By Fran Golden
When Allen Ware, 62, a California-based Google executive, decided it was time to satisfy his vacation wish list goal of chartering a “big yacht” in Italy, he soon learned that the process was far more complicated than searching online and booking a boat. Ware was no stranger to sailing: He had previously booked sailing boats and catamarans in the British Virgin Islands, some of which he’d captained himself. But with superyachts, he felt over his head. Evaluating ships based on photos, then differentiating between charter companies and individual brokers, he said, made the whole concept feel impenetrable before it even began.
Like anything else, researching online and scouring reviews is the first step. But then, Ware advises, you have to trust the broker with everything else. “That trust is important,” he explains. “It’s nerve-wracking when you have to wire over $50,000.”
Ware set a budget of $120,000 to $160,000, shared among four couples, to sail around the Amalfi Coast for a week last September. He clicked a link to a broker on the website of one of the world’s leading yachting companies, IYC, reviewed her profile on LinkedIn, and proceeded from there, booking his dream vacation on a 117-foot yacht with a crew of six.
Making the sea your private floating playground is alluring, and crowd-free yachting suits the moment, but as Ware quickly learned, booking a yacht is unlike booking any other kind of travel. It requires a vision of where you want to go, as routes are individualized; the ability to parse the differences between types of yachts (sailing vs. motor); and some knowledge of pricing, since provisioning and fees can add dramatically to the base prices listed online.
The good news is that this is a great time to get on board. More yachts are available to charter than at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when owners took their boats off the rental market in order to use them with their social bubbles. And while demand remains high for first-timers—Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of luxury agency Embark Beyond, says yacht charters are up 28.3% in 2022, over 2018, among his hotel-loving clientele—the market is plateauing overall.
The most recent quarterly report from IYC says that this year bookings are expected to reach 2022 levels for both summer and winter, while not exceeding them. At the very least, it may help soften the blow of inflation, which this year is sending provisioning costs to 35% or 40% of the total charter fee, up from 30% in previous years.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to what you should know before booking a yachting trip—and whom to call and where.
Setting a budget
In general, spending a week on a yacht can cost anywhere from low five figures to several million dollars.
On the more affordable end, you might spend about $20,000 for a 45-foot, four-passenger sailing catamaran with a husband-and-wife crew serving as captain, chef and chief bottle washer, booked from the Moorings in the British Virgin Islands. Or you can spend some $3 million for a week on the Flying Fox, a four-year-old 446-footer with a 55-person crew, a 39-foot pool and an elevator between decks. Its guests have included Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who probably valued its helipads (plural), spa and movie theater.
But charter prices are determined by factors far more complicated than the bells and whistles that will catch your eye. They include the size and type of yacht, the age of the boat, the number of crew, and what amenities are onboard; you’ll pay additionally, for instance, for a hot tub or pool, and even more for such toys as jet skis or personal submersibles. Specialized crew, like scuba dive masters or yoga instructors, add yet another layer.
Ezon says the average charter price for his clients this summer is $401,543 for a week, up 8% from 2022. Typically, clients pay 50% to secure the booking; the remainder is paid 30 days prior to departure.
An important consideration: Online prices typically show only a base cost, covering the yacht and crew. In most cases, everything else is extra—the food and drinks, fuel, dockage fees, taxes, VAT and anything you want to spend on land. That sum, typically representing 30% of the charter price, gets billed ahead of time as an Advanced Provisioning Allowance (APA). Many guests get part of this refunded; Ware, for instance, got some money back when a patch of bad weather meant his yacht burned through less than the expected amount of fuel.
Don’t forget about gratuities—which are not included in the APA. These are paid in cash at the end of the trip, when you hand an envelope to the yacht’s captain for distribution (a routine familiar to “Below Deck” fans). Suggested amounts range from 10% to more than 25% of the base charter yacht fee. (Higher gratuities are customary in the Caribbean and North America than elsewhere; your broker can advise you on specifics.)
All-in, with tips, Ware and his friends spent $50,000 per couple—roughly $3,500 per person, per day—for their one-week charter yacht experience on Sands. The 10-passenger motor yacht had a hot tub in which they enjoyed Bellinis off the coast of Positano.
Choosing and Working with a Broker
In general, brokers are paid by the yacht owners. But rather than acting as an agent for the boat, they are more of a matchmaker in a transaction where finding the right ship is just the beginning.
Together, you choose much more than the vessel—though the first step is deciding whether you want to move with the wind on a sailing yacht or visit lots of destinations on a faster motor yacht. Almost every detail needs to be decided in advance, from a personalized route to activities and what you would like to eat and drink. You can choose to be spontaneous, but your broker can guide you through the implications of that type of trip (it might not suit picky eaters, for instance, and some destinations may be too crowded for last-minute docking).
