steps of Reefing
Know how to reef. Whether it’s simple slab reefing or an in-mast system, check whether the lines are at the mast or led aft to the cockpit. If they’re not labeled, pull on each to understand what it controls.
As you’re doing so be sure to see if the previous charterers left a reef in the sail. You don’t want to get surprised when you raise the main for the first time. Knowing how to reef quickly, safely, and effectively is essential—especially in areas of heavy wind.
Don’t Forget the Dinghy (and Outboard)
Inspect the dinghy. Know where your foot pump and paddles are. If the dinghy is on davits—especially common on catamarans—understand how to raise, lower and secure it while underway. Ask if there is a lock (and key) for the outboard as well as the dinghy. If at all possible, start the outboard. Also be sure to ask about fuel and extra oil, especially if it’s a two-stroke. Always have a backup plan if possible.
The Moorings has added powercats in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. (moorings.com). It has also announced a new destination—the Spanish Virgin Islands. A variety of power and sailing cats can be chartered out of Marina del Rey in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.
When she’s not chartering in exotic places, Zuzana Prochazka cruises Southern California aboard Indigo, a Celestial 48