Whether standing on your balcony in Monaco or sitting by your pool at a villa in the Caribbean, a passing superyacht is like a siren’s call, the preferred luxury vacation transport of billionaires, Beyonce and Bieber.
In case you haven’t chartered a yacht before, we spoke to Jonathan Beckett, President & CEO of Burgess, a leading broker for both charters and the sale of megayachts, to find out the questions you need to consider before weighing anchor. Beckett says, his company does several thousand charters a year, of which five to 10 percent are by first-timers.
Motor or Sail?
While only about five percent of customers want a sailing yacht, Beckett says, each has “a very different clientele.” While both offer similar luxuries and facilities, he says motor yachts are “like renting a big villa on the water,” whereas on a sailing yacht, “if it’s windy the boat is going to tilt. You can take the sails down, but if you are a real sailor, you’ll enjoy the sailing experience.”
Where do you want to cruise?
Choosing where you want to go is an early stage question. Yachts tend to move seasonally and stay in one region for the entire season, so if you want to sail in the Mediterranean you will have a different selection of yachts than Scandinavia.
What type of destination experience do you want?
Do you want to be in a remote bay all alone or near everyone else? Beckett says, “Sixty percent want to be where everyone else is. People typically, first timers, want to be where the action is.”
What’s your budget appetite?
While Beckett says, “We have boats for all types of budgets,” he adds, the starting point is around $150,000 per week for his company. You need to add on top of that 25 percent to cover food, alcohol, fuel, communications and port charges, all paid before you leave the dock.
Does it make sense to split the costs between a group?
“It rarely happens,” Beckett says. The layout of most boats is there is a master cabin, so it’s hard to split things evenly. He adds, “You really need somebody to make the decisions. Are going to cruise through the night? How long do we stay in port? What time are we going to eat breakfast? It’s much better when you have one lead charterer.”
What type of crew do I want?
Asking your broker about the crew and their style is one of the most important parts of the process. “Crew is more important than the yacht,” says Beckett. “Do you want informal, or highly professional, dressed in smart uniforms? Or are shorts and t-shirts and highly relaxed what you are looking for? You can have the best yacht in the world, and if you don’t click with the crew, the charter is going to be a disaster. At the same time, you can have a yacht that may not be at it’s best, but the crew is brilliant and everyone leaves happy.”
What do we want to eat?
While it can be arranged for you to bring your chef or to get a specialist chef, yachts come crewed with their own chef. “Food is a really big part of a yachting holiday,” Beckett says. Burgess, he says, makes a point to inspect all the yachts it charters out by visiting them at various boat shows. His team meets and assesses the crew and also meets the chef to get background on their expertise and capabilities. Specifying the types of foods you like and special preparations that will impact your enjoyment are critical to communicate at an early stage.
What type of activities do we like?
Each yacht has different facilities and amenities, so get a list of what water toys are onboard, and facilities from spas to cinemas. Some yachts carry a masseuse, so if you like a good rub, make sure to find out which boats you are looking at offer what you want. In terms of ports, think about the places you want to visit, and what you want to experience. Beckett says between his team and the captain, virtually anything is possible, but it does take some planning.
Can I change itinerary?
Unlike a cruise ship where you are stuck to a schedule, Beckett says, “It’s completely bespoke, except the ports of embarkation and disembarkation” as the yacht will have probably been engaged before and after you.
Can I extend my charter?
Beckett says, if you think you might want to extend, find out if there is open space after your proposed dates. He says, you can negotiate an option to extend when you are making your booking. In many cases, you won’t have to decide until you are in the middle of your cruise. Keep in mind, to extend you will have to transfer the cash before you can continue.
Can I charge it?
Sorry, you won’t be racking up any Membership Miles or hotel points on this trip. Beckett says, the industry standard is “cash via bank transfer. We collect all the money in advance of the charter, plus all of the running costs, which are 25 percent on top. If you book a $500,000 charter, it would be another $125,000 to cover fuel, food, alcohol, communications charges which are at cost.”
What if I run over?
“The golden rule is never run out of money,” Beckett says, “So we monitor it.” Of course, it can sometimes take a day or so to transfer money internationally so this is something you want to keep tabs on as well. The crew will be able to pay out local expenses well.
What about cancellation?
There are actually two types of cancellations in chartering a yacht. The first is when the yacht owner cancels the charter. This can happen because of a mechanical problem or the owner sells the yacht, or just changes his or her mind. In this case you will get your money back plus liquidated damages that can run from 25 to 50 percent, based on how close you are to the sailing date. Beckett says, one customer who paid for a $1 million charter and had it cancelled by the owner, made a quick $500,000.
If you cancel, make sure you have charter insurance, says Beckett, as any money you have paid to that point won’t be refunded. Typically you pay 50 percent on signing and the last 50 percent a month before the charter starts.
How do I find a broker that’s right for me?
Beckett says eight companies represent 80 percent of the world’s fleet of megayachts that are on the charter market. He recommends checking with the Better Business Bureau, talking to friends who have chartered and getting information from each broker on how they escrow the money. Ask your broker if he or she or colleagues have visited the yachts you are looking at. Beckett says, a good broker tries to get into the “psychi” of the customer since the charter experience is based on such a wide variety of factors. As a last point, if you are set on a specific yacht, go to the listing broker. Like real estate, while brokers have their own listings, they sell other brokers’ listings. Dealing with a listing broker may mean you can negotiate rebated commission since they don’t have to split their fee with another broker, but Beckett adds, “The most important consideration of all is to chose a broker who is professional and knowledgeable and who understands your expectations.”