Getting to grips with a few skills and checking your boat carefully will give you a more enjoyable yacht charter holiday, says Toby Heppell
Get ready for your yacht charter holiday
When you arrive at your charter boat, itching to get underway, maintenance is unlikely to be top of your mind.
It’s fair to expect the boat to be in good condition when you arrive, particularly if you are chartering from a reputable company.
Knowing that these boats are sailed hard all season, however, should be enough of an incentive to give the boat a good once over before you set off, when potential problems are easily remedied.
In the first instance it is worth having a quick look round for any scuffs or marks that have not already been noted.
Much like hiring a car, you want to make sure you are not held responsible for any damage that has occurred before your hire commences.
How thorough you need to be with this visual checking is dependent on your charter.
If you are chartering from a larger, well known company or are hiring from somewhere you have previously successfully chartered with, then you may feel more confident in the boat than with a private charter, when you might wish to be a little more thorough.
If there is anything you feel is particularly significant, it will be worth flagging this up with a representative and taking a photo for reference.
Realistically the checks you will want to perform on your boat are a pretty set list and any boat owner is likely to undertake most of these checks on at least an annual basis.
The difference here is that it is an unfamiliar boat with little time for you to naturally understand potential problems, so while you are eager to be off quickly, it’s worth being thorough on a boat you don’t know.
It might not feel like the ideal start to a perfect charter holiday but it is well worth investing a good chunk of time as soon as you are able to access your boat to provide peace of mind for the rest of your time away, as well as quickly rectify any problems while it is still relatively easy to do so.
Yacht charter holiday: Common sense check list
- Locate the gas bottles and confirm that the gas is off and isolated at the bottle. If the gas was left on, check the bilges for gas and, if necessary, isolate all batteries, ventilate the boat and hand pump the bilges (don’t use the electric bilge pump!).
- Establish whether there is a Boat Data Book which will detail the boat’s specification, including water capacities, call sign, draught, etc.
It may also detail the location of seacocks, water tanks, etc.
- Inspect all skin fittings and exercise every seacock. If the seacocks are stiff or broken, raise the issue with the boat’s owner. Ensure all seacocks have bungs attached to them to use in the event that it fails and
you start taking on water.
- Check the boat’s inventory with specific reference to the location and contents of the first aid kit, engine spares, tool kit, lifejacket spares, batteries, torches, flare pack and other survival equipment that may be on board, such as TPAs, a charged handheld VHF radio and EPIRB.
- Check you have enough lifejackets (with crotch straps) and harnesses (plus spare jackets) and spare CO2 canisters and cartridges, and have your crew fit them to themselves.
- Check battery charge levels, water tanks and diesel tanks and make sure you have sufficient domestic supplies including cleaning materials, matches, kitchen roll and tea towels, not forgetting toilet rolls!
- Check all bunks and lee cloths are in place and secure.
- Check the bilges for water and if they are wet, why?
- Check you have sufficient sails on board. If the vessel has storm sails, check them and make sure you (and your crew) know how to bend and set them.
- Undertake a safety brief for your crew and open the log. Make sure you detail how many crew are on board (including you) and start checking and recording weather forecasts and your barometer readings.
- Do a rig check on deck and look up the mast. Loose or broken wire strands, corrosion, broken deck gear, missing or distorted split pins should be rectified.
- Make sure the anchor chain is attached at the bitter end and that the windlass and break work properly.
- Locate the emergency tiller and make sure you and your crew know how to fit it.
- Locate any additional bilge pumps, buckets, throwing lines and danbuoys / horseshoes, etc.
- Check lifelines (if fitted) and all stanchions and guard rails are secure.
- Check all hatches are watertight and in good order, grease if necessary.
- Complete an inventory of charts and navigational equipment including almanacs and additional equipment, such as GPS.
- Complete standard engine checks and make sure that everyone knows how to start the engine and how to send a Mayday using the boat’s VHF and knows what to do in the case of a man overboard, including how to mark the MOB on your GPS or chartplotter.
- Make sure you have a plan for your week and let someone on shore know about it.
This is far from an exhaustive list but in our view represents the minimum you should do before putting to sea.
How thorough you feel you need to be will be dependent on the nature of your yacht charter holiday.
If you have chartered bare boat and plan for some long passages, you would want to be more thorough than if you were with a skipper of on a flotilla, where help is at hand.
It is still good seamanship, however, to have a thorough overview of how your vessel will operate and a thorough understanding of safety and emergency systems.
