How to Charter a Superyacht
First time chartering a superyacht? Our guide will explain everything you need to know about how to charter a luxury yacht, from where you should go and how much to tip your staff — and tips on the most important yacht etiquette.
Few vacations are as sublime as a trip aboard a superyacht. You can go wherever you want, bask in absolute luxury, and relish every level of the incredible service. However, chartering a superyacht for the first time can be an intimidating and confusing experience. Our guide on how to charter a luxury yacht will teach you everything about planning a trip aboard a superyacht.
What is a Superyacht Charter?
Chartering a yacht is essentially renting a yacht exclusively for yourself and your guests. You will pay the owner to have full possession of the yacht for a set amount of time. Most luxury yacht charters come with a crew. Whether you’re looking for a sunset cruise, a day trip, or a week-long vacation, they are all considered charters. This guide looks at how to charter a yacht for a multi-day voyage.
Do I Need a Yacht Charter Broker?
Yes! Most luxury yachts are exclusively available through charter brokers or brokerages. They can range from large companies, including IYC, Burgess, Fraser Yachts, and Northrop & Johnson, to more boutique companies, such as Y.co, Worth Avenue Yachts, or Pelorus.
Your charter broker will help you figure out which yacht to charter based on your preferences, secure the contract, communicate with the captain, and help you plan your itinerary.
Will My Superyacht Come With a Crew?
Yes, all luxury superyacht charters are crewed. The crew moves with the yacht wherever she goes. Of course, if you want to bring along a special staff member — such as a nanny, masseuse, personal trainer, security guard, personal assistant, etc. — they can be accommodated and will stay in one of the guest rooms. For legal reasons, they will count as a guest. (Smaller yachts sometimes come with the option of a bareboat charter, which means no crew and you skipper the yacht.)
At a minimum, a luxury yacht charter will have a captain and a host. Larger yachts come with more specialized crews, including chefs, engineers, deckhands, stewardesses (aka stew), yoga instructors, massage therapists, and more. Many “yachties” are trained athletes, so some might be able to teach you to fish, surf, scuba dive, kite surf, or even lead yoga and meditation classes.
The captain, who is responsible for the ship, passengers, and crew, is your go-to person for any issues. Some captains spend most of their time on the bridge, while others spend time interacting with guests.
The first officer is the second in command aboard the yacht and reports directly to the captain. Depending on the size of the crew, this could be a full-time position, or in addition to deck operations.
Deckhands and bosuns are responsible for maintaining the ship, excluding the engines, helping the captain dock the ship, and are typically great fun. They can show you how to use the water toys, ensure that you’re safe when in the water, and frequently take you and your guests out on excursions.
The stewardesses, aka stews, take care of the ship’s interior. They will serve your meals and drinks, handle housekeeping, and do the laundry.
Engineers ensure the yacht runs safely, maintaining the engines, mechanical, and electrical operations. You might not see them frequently, but if you ask, they might show you the engine room.
Your chef — and sous-chef — will cook absolutely delicious meals for you. In advance of your trip, you’ll fill out a very detailed preference questionnaire, and they will create bespoke menus for your trip.
Where are the Best Places to Charter a Superyacht?
The most popular yacht destinations are the Mediterranean in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter, although you can charter yachts all around the world. The best thing about chartering a luxury yacht is that you’ll get to see more of a region and explore towns without having to pack up and change hotels. But, you won’t be traveling long distances, like going from Croatia to Greece in a week, but you can travel around the Côte d’Azur, Amalfi Coast, Greek Islands, or Croatian coast and see several different spots.
This region includes France, Italy, Monaco, and Spain and is the quintessential yacht charter destination. Few trips are more fabulous than bopping around the Côte d’Azur, stopping in Cannes, St. Tropez, and Monaco, or exploring the Amalfi Coast and seeing Ischia, Positano, Amalfi, Sorrento, and Capri. The value-added tax (VAT) can be significantly higher in the Western Mediterranean than in other parts of the world — as high as 24 percent of the base charter cost.
