With the cruising industry in tatters and the desire for remote travel greater than ever, chartering a yacht can sound appealing.
But what does it cost? And will rates decrease during the coronavirus pandemic?
Yachting has long been the terrain of the ultra-wealthy — and yes, some charter prices are akin to a down payment on a house. But for others, charters can be cheaper than a week on a cruise ship for a family of four.
Understanding what makes a boat a yacht isn't as simple as it sounds.
"This is a never-ending discussion," said Daniel Ziriakus, president and chief operating officer of Northrop & Johnson, a luxury charter and superyacht broker headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "In the 80s, a 100-plus-foot vessel was considered a top-of-the-market superyacht, stretching yacht engineering to its max capacity. Today, a yacht this size is considered to be on the 'smaller' side."
While there's no universal agreement, a "yacht" connotes a boat that is large enough that passengers can comfortably spend a significant amount of time on it. Aesthetics count too, of course. Massive, luxury vessels easily fit the label — like the 590-foot Azzam, one of the largest yachts in the world — but boats on the smaller end are harder to define.
Some say yachts start at 33 feet, though others in the yachting world believe they must be bigger.
"Generally, a yacht is anything larger than 24 meters or 78 feet," said Ziriakus.
Jay Gustin, a boat owner and captain who spent 28 years chartering vessels in Alaska, Panama and Mexico, agrees. "A yacht is like a mansion; it's anything you want it to be — it's a perspective," he said. "But 33 feet is too small."
Yachting terms for larger boats are equally difficult to pin down. To Ziriakus, superyachts are 120 feet or longer, megayachts top 200 feet or more, and gigayachts represent a newer breed of yacht that spans 400 feet or more, though he notes these definitions are "open for interpretation" among the industry.
As to one other bit of semantics, why do you rent a boat and charter a yacht?
Boat rentals describe the practice of taking smaller vessels for a short period of time — an afternoon or the day. You are the captain, there is no crew and you are responsible for bringing along all supplies.
Chartering a yacht, on the other hand, entails taking possession of a larger boat for a longer period of time. There are three types of charters to consider, which greatly affect the price:
- Bareboat: Similar to a boat rental, you get only the boat. You hire the crew (or captain the boat yourself, if you're licensed to do so) and pay for fuel, food and all other expenses.
- Cabin: You charter only a room, not the entire boat. It's the yachting version of a small group tour and ideal for the socially inclined who lack the funds or travel companions to charter an entire yacht.
- Crewed: This full-service option comes with all crew and provisions supplied. This is the scenario that is most often sold in movies and music videos as the ultimate in solo luxury travel.
The yacht itself
The single most important determinant of cost is the yacht, specifically its size, design and — to a lesser extent — age. Research conducted by Northrop & Johnson found that the number of cabins and guest capacity followed by the reputation of the yacht affect the price of more expensive yacht charters the most.
The type of yacht you book can affect the cost too. There are sportfishing, sailing, motor, open (high performance) and expedition yachts, as well as multi-hulled catamarans, gullet yachts (motor-sail hybrids) and classic yachts (those built between the 1920s and 1970s). Motor yachts are, by far, the most popular type of chartered yacht, followed by sailing yachts — and they tend to be slightly more expensive too.
The size of the boat determines the crew size, which can range from several people (who often wear multiple hats while onboard) to a full staff of officers, engineers, electricians, deckhands, stewards, chefs and housekeepers in addition to the captain. Among high-end clientele, the reputation of the crew affects the price as well.
Passenger size doesn't vary as much. Smaller yachts may carry only six people, but even many superyachts are capped at 12 passengers due to the SOLAS Convention (Safety of Life at Sea) set forth by the International Maritime Organization. (Interestingly, the first version of the treaty was adopted in 1914 in response to the sinking of the Titanic.)
Furthermore, most charter yachts are owned by individuals, which adds further variability among pricing.
Locations with established yachting industries tend to be less expensive, while more remote and harder-to-reach destinations, such as the Galápagos Islands, are costlier.
High-season yachting is usually more expensive, too. Mediterranean charters are costlier in the summer, whereas Caribbean yacht charters are highest from December to March, when North Americans venture south to escape frigid winter temperatures. So-called "shoulder months" — or months on the outer ends of the high season — can be slightly cheaper (though weather may less dependable).
Some destinations have short seasons, which increase demand. Travis Peterson owns and operates Alaska Charter Services' Adventurous, a 56-foot charter vessel that provides sportfishing and sightseeing trips in southeast Alaska. Due to inclement weather in Alaska, he runs tours for half the year.
"We operate from April 1 to September 25," he said. "We are typically booked almost two years out."
The average yacht charter is around one week, and many companies have minimum stays of at least five days.
"We only work 'per week,'" said Ziriakus, noting Northrop & Johnson's average charter is 10 days. "Sometimes an owner might accept a shorter duration, but (it's) not very common."
Prices do not go down for longer holidays either. Two weeks is twice the price of one, said Ziriakus.
This diminutive-sounding term actually describes an important cache of equipment ranging from kayaks, paddle boards and underwater Seabobs to pricey, high-powered yacht tenders (smaller boats), jet skis and personal submarines.
Some yachts come with zorbs, sea pools (a large netted frame which keeps sea life out of a defined swimming area) and slides that can be deployed from the top of the yacht straight into the ocean.