Yacht charter holiday: Mooring differences
One of the great joys of chartering is that it can provide access to areas in which we might not otherwise sail.
Charters in the Med have long been a popular destination for UK sailors, being relatively nearby in terms of flight time, but hot, sunny and a different cruising experience to the UK.
Hot sun, azure waters and relatively small tidal range all make the Med a generally easier cruising paradise.
If you usually sail in the busy, tidal waters off the UK coast, the Med will hold few challenges, allowing you to enjoy sailing somewhere new with few worries.
That is not to say that everything will be totally familiar.
In particular, though the sailing may be relatively simple, coming home at the end of the day could be the area that holds most concern for the UK cruising sailor.
At the conclusion of a day’s cruising in the UK, you are broadly going to face one of two options, either picking up a mooring or tying up against a floating dock or pontoon.
In the Med, however, and the Baltic too, bow to and stern to mooring are the norm, and the challenge of sliding neatly stern-first into a tight gap can be a point of stress for an unpractised crew.
Though it is a skill which requires practice, in reality there is quite a lot in terms of transferable skills that we can take from the process of squeezing into an awkward marina berth.
An important and occasionally overlooked factor in chartering, whether mooring stern-to or not, is to ensure you spend some time getting to grips with how your boat handles.
There are many factors that affect the handling of a yacht and these are usually at their most pronounced in close quarters and low-speed situations.
It can be easy to overlook how accustomed you become to the behaviours of your own boat and, when out on open water with the sails pulling, a heavier and slower accelerating boat will feel different, but this difference can be easily hidden.
Come time to berth in a tight spot, however, you may find she takes twice as long to slow than you were expecting, or perhaps has a much wider turning circle.
Though you are likely to have a decent awareness of the differences between your boat and a charter boat, nothing beats a bit of practice.
It’s well worth finding a reference buoy and just manoeuvring around it a bit to get your head around what is different before you are under pressure in a tight spot – often with an audience all neatly racked up and watching you come in.
How to moor stern to
Typically a stern-to mooring comes in two different styles.
There will either be a fixed bow ‘slime’ line, with or without a buoy, or you will need to use an anchor as your fixed point for the bow.
The dynamics of what happens for both situations is broadly the same, but the process varies slightly.
- Rig fenders on either side as usual, though evenly distributed and at the stern.
- Ensure there are two stern lines and that each is long enough to go ashore and return to the boat.
- Reverse towards the quay or jetty – note that the biggest issue you are likely to face here will be crosswinds. Make sure you have noted wind direction and approach from upwind of your berth.
- Connect the windward of your two stern lines to the quay/pontoon first. This will help hold the boat in position and you can use the engine to run ahead and keep the bow up to the wind.
- Pick up the lazy line, lead it to the bow and tie off.
- Connect second stern line.
- Adjust bow and stern lines. Typically you will look to ease stern lines to allow you to re-tighten the bow line then haul the stern lines in tight.
- You may want to add springs running diagonally from either quarter to the quay, which can stop the stern moving sideways.
- Rig your passarelle to get ashore easily
If you are required to drop an anchor to hold the bow, prepare the boat as above, but about four boat lengths away from the pontoon or mooring spot, drop the anchor and ease out chain.
One boat length from the quay, stop easing the chain so that the anchor digs in.
Be ready to ease out more chain if required.
After this is done, you can then connect the windward stern line and proceed as above.
As mentioned crosswinds can be tough to deal with. Your approach should be from slightly upwind of the gap.
Ensure the leeward side is well fendered in case you drift onto the downwind boat.
In a tight berth, you can rest on the leeward boat while you sort your lines.
With a significant crosswind it can be hard to keep the bow up to weather on the engine with the windward stern line attached, but the anchor will help.
Try to time your approach so that you can make off the windward stern line, while the bow is still to weather of your bow line, and then use the engine to slow the bow’s progress to leeward while you quickly pick up the bow line.
Once these two key lines are made, you have time to adjust your position.
A common type of mooring around northern Europe is the box mooring, with two posts at one end and usually a jetty at the other.
You’ll need to fix a mooring line at each corner of the boat.
Typically you will set up long stern lines and comparatively short bow lines.
As you enter the box forward, drop the stern line on the up-wind side of the boat over the post on that side.
If you can, you can then step off the bow as it arrives at the pontoon to tie the upwind bow line.
This will secure the boat, and the remaining bow and stern lines can be secured.
The reason for using long lines at the stern is that you can loop the stern lines around the posts.
Some use a noose with a slip knot, though it is worth noting this can be difficult to untangle when leaving.