The Eastern Med has become much more popular in recent years. It has the same gorgeous weather, sights, and food as the Western Med, but the VAT is much lower. Here, you can explore the Adriatic Sea and visit Montenegro, Croatia, and even Venice, Italy. The Greek islands are absolutely incredible to see by yacht, and Turkey is a burgeoning yacht hot spot.
Sailing around the Caribbean is a nature lover’s dream come true. You can visit tiny, uninhabited islands, spend a day on a pristine sandbar in the middle of nowhere, and visit some of the finest scuba diving and snorkeling sites in the world. There’s plenty of culture, and each island has a different vibe. So whether you want to explore the remote Exumas in the Bahamas or bop around the Grenadines, stop in laid-back Bequia and tony Mustique, you’ll find the perfect yacht charter foray here.
Traditionally, the high season in the Caribbean is in winter, but more yachts are spending the summer here too. It’s a wonderful time to go, and prices can be much lower.
Some locations, like St Barths, are very popular yacht charter destinations. However, we recommend staying in a hotel or villa unless you want to explore other islands. Yacht charters are very expensive, and some of the cabins can be quite small, so unless you want to be on the water, you’ll have more living space in a villa. You can also charter day trips to see the island and enjoy being on the water.
The South Pacific
A yacht charter is a fabulous way to explore the South Pacific’s many islands. The region is vast, so focus on one area, such as Fiji, Bora Bora, Tahiti, or the Cook Islands. The reefs are incredible, so scuba diving and snorkeling are fantastic. Avid divers will want to charter a yacht with an onboard dive center so they can head out on dives every morning, no matter where they are. The islands themselves are beautiful to explore, too. You can go hiking or bike riding in a tropical rain forest, learn about the local culture and history, and your crew will know the best spots for a picnic or sundowners on an uninhabited island.
Only certain yachts are equipped to sail in polar regions. They will be polar-classed and equipped with ice-breaking hulls. Many are converted research vessels, like Legend, a former Soviet Union vessel, which is now a luxury yacht available for charter. The nature and wildlife sightings in Antarctica are incredible. Some yachts have helipads, so you can see the region from above, or even go heliskiing.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Charter a Superyacht?
It depends on the destination. Typically, yacht charters are more expensive in the high season and less expensive in the off-season or shoulder seasons. Sometimes, just a week can make a significant difference in pricing. For example, chartering a yacht in the Mediterranean in the last week of August can be much more expensive than chartering the first week of September. You’ll still have the same beautiful, warm weather, but the crowds will be largely gone and you’ll save on the charter cost. Of course, if you want the full scene, you’ll need to go during peak season and pay the high rates. Peak season rates include major events and the festive period from Christmas to New Year’s.
For How Long Should I Charter a Superyacht?
The typical yacht charter lasts a week, but you can charter for a few days or for a longer period, depending on the yacht’s availability and policies. Some people find a week in close quarters with one group is more than enough time together, so they might opt to have a longer charter and only invite guests for a portion of the trip.
What are the Different Types of Yachts?
There are three main types to charter: motor yachts, sailing yachts, and catamarans. There isn’t a true definition for what makes a superyacht, but motor yachts longer than 80 feet are typically called superyachts. Megayacht and superyacht are interchangeable terms. Expedition yachts are built to explore the world’s remote regions. They can hold enough fuel and provisions for extended voyages. Many are polar-classed, which means they can take you to Antarctica.
As billionaires race to have the biggest yacht in the world, a new iteration has emerged: the gigayacht. These massive vessels are more like privately owned cruise ships. The largest of this kind in the world is Azzam, at 590 ft., although larger yachts are currently being built.
What Size Superyacht Should I Charter?
Once you hit 100 ft., you can expect plenty of amenities both inside and out and can comfortably fit 10 guests. Over 150 ft., you begin to see more over-the-top amenities, like swimming pools, movie theaters, elevators, spa rooms, full gyms, multiple salons, and larger cabins for all guests.
We recommend you think about how you will really use the yacht and examine each yacht’s layout. Do you really need a formal dining room if you’re in the Caribbean? Probably not — you’ll want to dine al fresco. Will you want to spend your time sunning? If so, be sure there’s a large beach club or a floating pool.
The number of crew onboard can really make a difference. If your yacht has two stews, service won’t be as seamless as if you have three or more, because they are in charge of so many different jobs.
