Like Goldilocks, charterers look for a bareboat that’s not too big, not too small, not too expensive, not too complicated and generally “just right.” Just right, though, means different things to different people, and each charter has its own circumstances, so what’s a sailor to do? Here are some guidelines to help you choose the best boat for you on your next trip.
Number of Guests
There’s a huge difference between chartering as a couple and chartering as a group. Two people need less space and less water, but they also may not be able to manage a larger rig, or the relatively large main of a catamaran in a blow. Similarly, a 34ft monohull may be just the ticket for four or less. However, larger groups will need room to spread out, not to mention larger water tanks and bigger battery banks to keep lots of lights and fans running. In this case, a 50ft-plus monohull or a cat of 45ft or longer would be the right choice. That said, be mindful how much boat you’ll have to manage, reef and dock, especially when the weather isn’t cooperating.
Types of Guests
If you’re chartering with small kids or older folks with mobility restrictions, a catamaran may be ideal. Generally cats are more stable both underway and at anchor. Plus, they have more deck space giving, say, toddlers more latitude to explore. Cats also provide better sun protection for sensitive folks and offer less likelihood of seasickness due to their motion and lack of heeling. Finally, non-sailors may prefer cats due to their greater space, privacy and amenities, while the larger water tanks and room for installed watermakers on cats can help newbies deal with the conservation that goes with living aboard for a week.
Again, though, experience also plays a part, so when picking a boat be sure to consider both the level of your expertise and the skills of your crew. Are you really up to the task of driving and docking a large cat or a 57ft monohull sans bow thruster? Similarly, Med-mooring a big boat on a small quay in Greece or Croatia is no picnic without a good skipper and some seasoned deckhands. As an added benefit, if you’re not too handy mechanically, going smaller and simpler means you’ll have fewer systems to run and/or fix along the way.
Managing the tender is also a consideration. Most charter monohulls are forced to tow a dinghy, which slows the boat and can be inconvenient when docking and even dangerous in following seas. Cats, on the other hand, usually have davits, so you can lift the dink every trip and every night so it won’t be stolen.
Think long and hard about how much of your vacation budget should go to the cost of the boat. Bigger boats are costlier. Comparable cats are more expensive than monohulls (usually). Newer and better-equipped boats will also cost more than those that have seen several years of service. If you don’t need a watermaker, a large fridge, an on-deck BBQ or a brand-new dinghy, bargain charter boats may make sense. If, however, you’re planning the trip of a lifetime with multiple generations of family, you may want to splurge.
Going with off-brand charter companies can help tight budgets too. Of course, with some, you may get what you pay for. But with others, you may have the pleasure of dealing with a family-run operation that makes up in good maintenance and service for what it lacks in brand awareness and the age of its fleet.
Finally, as in life, timing is everything. If you absolutely must charter during holiday weeks, be prepared to pay more for less. Shoulder seasons, on the other hand, offer good deals that may allow you to get a larger or newer cat for the same rate as a smaller, older monohull in high season.
Getting it Just Right
The type of boat you charter will have a major impact on the quality of your vacation, but even if you get the oldest, smallest or worst boat in the fleet, your attitude can still make it the best vacation of your life. No matter the boat, the most important thing to bring along when chartering is a sense of humor.