Travelers are booking yachts for the first time this summer in search of the ultimate experience in private, outdoor vacations.
Source: Big Sky yacht, Northrop & Johnson
CNBC Travel

First time on a yacht? Avoid these 7 amateur mistakes

While most of the travel industry struggled to get back on its feet, the yachting industry had a different problem during the pandemic: serving everyone wanting to charter a boat.

Like the rise in private jet travel during the pandemic, charter demand remains "extremely strong," said Crom Littlejohn, chief commercial officer of the yacht brokerage company Northrop & Johnson. He said he expects interest to remain this way "for the foreseeable future."

But it isn't the same people who have always traveled via sea, he said.

"A big percentage of our business is first-time charters," said Littlejohn. "They've had the ski vacations … they want to try something different."

Destinations with an increase in summer yacht bookings
  • South of France
  • Croatia
  • Caribbean 
  • Galapagos Islands 

Source: Northrop & Johnson

Insiders share with CNBC the seven common mistakes of those new to the industry.

Mistake #1: Hard-shell luggage

There are several reasons to leave hard-shell suitcases at home, said Littlejohn.

In the same way that they scuff hotel room walls, hard suitcases can damage the fine finishes on yachts, he said.

"Things bounce and hard things might mar the surfaces," said Littlejohn.

Military personnel carry Prince Philip's garment bags to the Royal Yacht Britannia in Lancashire, England, in August 1989.
Tim Graham | Tim Graham Photo Library | Getty Images

Then there's the issue of storing suitcases that don't collapse. "You can imagine how much [luggage] ten people or 12 people on charter could bring if they were bringing hard luggage," he said. "It takes an additional room to store it."

"The more soft-sided duffel bag type luggage, the better for storage and moving around the boat," he said.

Mistake #2: High heels

Soft-soled shoes are more appropriate than high heels, said Littlejohn, but "we're going to ask you not to wear the shoes on board period."

Travelers are free to pack high heels for land excursions, he said, but even in the south of France – where nightlife is often a big part of the charter — cobblestone roads may make comfortable shoes a better option, he said.

Attendees take off their shoes before boarding a yacht in Miami, Florida, on Feb. 16, 2017.
Scott McIntyre | Bloomberg | Getty Images

But rules on shoes can depend on the yacht owner, said superyacht influencer Denis Suka, who is known as The Yacht Mogul online.  

If guests are uncertain about a yacht's shoe policy, they can keep an eye out upon boarding, said Suka. Look for "pairs of shoes [at] the entrance," he said. That means shoes aren't allowed on the boat.

As for what to pack, Suka recommends "keeping it light" with clothes that have "summer vibes," calling this part of the rules "that are pretty much set in stone."

Mistake #3: Not giving way on the passerelle

Passengers should board the passerelle — the walkway that is used to get on and off a yacht — one at a time, said Marcela de Kern, a business consultant for the yachting company Onboard Monaco.

"It's quite fragile," she said. "If you board at [the] same time, it can break," she said, adding this can create "massive" problems in ports in Greece and Croatia, where it's especially hard to get from yacht to port.

Professional soccer football player Cristiano Ronaldo and partner Georgina Rodriguez board a yacht on June 1, 2018 in Marbella, Spain.
Europa Press Entertainment | Europa Press | Getty Images

"The one leaving the yacht has priority, so if you are boarding and someone else is coming down, you should wait and let them get down first," said de Kern.

Celebrities like the Kardashians have "no yacht etiquette," she said, citing a recent video of them disembarking close together, one clad in high heels, from a yacht in Portofino.

Mistake #4: Not planning for extra expenses

New entrants to the industry shouldn't spend their entire budgets on the charter rate.

"Then you have the rest of your expenses," said Littlejohn. "With VAT taxes and beverage and food … dockage and fuel, you're going to add another 75-100% to the cost of that charter."

Weekly charters with Northrop & Johnson range from $32,000 to $490,000, plus expenses, according to a company representative.

"There are charters happening in all the price ranges," he said. He advised working with a broker who is familiar with the boat size and location that travelers want to book.

Without a broker, travelers new to the industry "might end up paying more for a yacht instead of having a better one for the same price," said Suka.

Brokers can match clients with the right crews too, said Suka. That's important because travelers and crew members can spend time together for days, if not weeks, at a time, he added.

"It's not cheap to charter a yacht, so [clients] have to get the very best out of it," he said.

Mistake #5: Not connecting with the crew

Getting to know the captain and the crew is the best way to receive top-notch service, said Suka.  

When the "yacht is docked then the crew will definitely give you the best tips [on] what to do and where to [go]," including "restaurants, coffees or other attractions because they know the area very well."

Denis Suka, aka "The Yacht Mogul," advised those new to charters to "feel just as its your own yacht."
Source: The Yacht Mogul

If all goes well, travelers may charter the same yacht again, so it's all the more reason to establish a good relationship with the crew at the beginning, he said.

Onboard Monaco's de Kern advised travelers to greet the crew at the beginning of the trip.

"Ask for their names, shake their hands and show some respect for the captain on board," she said.

Mistake #6: Scheduling too many activities  

Don't pack the days with activities, said Littlejohn.

For land excursions, he advised planning no more than one two-hour inland trip per charter week.

"Most of the folks are probably spending half of the day on board the boat, playing with water sports … and enjoying the boat itself," he said. Then the other half of the day maybe spent going on an excursion, take the tender out. You might go in and explore ... the lands and the islands."

Then it's back to the boat for "a wonderful evening aboard," he said.

Mistake #7: Waiting to book

Littlejohn recommends booking "as early as you possibly can." He said to start looking anywhere from six months to one year out.

Northrop & Johnson is already making bookings for the Christmas of 2023, he said. Booking this early isn't uncommon for the bigger, more expensive boats, he said, but since the pandemic, "we're seeing it in the mid-range as well."

But there are still some last-minute charters available for this summer, he said.