Written by Lisa Robinson
Photography by Ocean Alliance, Australian Superyachts, Fraser Yachts, 37 South Yachts, Quin Bissett, Northrop and Johnson
So, you’re used to taking your family to five star resorts and on luxury cruises but you want to do something different next time and are thinking about chartering a yacht? You’re about to step into a world of bespoke bliss where everything is tailored to your wishes. The daunting bit is getting your head around how chartering works and how different it is from other luxury holidays.
You can end up with myriad questions on pricing, preparation, itinerary, activities, food, contracts and more. There is a lot to go through with your charter broker. So here, Ocean is giving you a cheat sheet. In this two-part series, we explore the key questions every first-timer should ask and giving you the answers from expert charter brokers.
The world is your oyster when it comes to chartering a yacht. You can have your pick of popular boating destinations in Australia such as the Kimberley Coast, The Whitsundays, Port Douglas, Sydney Harbour and The Great Barrier Reef.
If you’re thinking of New Zealand then Auckland, the Bay of Islands, Marlborough Sounds, Coromandel Peninsula and Fiordland will likely be on your list. The South Pacific Islands, in particular Fiji, are always in high demand. Further afield, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean are must-sees and charters there can be booked by local brokers with that expertise.
It seems like you’re so spoiled for choice, you might wonder if there are any limitations to where you can go. Allan Jouning from 37 South Yachts in New Zealand explains. “A client might request a destination that doesn’t have charter boats. For example, I recently had an enquiry from a first-time charterer who was looking at places like Vietnam and The Philippines.
Those places are growing in the industry but there are no boats based there. There are places that you can’t charter from a legal standpoint, countries where only boats flagged of that country can charter or countries with certain levels of security issues.
“For this client, I suggested other areas, like Bali and Thailand, and advised on what boats are available there.”
Once you’ve settled on a destination, your charter broker then selects a yacht that will facilitate the experience you want to have.
Cameron Bray from Northrop and Johnson explains the process. “We spend a lot of time gathering intel from the client, getting to understand what they want to achieve. That then leads us to finding the right yacht. And it’s not just the yacht, it’s the crew as well. We get to know the crew and captains intimately, so we know if the personalities of the crew are going to match the personalities or the desires of the client.”
After the yacht and the destination, it’s time to decide on the itinerary which, unlike on a cruise ship, you delightfully have control of choosing overall and day-by-day. Donna Morris from Australian Superyachts assures that, “It’s up to you where you want to go and what you want to see. The captain will prepare an itinerary for you as he will know the area and what’s worth seeing. It’s not strict though – so if you particularly like somewhere that you visit you may want to stay a bit longer. Likewise, if you don’t like a place you may move on quicker.”
Most find that having that level of control over where you go, what you do and how long you stay in each spot is a major upgrade. “A good charter broker should fine tune what the client wants and needs,” advises Jo Howard from Ocean Alliance.
They [the clients] might be avid divers, surfers, kite surfers or sports fishers…They might want quite anchorages but still want to go ashore to a high end resort every day, so then we would base the itinerary on the proximity to that land based activity. It’s about extracting the information to find out about the client and what they want to achieve and then modeling the itinerary around that.”
How much it all costs and how it’s priced will surely be priority questions. There may be the assumption that the all-inclusive package system of the luxury cruise line industry, is applied here. However, a superyacht charter is built around offering an absolutely unique experience. So, it has its own pricing system to accommodate the fulfillment of individual desires.
“We use what’s called an advanced provisional allowance (APA), which allows the client to manage their own experience and allows the yacht to cater for exactly what they want. Generally, first-time charterers have to be introduced to this system and how it works,” says Peter Redford of Fraser Yachts.
“When you charter a vessel, you effectively are hiring just the boat and the crew. On top of that, the APA is charged at 25 to 30 percent. It acts as a fund from which the costs of accrued expenses are debited. It allows for the choice of food, alcohol, the amount of recreational activities and cruising you do in terms of fuel burn. The captain keeps the ledger, advises how much of the allowance guests are using and manages their expectations accordingly.”