How Much Does it Cost to Charter a Superyacht?
Superyacht charters can range from $30,000 per week to over $1 million per week, plus expenses. The prices advertised on yacht charter websites are the base charter cost. This includes the yacht, crew service, equipment, and required insurance. You can expect to pay an additional 25-50% of the base charter cost for expenses. This means that your $100,000 per week charter could end up costing $150,000 or more.
Typical yacht expenses include provisions, food, drinks, fuel, local taxes and/or value-added tax (VAT), berthing dues, docking and marina fees, delivery or return fees, and any incidental costs the crew incurs on your behalf. VAT can be surprisingly expensive in certain locations. For example, VAT is 20% in France and Monaco, 21% in Spain, 22% in Italy, but only 13% in Croatia, and there is no VAT in Montenegro.
Provisioning the yacht starts from scratch on most charters, which means the crew will purchase everything and anything you could want onboard per your specifications. You will pre-pay 20-30% of the base-charter rate, called the Advance Provisioning Allowance (APA). This includes food, drink, and other expenses such as fuel, fees, and taxes. You will receive a refund if you don’t use the full amount, but guests frequently spend more and have to pay additional funds If you are quickly outpacing your APA funds with unexpected expenses, the captain could ask you to make an additional payment during your charter.
You will pay the base charter cost and the APA via bank transfer. Typically, 50% of the base charter cost is due upon signing the contract with the balance, APA, and VAT paid a month before your charter begins.
How Much Do I Tip a Superyacht Charter Crew?
It’s customary to tip the crew 10-20% of the base charter price. The standard gratuity is 15%.
The gratuity is typically paid in one lump sum via bank transfer at the end of a charter, although you may use cash to tip the captain, who will then disperse the gratuity among the crew.
How Important is the Crew on a Superyacht?
The crew’s presence is critical to your experience. While all yacht crews are professional — Below Deck is not representative of the real yachting world — they can vary quite a bit. Some crews are formal, others not so much. Some disappear behind the scenes, while others can enrich your experience by accompanying you on excursions. Certain crews have a reputation for being ultra-family friendly. Your charter broker can advise you here.
If you want to be completely coddled, opt for a larger crew. Small crews do double duty. For example, they might serve breakfast and clean cabins at the same time. In a two-person crew, if one person is on break, the other has to do everything. Larger crews can ensure seamless service, which typically translates to a minimum of three people per position.
How Far in Advance Should I Charter a Superyacht?
If you’re booking a popular destination during the high season, like the Caribbean during winter, the Mediterranean in the summer, or the festive period anywhere, book your yacht six months to a year in advance.
Right now, the yacht charter market is highly competitive, so booking a year in advance is recommended.
Some berths, such as St. Tropez and the Amalfi Coast, are extremely difficult to come by during high season, and they must be secured months in advance.
How Many Guests Can I Bring on a Superyacht?
Most yachts are licensed to have 12 guests maximum onboard, no matter how large they are. What changes with the length of your yacht is the number of cabins, the size and luxury of each cabin, and the types of beds.
The yacht’s layout is very important here. In fact, you might not want to max out the number of occupants on smaller yachts. Some yachts are designed for families, and as such contain smaller cabins with bunk beds for children, and are unable to comfortably accommodate two adults. Or, a couple might be in a room with twin beds and have to sleep separately.
For example, a 100-ft yacht with six cabins might have some small cabins with twin beds or bunk beds, while a 250-ft yacht could accommodate 12 guests in eight cabins, including an owner’s suite, multiple VIP staterooms, and several double cabins. This way, couples won’t have to worry about sleeping in twin beds, and staff or guests traveling alone won’t have to share a room.
Who Should I Invite on the Superyacht?
The guests you bring aboard can truly make or break your trip. Consider putting together a group with similar interests and activity levels, so you don’t end up planning multiple itineraries and activities. For example, a guest who loves relaxing might not enjoy a trip with a bunch of adrenaline-seekers, or guests who want to spend all of their time on the water won’t want to join sight-seeing excursions.
