Thanks to Google, there’s very little you can’t find online these days. So why, you might ask, would you need an intermediary or agent to book a bareboat charter vacation? The answer is that you don’t need one. However, you may gain value by using one, depending on where, when and how you want to experience your sailing sojourn.
A charter broker works like a travel agent, representing numerous charter companies in a region or around the globe. They have relationships with various organizations and can do the legwork for you in terms of identifying local companies, comparing prices and providing user reviews of the bases or even of the individual vessels. Think of them as a kind of Expedia for charter boats.
Brokers operate on a commission that is not paid by you, either directly or indirectly, through any kind of higher pricing. Instead, they get volume-booking discounts, which allow them to make a profit by giving you the same price you would get by going direct. In some cases, they may be privy to real-time deals that will allow them to also pass some of the savings on to you.
What’s in it for You
Okay, now that we know they won’t cost you any more, how can a broker help? For starters, some small charter companies at far-flung destinations may not take credit cards, so a broker who does (or accepts a secure online payment system like PayPal) can help with your transaction. Additionally, quotes from multiple providers can be shown in the same format so you can compare more easily. This applies to both crewed and bareboat charters.
Having an on-site advocate can also help in case there are issues on the charter itself. “We have relationships with the charter companies and can usually come to an amicable solution when something goes wrong,” says Chrystal Young, co-owner of LTD Sailing, a school and broker in Grenada.
Along these same lines, companies like LTD Sailing or Ed Hamilton in the Caribbean have first-hand “on island” knowledge of the condition of individual boats and can also advise on the best times to charter in terms of favorable weather or shoulder season discounts. This limits unpleasant surprises, which is always a good thing when on a charter. Think of a broker as a kind of an on-site insider. “We are not some guy in the basement booking trips. We’re out there sailing,” says Young.
Marin Susac of GlobeSailor, a French broker with 12,000 yachts listed at 1,000 providers, adds that her staff is constantly visiting the charter company bases it represents, getting to know the yachts and the managers. They also work with partners in lesser known destinations like Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean territories where charterers often fear to tread.
In the interest of quality control, Susac says GlobeSailor closely scrutinizes the client reviews it receives after each charter and helps with the new European charter certification requirements coming online in some countries. He notes that GlobeSailor also makes a point of revealing the name of the charter company to the guest as soon as the down payment is made and passes on any and all repeat-charter discounts. “We are transparent,” he says, “and can even arrange for additional extras… like a surprise birthday cake.”
That said, it’s important to remember that the success of the charter-agent model relies on how familiar a broker is with the bases they represent. With this in mind, Josie Tucci, general manager for The Moorings US, which works with brokers like VI Sailing and Tropical Yachts (though most of its charters are booked directly), cautions that “Some [brokers] are more familiar with certain destinations than others.” She adds that as an added benefit, The Moorings is an IATA full-service travel agency that can take care of all travel arrangements.
Nonetheless, while I could probably learn to wield Google as well as the next sailor, that doesn’t mean I either want to or have the time. Same goes for dedicating hours to researching destinations, comparing prices and guessing at the quality of the individual vessels on offer at various different small and mid-sized companies. Bottom line: while going direct may be the answer when booking with a large company at a known location when working with say, a small local charter provider halfway around the world, a broker may be just the ticket.
A sampling ofcharter brokers:
Virgin Island Sailing:visailing.com
When she’s not chartering in exotic places, Zuzana Prochazka cruises Southern California aboard Indigo, a Celestial 48
Photo courtesy of GlobeSailor