You’ve done your homework, made the plans and booked the dates. Soon you’ll be off on that tropical vacation you’ve been waiting on for months. You lucky snow bird! It’s almost time to kick back, relax and grab a cold one.
But wait: Have you mapped out all the routes you plan to take while on that rented catamaran? Do you know where the fish might be on any given day in the area you plan to cruise? What about shifting sandbars that haven’t been updated on the charts, unmarked pinch points in the channels and construction around bridges, marinas or bulkheads that may require an on the water detour? If your first choice for dockside dining doesn’t work out, where’s the next nearest restaurant accessible by boat?
“Those are just a few of the reasons you might want to consider hiring a skipper for your trip,” says Capt. Steve Catarella from the Captain’s School of Long Island (631-369-9630; http://www.captainschoolli.com,) where many skippers to be put in their classroom hours. “Indeed, there’s nothing like a little local experience to tackle most of the questions above while assuring that you cruise on course along the safest routes possible, but there are even more advantages if you really think this through.
For one thing, points out Catarella, a local skipper will generally help make sure you are on the best boat possible among the choices from your rental slip since his or her day(s) on the water will also be spent aboard. Professional skippers also tend to know the best places to drop anchor, where to party and which coves are best for water sports, beach strolls, star gazing or a little extra seclusion. All the above, of course, is ancillary to providing for the safety of your crew but bundled all together, the responsibilities of the helm do limit the opportunities for relaxing on the water.
“Hiring a captain for your cruise is like having Uber on the water,” sums up Catarella, “and you can sit back and have a drink while someone else who is highly qualified navigates the boat.”
If you are going bareboat – renting a larger vessel sans crew – you’ve got a little more on your plate than it might seem from the comfort of home should you plan to be your own captain.
“There are two primary reasons you might want to hire a captain when going bareboat, says Jim Araiza, one of the owners at 1-800-yacht charters (1-800 227-3262; www.bareboat.com) which rents luxury yachts in the Florida Keys, Caribbean, Bahamas and Mediterranean. “For starters, you might not be deemed qualified to skipper a larger yacht. In that instance, the rental company will require you to hire a captain. Generally, you can still get behind the helm as much as you would like but safety will be assured by having an experienced expert by your side.”
With relatively gentle seas and great scenery, the British Virgin Islands is a popular location for bareboat adventures. Even here, however, it can make sense to hire a skipper to accompany you on your trip. Photo by Tom Schlichter.
The other reason for hiring a skipper on a bigger boat gets back to having peace of mind and more opportunity to relax. “It’s a lot easier to relax,” explains Araiza, “when you step up to a larger vessel or different style craft than you are used to operating if you have a hired captain aboard. This is especially true if moving up in size from your usual vessel or switching from a mono hull to a catamaran style boat. Many people are unaware that the two styles handle, dock and perform differently.”
According to Araiza, bringing along an experienced skipper is an especially good idea if this is your first bareboat experience. You can stay at the helm as long as you like and give up the wheel when you want to fully relax or have a few drinks, he notes, but with a hired captain’s guidance, you’ll also be able to learn on the job. “By the time you come away, you’ll know how to do most important maneuvers correctly,” he adds. “Bringing an experienced local skipper aboard simply lightens the load.”
There can be some variation in the price per day when it comes to hiring an experienced captain, but figure $200 to be about the midline. It should also be noted that industry standards and yachting etiquette require hired skipper receive their own state room. That means if you are planning to rent a three-cabin vessel, you’ll need a four, and so. You’ll also be responsible for feeding your captain, so be sure to figure that into your total cost as well.
Written by Tom Schlichter