Putting a line around the post allows you to slip it as you leave.
As you will want to sit fairly far forward in the box to allow access to the pontoon, the bow lines can be much shorter.
It’s good practice to loop these round a cleat and make them off back on the bow for easy slipping when leaving, but less important than the stern lines.
Yacht charter holiday: Catamaran skills
All types of boat have positives and negatives, and although catamarans have their admirers and detractors in ownership terms, there is no denying that they make an excellent option for a yacht charter holiday.
Size and stability are the main factors.
With two hulls and the space in between, there tends to be more room on a catamaran, both above and below decks.
The stability offered by having two hulls is an asset if you have people onboard who have not done a great deal of sailing.
For their size, cats draw less than a monuhull too, so you can sail in shallower places, and can often anchor closer to shore.
Finally, the privacy for those onboard is better as the two hulls are completely separate from one another.
All of this points to them being an excellent option for groups of friends or families on a yacht charter holiday.
Certainly all the evidence from charter companies points to them becoming increasingly popular as an option over the last decade or so.
Whereas jumping from monohull to monohull requires little recalibration for any reasonable sailor, those unfamiliar to sailing on two hulls will need to adapt their sailing style quite a bit.
Clearly catamarans are not going to heel much, making it difficult to perceive whether you are over or underpowered, so vigilance is required when it comes to reefing.
Almost all additional wind force is converted to load on the rig.
Principally that is where their increased speed comes from as compared to a monohull.
As the pressure on the sails quadruples as the wind speed doubles, keep an eye on the weather and reef in good time to keep the boat sailing flat and reef conservatively – you can always shake out a reef. In fact, a properly reefed multihull will sail faster when the wind builds.
To judge when it’s time to reef, your instinct is still worth listening to. If it feels like time to reef it probably is.
You’ll also need to look at the numbers – boat speed and windspeed.
As the boat will be new to you, it’s best to ask the company for guidance on this.
If the wind reaches 14 knots, or boat speed goes over 8 knots for example, it may be time to reef.
The other telltale sign to look for is that the leeward bow will start to dig in when overpower.
If spray starts coming over the bow, it’s time to back off.
Upwind, most cruising multihulls won’t point like a monohull with a deeper keel.
As charter catamarans are favoured for their accommodation over performance the dilemma of mixing the two has largely disappeared and so the spectre of capsize is realistically not a problem due to their increased displacement and beam, and usually conservative sail area.
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While this makes a catamaran a decent, safe option, it does have a significant impact on light wind and upwind performance, and it can be harder to make headway.
Close-hauled and dead downwind are points of sail that are best avoided if possible.
It can take a long time to work your way to weather in light winds and you will usually find yourself sailing very wide angles, which is still the better option than trying to sail too close to the wind, sailing slowly, stalling the long-cord keels and making large amounts of leeway.
Finally, pitching can be something of a pain on catamarans, particularly higher performance models.
Not so much of an option on heavier charter boats, but keeping weight out of the ends would help reduce pitching moment as much as possible.
Mooring a catamaran
Manoeuvring at low speeds, the relatively small rudders will have little effect.
You have two engines though, which makes a catamaran highly manoeuvrable.
Get the multihull close to where you want to moor, then use the two throttles separately to turn the boat to move into your berth.
You don’t need a long run up.
It can be hard to see mooring buoys or to judge distances when you’re used to sailing a monohull.
Use a crew on the bow to accurately judge and communicate distances to buoys or pontoons.
Catamarans have high topsides, so it can be hard to pick up buoys, or reach a pontoon.
If in doubt, approach stern-first with the quarter closest to the helm as first point of contact to give you an easy view and a platform closer to the water.
Pick up a mooring buoy and make it fast with a short line to the quarter.
You then have time to rig a long line to the bow to warp you the right way round.
Don’t forget you’ll need a separate line to the buoy from each bow.
Coming alongside use a line from the quarter and motor against it with the opposite engine to bring you safely alongside.
Use ahead on one side and astern on the other to bring the boat stern to the pontoon.
When you anchor, you’ll need to use a bridle.
This will be ready rigged and should have a chain hook.
Once it’s attached, let out another few metres so the chain hangs between the windlass and the bridle in a loop.
COVID safe yacht charter holiday
International travel has now opened up a bit, with a three-tier traffic light system introduced to maintain safety and control.
This has also been adopted by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Most of the major overseas yacht charter holiday destinations are currently on the amber and red lists, the latter forbids non-essential travel including holidays.