Most importantly, of course, you want to put together a group that will get along. After all, you’ll be in close quarters with these people for the duration of your charter. Introduce your guests ahead of time on a dedicated WhatsApp group or email so they can learn a bit about each other and make plans accordingly.
Who Should Not Charter a Superyacht
If you get seasick easily, don’t enjoy small spaces, or need a lot of alone time, a yacht charter might not be for you. While today’s yachts have great stabilizers, bad weather conditions happen, and being seasick on an expensive vacation is no fun and a waste of money. If you’re chartering a yacht during high season in a popular region with lots of yachts passing, you can expect choppier water than usual. If you suffer from seasickness, your broker might steer you towards Croatia instead of the Amalfi Coast, as Croatian waters tend to be more still. The Caribbean can have the same problems during its high season, so you could explore the Exumas or smaller ports. Your captain will know the ins and outs of each region and port and can properly advise.
Even the largest yachts can feel small, and privacy can be tough to come by in large groups. If you need plenty of space and places to be alone, you’d be better off at a hotel or a villa and booking a day charter to enjoy your destination from the water.
Being on a yacht typically requires going up and down steep and narrow stairs several times a day. So, if you have mobility issues, charter a yacht with an elevator.
Can I Cancel a Yacht Charter?
Yes, you can. Will you get your money back? No. The most popular contract is from the MYBA, the Worldwide Yachting Association, which is ironclad.
If you cancel your charter once you’ve signed a contract and paid the 50% deposit, but before the balance is due, then the owner is entitled to keep your deposit. If you cancel your charter after the balance is due, the owner is due the entire cost of the charter. However, if you purchase charter insurance for your trip, you could receive a partial refund if your cancellation is due to a reason covered by an insurance policy.
On the other hand, if your yacht is unavailable for your charter, you will receive a full refund. If the cancellation is due to reasons excluding force majeure (unforeseen circumstances), you will receive a full refund and liquidated damages of up to 50% of the base charter fee, depending on how far in advance of your trip the cancellation occurs.
What Can I Do on a Superyacht?
For the most part, whatever you like! Your charter broker and crew can plan an itinerary that matches your exact specifications, whether you want to eat in Michelin-starred restaurants, go clubbing, take local cooking classes, explore tiny towns, go shopping, or spend every second on the water.
You’ll want to plan your itinerary in as much detail as possible so the crew can be sure to book the right moorings and secure the best reservations far in advance. Of course, you can change your itinerary to some degree during the trip, and the crew will help make whatever you want happen.
We recommend that you leave plenty of free time to explore and relax. If you overbook your time, you’ll miss enjoying the yacht and her amenities.
What Can’t You Do on a Superyacht?
Our full guide to yacht etiquette is coming soon, but these are the main points:
- Above all, be nice and respectful to the crew and the yacht, and respect the law and safety. If you break the law or mistreat the crew, the captain can — and will — kick you off of the ship.
- Don’t go into the engine room, kitchen, or crew quarters unless you’ve been invited.
- Don’t wear shoes. There is a basket for shoes for a reason. When getting dressed to go on shore, carry your shoes to the deck. If that’s a problem, bring a pair of clean, non-scuff boat shoes or slippers with rubber soles (so you don’t slip). And never wear stilettos aboard.
- Don’t overpack! You don’t need fancy clothes for many yacht charter destinations, so don’t bring them. The crew will do your laundry — it’s included in the price of the charter — so you don’t need to bring pajamas, undergarments, or workout gear for everyday wear.
- Use soft luggage. Yachts — even superyachts — have limited storage space. Foldable duffle bags are the best way to optimize your space.
- Bring an extra bag — like this foldable Paravel one — for purchases while traveling.
- Don’t bring spray sunscreen. It can damage the yacht — it’s a big no-no.
- Check before bringing your pet. And, probably don’t. Yachts are typically not animal-friendly.
- Plan in advance. If you have specific requests for food or, say, a certain type of Champagne, or if you want to bring additional people on board for a dinner, let the crew know ahead of time.
- Don’t expect the crew to entertain you 24/7. In general, the crew will not go with you on sightseeing trips, but they will be there to pick you up and bring you back.
- Don’t overschedule yourself. You will want to spend time enjoying the yacht and relaxing.