Cameron Bray from Northrop & Johnson adds, “The reason we do that, is so it can be a completely customised experience – every guest is going to use the yacht in a different way. Let’s say they get a boat that can go quite fast and they want to race around at 20 knots, then they will pay for that. Versus, a family who wants to sit at anchor for a week. The system makes it fairer for the charter guests.”
You may also be surprised to know that with all this potential for customisation, a yachting holiday can be comparable in cost to other premium escapes. One reason is “usually people are not aware that they have a capacity, depending on the size of the vessel, to have up to around 12 guests and therefore can share the cost of the charter with another group or two of friends or family,” Fraser Yachts’ Peter Redford suggests.
You might have heard how good the food on a charter can be. So understanding how it’s catered is probably next on your list. What’s better than choosing from a five-star menu? How about having your private live-aboard chef design a menu for your group based specifically on each person’s favourites and dietary requirements. Your chef is also available 24/7, to make whatever you want, whenever you want it.
“These experienced chefs are well-versed in all types of special diets: gluten intolerance, vegetarian, low salt, low cholesterol, paleo, even macrobiotic. If they know in advance the needs of the guests, they will happily and skillfully accommodate,” says Donna Morris from Australian Superyachts.
Information on food preferences is gathered from preference sheets – a detailed document each guest is asked to complete far in advance of their charter. It’s a tool that charter brokers use to replicate conditions and specific necessities for the pleasure and comfort of each guest. Preference sheets can cover everything from allergies and medical conditions, to the kind of confectionery you like on your pillows, to your favorite cocktails, to diving bootie sizes to activities. If completed in detail and with enough lead time, all arrangements can be made and the crew can get to know the guests very well before they get on board.
Ocean Alliance’s Jo Howard adds, “There are no limitations. If it’s something we can source, then it’s available. For instance, if we have a Jewish family, we can bring in a specific kosher chef that can fulfil their dietary and preparation requirements.”
So, you’re getting the idea that the superyacht charter experience is all about you. One thing charter brokers and the yachts need to facilitate the best execution of your wishes is time, the more the better.
“You normally get three or four months’ notice before a booking,” says 37 South Yachts’ Allan Jouning. “From the time you get the client interested – there’s a lot of work that goes into matching the client to the boat, the destination. They may have children, want to bring a nanny. We have people who may want to bring a security person with them. So there’s all sorts of logistics facilitating certain requests.”
Apart from exquisite food and exploring new pockets of the world, a yachting getaway also means playing with toys and having your fill of snorkeling, scuba-diving, fishing - whatever floats your boat really. Superyachts usually have the best of the best in terms of fun watersport gear at your disposal.
“Watersports and toys are a big part of the offering of the yacht. Traditionally most yachts will have one or two tenders, jet skis, Sea Doos and equipment for underwater exploration. Often there is a request for a good supply of diving equipment on-board, back up tanks and a crew member that is a qualified dive instructor. Waterslides are often requested as well,” says Ocean Alliance’s Jo Howard.
“It’s a great compliment for a yacht to have a GoPro, underwater camera or drone on board that allows guests to record their experience. It’s now what a charterer would be looking to take away rather than still photography.”
A tailored itinerary, customised menu, a crew focused on your comforts, and toys to boot, should make the idea of a yachting holiday exceptionally appealing. “People would probably equate a yachting holiday to a first-class holiday in an exclusive resort. But by the time you factor in first class airfares and private villas or bungalows then compare it to a yacht charter, cost wise it might only be marginally more expensive. But in terms of the experience, it’s exponentially better. It is the most private or customized experience you can have,” concludes Northrop and Johnson’s Cameron Bray.
In part two of this series, we will take you through the “what if” questions: seasickness, bad weather, cancellation clauses – the things you don’t want to think about but have to prepare for as you plan for your first cruising holiday.