These lists are reviewed every three weeks but the whole arrangement is fluid and prone to change at any moment; beware also that if your chosen ‘green list country’ charter reverts to amber or red while you are abroad a period of quarantine and other restrictions may apply.
From 19 July, those who have been fully vaccinated with an NHS administered COVID vaccine in the UK will be able to return from amber list countries without the need to quarantine.
But, passengers will need to provide proof of their vaccination status to carriers in advance of travel, pre-departure testing and day 2 testing measures will still remain.
Children under the age of 18 will be exempt from quarantine on returning to England from amber countries
The recommendation for people to not travel to amber countries will also be removed from 19 July, although people are being urged to check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office travel advice before booking travel.
Make sure you check the terms and conditions of your booking in case any COVID regulation or travel change renders your holiday untenable.
Needless to say, don’t forget to check your insurance covers both travel and charter cancellation, as well as medical treatment abroad should the worst happen.
If a yacht charter holiday has successfully been booked then a range of general measures should be adopted to maximise COVID safety on board, applicable both to mixed crew and family groups.
While the crew on a yacht will effectively form their own ‘bubble’, general government recommendations and regulations in force at the time of the cruise should be upheld including:
- Wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
- Avoid crowded places.
- Clean hands and surfaces regularly.
- Maintain a two-metre distance from people you do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings or increasing ventilation indoors).
The following additional specific measures could be taken to promote COVID-safe yacht charter holiday:
- Advise all crew to have at least one approved COVID-19 vaccination at least 3 weeks before the cruise.
- All crew to have tested negative using a Lateral Flow Device (LFD) not longer than two days before embarking.
- All crew to be retested using a LFD within 24 hours of joining the cruise.
- All crew to have their temperature taken before embarking and not to embark if above 37.80C.
- All crew to confirm that they have no COVID symptoms and have not knowingly been in contact with anyone infected with COVID during the previous 10 days. Results of all the above checks to be noted in the ship’s log.
- All single crew members should be accommodated in single-occupancy cabins or as sole occupant in the saloon.
- Try to source food supplies in one large pre-cruise shop rather than the increased risk of daily small shop visits.
- Wash the standpipe and hose fittings with disinfectant before filling the boat’s water tanks.
- Socialising amongst crews from different boats should be subject to the prevailing government guidelines.
- Consider opting for isolated anchorages rather than visiting crowded ports and marinas.
- Where possible berths should be pre-booked to ensure visitors are welcome and so that harbour officials have your contact details for track and trace.
- Remember that visitors to remote communities may be viewed as possible sources of infection so be polite and considerate while maintaining COVID safety.
- Shore-based services like showers etc may be restricted – adhere to local guidelines.
- Rafting might not be allowed, depending on guidelines.
Hygiene and other sensible measures that could be adopted include:
- Advise all crew on the importance of regular hand sanitisation.
- Encourage everyone to be on deck in the open air whenever possible.
- Sanitise deck gear every 2 hours by using a disinfectant wipe or spray.
- Consider wearing disposable gloves when handling mooring and berthing equipment.
- The occupants of each cabin should be responsible for sanitising the hard surfaces and door handles twice daily.
- All hard surfaces in the main cabin and galley should be sanitised before and after each meal.
- Keep sanitising wipes or a spray in the heads; each user should clean the surfaces and door handles after each use.
- Cooking should be done by the ‘duty chef’ who should maintain hand and surface hygiene as thoroughly as possible.
- The duty pot and plate washer should ensure kitchen equipment is washed, dried, and stowed promptly after each meal; an extra supply of clean tea towels should be available.
- Each crew member could use the same mug; different coloured short ribbons can be tied to each handle (if a list is made this can also help to give the right drink to each crew member).
- If bad weather confines the crew into enclosed cabin spaces ensure all possible hatches are open to minimise risk.
If any crew member tests positive or develops symptoms:
- Any crew member displaying COVID symptoms during the cruise should undergo a LFD test. If positive, the skipper should contact the NHS 111 Helpline or local health services for advice.
- If you have COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolate as best you can (on a yacht retire to your cabin) and book a test. Those with symptoms should self-isolate for 10 days; for other crew members and contacts the same self-isolation period applies.
- The yacht charter holiday company should be notified; the cruise will effectively be over and the affected yacht’s crew should immediately return the yacht to the charter base where they should disembark while maintaining self-isolation, returning directly to their homes or place of quarantine without breaking their journey. The yacht charter holiday company will have to deep-clean the yacht for the next occupants.