Bareboat charters are the least expensive option. Yachtico, an international booking platform, has yacht charters in places like the Bahamas, Greece and Thailand for well under $5,000 for a week. Bareboat charters are also popular in the U.S. Pacific Northwest in places like Anacortes, Washington — known as the gateway to the state's San Juan Islands — where 64-foot boats can be chartered for around $1,600 per night, depending on the season.
Cabin charters can be even less expensive, though these are priced per person. Dream Yacht Charter has week-long cabin charters in places like the British Virgin Islands, Mauritius and Bali for as low as $1,200 per person.
For private crewed yacht charters, rates are generally thought to start around $10,000 but lower prices can be found, albeit on smaller boats. A three-cabin catamaran can be chartered for a seven-night trip around St. Lucia in July for around $7,000, inclusive of a cook and a skipper, through The Moorings.
For luxury superyachts, it's not uncommon to pay $150,000 per week. The largest and most impressive superyachts in the world — such as the 312-foot megayacht Kismet owned by Jacksonville Jaguar's owner Shahid Khan, which Beyonce and Jay-Z were spotted on in July 2018 — can command over $1.3 million for a seven-night stay.
Discounting is uncommon in the charter yacht industry, said Ziriakus. In fact, negotiations can sometimes work the other way around.
"One can always try to negotiate a couple of percentage points, but especially during high season, there's very little chance as demand outweighs supply by quite a bit," he said. "We're seeing more people offering more money to get a particular vessel."
Furthermore, the owners of superyachts and higher are very wealthy individuals that generally don't need the income generated from the charter, he added.
Neither Ziriakus nor Peterson foresee charter prices falling due to the coronavirus outbreak. Gustin believes the global pandemic may actually result in higher demand for private charters.
"With the coronavirus, people want to be away from crowds. Private charters are like being in your own house with your family," he said. "Many clients would be flying in on their own jets or a leased jet. This combined with a private charter would make the possibility of coming in contact with the coronavirus very small."
While prices for more expensive yachts are stable, there are a few deals on smaller yachts, at least for now. The Moorings — which suspended all charters until June 15 — provides early booking and summer specials, and Yachtico reduces weekly charters prices for last-minute deals, like the five-cabin Oceanis which can be chartered later this month for a week's trip along the coast of Croatia for around $3,000 (a skipper and hostess are an additional $189 each per day).
There are two categories of charters: all-inclusive or separated charges.
All-inclusive charters have a set rate and usually include food, beverages, fuel and entertainment such as diving and fishing equipment.
Charters that itemize expenses charge a base price for the boat and crew and then pay for all other charges through an Advance Provisioning Allowance, or an APA. This amount is paid before the trip and is typically around 30% of the yacht's rate.
"In our market, we don't deal with all-inclusive at all. Clients' itineraries and preferences are so custom that we always charge an APA," said Ziriakus. "Someone who spends $200,000 on a week, might spend another $70,000 in additional expenses, depending on the itinerary, or another $150,000 as he gets special beef flown in from New Zealand, likes expensive wine, champagne and docks only in the most expensive ports during the high summer season."
It depends on your agreement but docking fees (which may be several hundred to several thousand dollars per night in places like Capri and Sardinia), insurance and taxes (which can range from 4% in the Bahamas to 21% in Spain) may not be included in the charter fee. Fuel, which on larger yachts can top $1,000 an hour, is another point to consider.
Crew gratuity likely isn't included either. It can range from 15% to 20% of the base fee, depending on the accepted standards in the charter destination. Tips in the Mediterranean tend to be on the lower end of that range, while gratuity in the U.S. and the Caribbean are on the higher end.
For $25,500, fishing enthusiasts can book a five-day, five-night trip (additional days are $3,500 a day) on Alaska Charter Service's Adventurous, a 56-foot Delta Marine boat built in 1994 specifically for charter in southeast Alaska. Accommodating six passengers and three crew members, the boat explores around 10,000 square miles of Alaska coastlines, including remote areas of the Tongass National Forest.
Trips in April and May focus on remote stream fishing for steelhead trout, while the emphasis turns to salmon and halibut fishing in late May to early July. From late August to September, the boat divides time between stream fishing, saltwater fishing and exploring the inland waters of the Inside Passage.
"Customers can expect fabulous food centered around local seafood — the catch of the day — plus world-class cruising, fishing and sightseeing to some of the most scenic areas of southeast Alaska," said Peterson, who has 24 years of experience on Adventurous.
Trips include all meals, non-alcoholic beverages, fuel, fishing gear, airport pickup and drop-offs, and access to skiffs and kayaks.
Vivaldi is a 96-foot Monte Carlo yacht built in 2018. It comes with a five-person crew and can fit 12 guests. With an interior designed by Nuvolari Lenard, the yacht has five cabins, a formal dining area, spacious sundeck and hydraulic swim platform. It comes with a 15-foot Williams yacht tender, jet ski, two Seabobs, inflatable slide and a diving board, plus two electric bikes to use when the boat is docked.
The yacht cruises mainly in the Mediterranean, including the French Riviera, Italy, Croatia and Montenegro.
Savannah is a 274-foot hybrid yacht that can accommodate 12 guests and 24 crew members. The boat has six cabins and four large decks with an underwater viewing lounge, gym, spa (with a hammam) and a 30-foot long swimming pool with DJ booth. It was named Motor Yacht of the Year at the 2016 World Superyacht Awards.
The yacht cruises in the French Riviera, Monaco, Corsica and Sardinia in the summer, and in Australia and New Zealand in the winter.