- Charter captain, Zuzana Prochazka, fills in the blanks during a Q&A session on the proper behavior that's expected while on charter.
- Charter cost is most often going to be based on the size of the boat, the number of crew, location, and sometimes the age of the boat, which oftentimes dictates its condition.
- When seeking out the right charter for your experience, be sure that the company has a good selection of boats. You should be able to call them up and ask them if the boat is fully insured, the captain has a license, and that they are operating according to USCG safety rules.
- For more on charters, read our features 10 Tips for Choosing the Best Fishing Charter, and Bareboat Charter Destinations: 5 Easy Trips for Amateurs.
If you've been daydreaming about a sunny day on a boat but don't personally own one, it might be tempting to book the first charter service you find and jump aboard with your closest friends and family. Not so fast, says Zuzana Prochazka, a boating expert and writer who has served as a charter captain. Speaking with boats.com, Prochazka walks us through the many dos and don'ts of day charters, from knowing when to drink less to talking with a crew about a voyage with children.
boats.com: What exactly is a day charter?
Prochazka: There are lots of different ways to charter a boat. What’s growing in popularity is day charter, where a group of people want to spend a day out on the water. It’s really popular in the U.S. now. There are a million little issues with that because there are companies that actually do specialize in day charters, and then there are those people who are trying to do it sort of like an Airbnb with a boat, and there’s a crackdown in certain towns.
boats.com: What problem does that present?
Prochazka: When an owner says, ‘Well, I’ll be your captain, and you’re just going to pay me,’ and they do it to offset their boat expenses, they often don’t have the right insurance. They don’t have the right business license. They are often an illegal business in a marina where commercial activity is not allowed. One of the things you don’t do—don’t just take some guy on a dock at his word that he runs charters. Investigate the business and make sure they have a website, license, insurance and that they’re legit.
boats.com: What's the best way to find a local charter service?
Prochazka: Let’s say you live in Los Angeles and you want to go take your friends out for the afternoon. A lot of guys get away with the chartering thing by saying, “You’re not paying for the charter—you’re paying for the food and beverages and I’m serving you, which just so happens to be on a boat.” Check out the company. Usually they will have a website. Ask about the captain’s license. They must have a license to carry paying passengers. Ask about a business license. And generally check around on the web.
boats.com: What's the best online resource?
Prochazka: You just Google it. For example, "Day boat charters Los Angeles.” Another great resource is Get My Boat, BoatSetters and small local charters that could go by any name.
boats.com: What should you look for on a charter service website?
Prochazka: That they have a selection of boats. You should be able to call them up and ask them if the boat is fully insured, the captain has a license, and that they are operating according to USCG safety rules. You’re getting on a boat with some guy you don’t know can drive a boat, you don’t know if the boat is in good working order, and you don’t know if it has the appropriate safety gear, from fire suppression to life jackets and more.
boats.com: Do you take their word for it, or is there are to verify that they're legit?
Prochazka: They should be able to point you to some of the certification they have on the boat. When you get on the boat, I would also look around. When you get on board, the captain should say, “Here’s where the fire extinguishers are, here’s where the life jackets are kept," and generally, they won’t tell you how to use the radio, but some will say, “Look, if something goes wrong, you better know how to call for help.”
boats.com: How is the cost determined?
Prochazka: Charter cost is going to be based on the size of the boat, the number of crew, location, and sometimes the age of the boat, which oftentimes dictates its condition — but not always. Generally, the types of boats you’re going to find on a resource site like GetMyBoat, none of them should be carrying more than six passengers, because once you go beyond that, that boat has to be U.S. Coast Guard certified.
boats.com: Is there such a thing as booking too early or booking too late? When's the best time to book a day charter?
Prochazka: For a day charter, it depends on the location and the popularity of that particular boat. If there’s a really good boat in a fleet, it’s going to be busy. For summer weekends and holiday weeks, you have to book months in advance. Other times you could probably call the day before, and if the boat is free, you can get it. For a day charter, I would give it at least four to eight weeks ahead, but it depends on what you’re trying to do. If it’s an afternoon on a small boat that doesn’t run very often, you could probably do it a couple days in advance.
boats.com: How long should a day charter last? What's the most popular length of a day charter?
Prochazka: Usually four, hours in the afternoon or the morning. After four hours, generally the people onboard have had enough and the crew has had enough of dealing with them. [Laughs] It’s usually a half-day, although some people will book a full day, especially if they’re doing something specific, like fishing.
boats.com: What would you say to someone who says, "I don't know if four hours is enough?"
Prochazka: For most it's enough but you can book a whole day. If the people are newbies though, they may not be up for the motion for a whole day.
boats.com: Should you tip? And if so, what percentage?
Prochazka: Absolutely. Depending on the crew. It’s obviously all discretionary, so if you had a great crew of, let’s say, two or three, you’re going to end up tipping 15 to 20 percent—in the U.S.—of the base price of the charter. So if you had four hours at $600 per hour, that’s a total of $2400. You could end up tipping about $400 or $500. In Europe, you tend to tip maybe 5 to 10 percent.
boats.com: Is it like tipping at a restaurant, where you base it on performance?
Prochazka: Yes, of course it is. A crew can make or break your day, really. You could get a captain who says, “Sure, we can go here and there”; a stewardess who busts her butt to make sure you’ve got everything you wanted, from food to drink; and a deckhand who is helping you in and out of the kayaks when you want to go play, or who goes to get you when you sail too far away and can’t figure your way back. All of this happens, and these folks work hard, usually.
boats.com: What sorts of crazy things have people done on charters that you would advise avoiding?
Prochazka: They do all sorts of stupid stuff. They sometimes drink too much. They’re not used to the way boats move, so sometimes they get hurt. They usually want to jump off the top of the boat, which gives the captain a heart attack, but mostly people just want to play loud music and drink a lot.
boats.com: What are the worst types of behaviors you’ve witnessed?
Prochazka: Besides people throwing up everywhere, I’ve seen people have sex on the deck. And I can’t believe this one: In the BVI, they have catamarans, and people took the halyard, which is the line that lifts the sail up, they tied it to the dinghy, they had someone standing on the side deck, holding onto that line, and then they would just gun the dinghy, so they took off perpendicularly away from the boat. The people would basically sling-shot over the water. It’s quite a pull. Pretty much, if you can come up with it when you’re drunk, people try it. But most people just want to drink and play [responsibly].
boats.com: What’s good drinking etiquette on a boat? What’s reasonable?
Prochazka: Many people get seasick. So if you even think that’s going to happen to you, drink accordingly, which is to say don’t drink much. Other people can drink and not get seasick, but on a moving platform, it can get dangerous when you’re sober, and more so when you’re drunk. Don’t be rude or argumentative. I’ve seen couples drink to the point where they have fights, and at out at sea—you won't get much separation.
boats.com: What about kids? Is it okay to bring a lot of kids out on a boat?
Prochazka: Kids are fine if you’re having a multi-generational family charter. But in that case, I would definitely ask if the boat and the crew are used to kids. Some of them are. They’re completely fine with kids and they have items sized for children. In the U.S., children 12 and under must have a personal flotation device on a moving vessel. When the boat is at anchor, or at the dock, they do not need a PFD. Some boats are more set up for kids. If you’re going to have more of a family experience, yes, bring kids—they love it. But if you’re going to have more of a drink fest, that will not go so well with kids around. Definitely advise the captain and crew ahead of time that you will have children and their ages.
To find out more about charters, read our features 10 Tips for Choosing the Best Fishing Charter, and Bareboat Charter Destinations: 5 Easy Trips for Amateurs.