Checking in and out of different countries or islands while on a bareboat charter can be a time-consuming and expensive proposition. Not only do you have to check out of the first port but also into the second, and then vice versa. Rinse and repeat. Some ports will allow you to do both in one visit, but then you can stay only 24 hours if you want to avoid a second trip to the customs and immigration office. Spontaneity on vacation may soon feel impossible.
For example, charter in St. Maarten (Dutch side) and you’ll be required to repeat official processes when visiting St. Martin (French side) as well as Anguilla and St. Barths, both which can be reached in just a few hours. Some ports around the world make easy work of the process, while at others you’ll spend an hour watching three people (sitting within 5ft of one another) make a dramatic show of officialdom. However, in order to experience beautiful cruising grounds, sometimes the dance is worth it. Just be sure to budget time and money (sometimes $100 or more based on vessel size and number of crew) because it’s not always cheap or easy.
Tips for Easier Checking In/Out
Avoid checking in and out of major ports where there is commercial traffic, like ferries or cruise ships. Refer to the cruising guide for smaller offices that aren’t crowded and are staffed by personnel who work with bareboats frequently.
Prepare paperwork ahead of time. You’ll need ship registration papers, crew passports and previous check in/out documents. You may want to make a comprehensive crew list and ask the base to make you a dozen copies.
Talk to cruisers and other charterers to get the scoop on which entry ports are the fastest and friendliest.
Don’t forget to purchase cruising and national park permits. I’ve never been asked to show one of these, but I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the law in a strange land.
Bring cash. Some of the offices you’ll visit won’t have copy machines, much less the ability to run a credit card.
Stay flexible and friendly. Whether you’re dealing with a Greek or French keyboard at computerized offices where you type in your information, or you’re witnessing death by a thousand bureaucratic cuts in a musty room, keep cool. Showing aggravation at inefficiencies or a sense of urgency because you’d rather be under a palapa with an umbrella drink will only lengthen the process—I promise.
No Check-ins Needed Here
Here are some bareboat destinations where checking in and out will not be necessary:
Mexico used to require cruisers to check in and out of each city, but that’s not the case anymore. Furthermore, the only real bareboat charter company in Mexico is Dream Yacht Charter out of La Paz, so there’s only one city you’ll likely encounter on a week-long cruise in the Sea of Cortez.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines are part of one country, so checking in and out isn’t necessary, and you’ll enjoy lots of diversity as each island has its own unique character. However, if you sail as far south as Grenada or its Grenadines (Carriacou and Petite Martinique), you’ll be in a new country. You may want to set Union Island as the southernmost boundary.
The British Virgin Islands are among the easiest cruising grounds in the world with short hops between picturesque islands. It’s tempting to visit St. John because it’s so close to Tortola, but in fact, it’s part of the U.S. Virgins.
Tahiti cruising is simple because the most often visited islands of Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine and Bora Bora are all within French Polynesia, which isn’t a day’s sail of any other country.
Greece is also a breeze, whether you’re in the clustered Saronics or the far-flung Cyclades. You’re free to sail from island to island, all of which are dramatically different from one another.
An independent commonwealth, Antigua and Barbuda are separated by about 25 miles and are quite different from each other in character, but not nationality, so no office visits needed.
Witnessing how things get done in countries around the world can be fun if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, choose destinations wisely, or at least come well-prepared so you can get through the process as quickly as possible.
Horizon Yacht Charters has new boats joining their fleet in Antigua. Two catamarans and a monohull (years 2012-2015) are available now horizonyachtcharters.com.
The Moorings is offering an inclusive crewed rum experience. Charter in St. Lucia and visit various distilleries in Martinique for tours and tastings. moorings.com.