In the absence of personal recommendations, you can reach out to contacts from major companies. The four best-known yacht brokerages serving destinations around the world are Burgess, Fraser, IYC and Northrop & Johnson; IYC alone has 15 offices in prominent yachting capitals. There are also regional specialists. For instance, Moorings is best known in the Caribbean, and Goolets specializes in Croatia, though it also charters yachts in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Maldives, among other places.
Ware found his broker this way: June Montagne, the independent IYC contractor Ware chose, represents more than 3,000 charter boat options.
“The biggest mistake is just finding any boat online or working with a broker who isn’t experienced,” says Montagne, who has been in the business since 1996. “First-time travelers need to ask questions like, ‘Do you attend boat shows and view these boats? Do you meet the crew?’”
“Do your due diligence,” she adds, pointing to the alarming number of people who will wire her five- and six-figure deposits without “really asking many questions.” Other things you can ask about, she says, are how many yachts they represent within your price point and where they are located, or if they have a deep expertise in any particular region. Some brokers may just work with more luxurious vessels; others may know every nook and cranny of the Aegean Sea. Look for a broker that gives you advice rather than replying to emails with formulaic answers, and be sure you click on a personal level.
Don’t be surprised if the broker interviews you, too. It’s important they know your detailed preferences in order to customize a trip—or properly adjust your trip, if necessary. For instance, Montagne helped Ware pivot when his first choice, a Russian-owned yacht, was suddenly pulled from Italy.
Where to go
For Ware, the idea of chartering on the Amalfi Coast came after watching Bravo TV’s dramatic Below Deck, says his wife, Ashley Kendrick, 52, retired from the mortgage business.
“The notion of traveling in Europe in a yacht just seemed like an incredible experience, not because it’s ostentatious, but with a small group of people, it just seemed a wow,” Kendrick says. “The intimacy of a yacht in that part of the world was compelling.”
Montagne says you can still book Italy this summer. The same applies to Greece and Croatia, also particularly popular this year with her clientele. Occasionally, brokers will get word of last-minute discounted pricing offers.
The yacht seasons typically works as follows: Mediterranean itineraries span the summer, which these days has extended from May into October. Then ships reposition to the Caribbean and Bahamas for the winter season that runs from December to April or early May. In June, Italy was the hotspot, followed by Greece, France, the U.S., Turkey, Monaco, Croatia, the Bahamas and the U.A.E.
If you want to avoid tourist crowds, consider traveling in September or October in the Mediterranean, a time you’ll also find off-season prices. Or look at such alternative routes as sailing the Peloponnese from Nafplion in Greece, rather than dealing with tourist throngs in Mykonos and Santorini. (You may ask about destinations with lower VAT pricing to extract value—those taxes are 0% in Turkey and Montenegro, but 21% in Spain and 22% in Italy.)
Another top yachting company, Fraser, suggests Southeast Asia or the South Pacific as alternatives to the Caribbean come winter. You can bop around the Thai islands on the 105-foot, 12-guest Camara C for $76,200 per week in the winter high season, or explore French Polynesia on the 121-foot Masteka 2, with its eight-seat hot tub, from $115,000 per week.
Sightseeing on Land vs. Days at Sea
Most people think the whole trip is planned once the yacht is booked, but decisions remain, says Mitja Mirtic, chief executive officer and co-owner of Slovenia-based charter company Goolets.
Setting the route and deciding what types of activities you want to do on land—sightseeing, meals at local restaurants, nature hikes, beach visits—are just as important on a yacht trip as they are on a more conventional land-based vacation. You’ll also want to make decisions around the on-board menus, for proper provisioning. Your captain often doubles as concierge, but your broker will be the one to gather your preferences and help get everything set up in the three to six weeks before your trip.
Just make sure to allow some free time. Travelers often underestimate the allure of allowing the captain to improvise by, say, pulling into a secluded cove for a pre-breakfast swim, Mirtic says. “I do believe that over-planning usually takes some fun out of the whole experience.”
For on-the-water fun, some yachts come with a veritable water toy playground: Paddleboards, kayaks, water trampolines, Waverunners and water skis are just the beginning. In the Caribbean, the family-friendly, 239-foot Titania comes with a 43-foot-tall waterslide coming down from the sundeck, plus an inflatable playground with slide, for $615,000 a week. If you don’t find what you want in a yacht listing, you may be able to request that toys be added for a fee negotiated in advance.
Kendrick says the water toys were a particular highlight of her Amalfi trip. “We went American-lake, where we hooked-up together water floats and just sat there and drank Champagne off Capri,” she says.
Regardless, the most important detail to consider is who you’ll be spending your time with. Yachting is, by definition, an intimate experience. (Remember how that went for Tanya McQuoid on White Lotus?)
“Make sure you are with people who you want to spend time with,” says Ware.
His advice for putting together your sailing party: “Say: ‘You’re a great friend, here’s what you are going to spend to do this, and if you are comfortable with it, great; if you’re not, that’s OK as well,’” Ware says. “We billed our charter as a YOLO [you only live once] experience and luckily, our friends agreed.”
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