Ask SAIL: Credentials to Become a Bareboat Captain

Dear SAIL, Your charter stories in the March issue had my mind traveling afar, and I’d like to be a bareboat captain. How does a charter company know that someone is sufficiently qualified or experienced to charter its craft? Some sailors are extremely capable, but have no specific schooling or credentials.  Charles Hammond, Kingston, MA
Author:
Updated:
Original:
CYOA-pix-2[1]CaptainCred

Dear SAIL,

Your charter stories in the March issue had my mind traveling afar, and I’d like to be a bareboat captain. How does a charter company know that someone is sufficiently qualified or experienced to charter its craft? Some sailors are extremely capable, but have no specific schooling or credentials.

Charles Hammond, Kingston, MA

Great question, Charles. The answer varies between charter companies, but there is a basic set of qualifications—both official and intangible—that you’ll need to captain a charter boat. If you follow these steps, you’ll both fulfill a charter company’s requirements and acquire the skills and confidence necessary to be a great skipper.

1) Get certified

Charter companies look for both on-the-water and on-paper certifications. US Sailing, ASA and RYA all offer bareboat courses that allow you to polish your sailing skills. In addition, these courses will help you understand what it takes to organize a charter vacation, including how to provision, make travel arrangements, set itineraries and manage emergencies and crew dynamics. 

You’ll need to be able to operate a boat’s systems and mechanics, skills you can also acquire through a course or through experience. During a typical day on charter, a boat will spend 19 hours at anchor, so a skipper has to be able to run all of the systems—batteries, electronics, plumbing, refrigeration—successfully, and make sure the crew can do the same.

Above all, skippers need recent on-the-water experience. “On-water time is much more valuable to us than coursework credentials,” says Lin Crook of TMM Yacht Charters on Tortola, BVI. “We like our clients to have experience, without incident, on a similar size yacht to the one they will be chartering with us.” The folks at Horizon Yacht Charters agree, requiring that skippers complete an online resume form, which evaluates the experience not only of the skipper but of every crewmember.

Keep in mind that hard-skill requirements will vary based on location. For example, you’ll need to be able to handle trade winds and mooring fields in the BVI, Med-moors and crowds in the Mediterranean, stern-to anchors in the Pacific Northwest and long sailing passages in the Windward Islands.

2) Get qualified

There are also a number of intangible qualities that will make you a better bareboat skipper. First, you need to have situational awareness. The boat, the sea, the weather and the crew are constantly dolling out cues, and you need to pick up on them and respond pragmatically. You’re on vacation, yes, but you’re also in charge of everyone else’s vacation.

Second, be communicative. As Al Ashford at Horizon says, “A good skipper has to have both the confidence to change [his or her] mind and the presence to explain the changes in straightforward manner to their crew.”

Finally, remain calm. When things go wrong or change unexpectedly, a skipper who panics is a skipper who puts his or her crew in danger, and that’s when accidents happen.

3) Pick your crew 

You’ll be in charge, but you’ll want at least one other person aboard with enough sailing experience to act as a backup and ease your load. It helps if this person is a physically strong, level-headed sailor. Jan Alexander, at CYOA Yacht Charters on St. Thomas, adds that “a successful charter captain chooses a crew of able-bodied people who are willing and able to take direction. It might one day be necessary to raise an anchor by hand or deal with other unforeseeable events that require both strength and common sense.” 

In addition to the hard skills like anchoring, it's important to pick your crew wisely

In addition to the hard skills like anchoring, it's important to pick your crew wisely

4) Pass the test

Once you arrive at the charter base, you may have to prove you can skipper a boat. Some companies will study your resume, give you the keys and say, “Enjoy!” Others, like Desolation Sound Yacht Charters, require charterers to take an online navigation test to comply with Canadian law. Some, like CYOA, take you on a test sail to see if you can set and strike the sails, tack and gybe, moor and keep your cool. It takes less than 30 minutes and allows you to ask questions about the boat while the company evaluates your ability to handle it.

Once you arrive at the charter base, you may have to prove you can skipper a boat.

Once you arrive at the charter base, you may have to prove you can skipper a boat.

If you’re not ready to take the helm—and you wouldn’t be the first—talk to your charter company about alternatives. Many offer bareboat courses on board and almost all have instructional skippers who can sail with you for two to seven days. In addition to helping you with the boat, these skippers can serve as valuable guides who can enhance your vacation with their local knowledge.

With the right combination of training, knowledge, practice and old-fashioned level-headedness, any good sailor can become a great bareboat captain.

Got a question for our experts? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com

Related

SunFast-600x

Video tour: Jeanneau SunFast 3300

Jeanneau America's Mike Coe takes SAIL aboard the brand new Sun Fast 3300 for an exclusive tour. This mid-sized stripped-down racing boat has a perfect balance of amenities and weight-saving simplicity to make it a blast to sail. Though it boasts sleeping space for up to six, ...read more

furlex2

Know-how: Installing an Electric Furler

Push-Button Reefing Boats have never been easier to sail, and yet, designers and builders still strive for that extra iota or two of convenience. A case in point is the growing acceptance of powered headsail furlers. Roller-furling headsails are ubiquitous not only on cruising ...read more

New-Lead

Know-how: Modify a Blackwater System

My dissatisfaction with the head and holding tank plumbing arrangement on our 1987 Sabre 38 had grown as we cruised the boat away from the comforts of a marina for longer periods of time. When we are tied up at a marina, the use of regular bathrooms generally trumps the ...read more

01-LEAD-Suzuki-55f19d31e297c

Choosing the Right Outboard

Two of the most indispensable items on board a cruising yacht are a dinghy and an outboard motor. At anchor or on a buoy, of course, they are your only means of getting ashore. They also have a thousand other uses. For example, they can allow you to motor across to friends’ ...read more

2019-giftGuide

2019 Holiday Gift Guide

Sailing America Rizzoli International Publications has released this striking portrait of American sailing by nautical photography legend Onne van der Wal just in time for the holidays. Featuring 200 stunning photographs spanning the length and breadth of the sailing scene—from ...read more

01-Sailing-La-Vagabonde,-Outremer-48

Cruising: the Vagabonde Life

Once upon a time conquering your dream of sailing off into the sunset was enough, but these days it seems like you have to be popular on social media too. Balancing the stresses of sailing around the world while keeping a successful—not to mention financially lucrative—social ...read more

191114

Video: 11th Hour Racing Arrives in Brazil

Team 11th Hour Racing finished in fourth place this past week among the 29 IMOCA 60s competing in the 4,335-mile doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre race from Le Havre, France, to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Aboard were American Charlie Enright and French sailor Pascal Bidégorry, ...read more

Video--Edmond-de-Rothschild-Maxi-tri-Pitstop

Video: Edmond de Rothschild Maxi-tri Pitstop

. On Sunday, after having been first across the equator in the Brest Atlantiques race , Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier aboard the Ultime maxi-tri Maxi Edmond de Rothschild reported they’d be making a pitstop in Salvador de Bahia, in Brazil, after damaging one of their ...read more