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Choose Your Own Adventure

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A ton of choices go into deciding where, when, and what to charter. Sherri Huleatt, on behalf of Northwest Explorations, gives us an insider perspective.

Dockside on a Charter

Jean Turnbull is one of the most experienced mariners you’re likely to meet. She’s cruised all over the world with her partner, Priscilla Myers, including a one-year, 6,300-mile circumnavigation around eastern North America and an 18-week trip around Alaska’s Inside Passage. She’s cruised the Bahamas, the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River to the north Atlantic, the Rideau Canal in Ontario, and more. She also has her 100-ton near-coastal merchant mariner’s certificate from Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Despite the training, adventures, and thousands of miles under her keel, there’s a twist to the story: she doesn’t own a single boat. Instead, she’s been a charter customer for years.

For seasoned skippers like Jean, and even boating newbies, chartering is one of the smartest decisions they could make: it allows them to travel all over the world in a private boat, without having to worry about the extra costs, maintenance, and stress that comes with being a boat owner.

“Our charter customers come from all over the world,” Brian Pemberton, owner of NW Explorations, a Bellingham charter company, said. “The yacht is ready to go as soon as they step off the plane and outfitted with all the comforts of home. The refrigerator is already cool, the sheets are already on the beds, and the yacht is in perfect condition and ready to cruise—your floating hotel is ready to go! Plus, we’ve got some of the best cruising in the world, right in our backyard. Customers can explore the beautiful San Juan Islands, secluded Inside Passage, incredible Gulf Islands, and beyond.”

What To Look For In a Charter

Chartering your own yacht offers an unforgettable experience, but it can also come with a hefty price tag. With that in mind, don’t sacrifice a good trip by skimping on price. Getting the right yacht from the right charter company is key to ensuring you have a safe and enjoyable cruise.

Turnbull and her partner met with 10 different Washington charter companies before deciding on NW Explorations. And her tenacity paid off. “We were so pleased with the quality of the fleet and the professionalism of the NW Explorations staff that we have been chartering with the company ever since,” Turnbull said. If you’re looking to get started with charters or try out a new company, here’s what to look for.

1. Pick Your Adventure. First thing’s first: where do you want to go? And what do you want to experience? For some charterers, sunbathing in 85-degree weather with a good book and glass of wine is their ideal vacation. For others, bundling up and watching humpback whales crest the water while a massive glacier calves in the distance is the ticket. For others, it’s spending time away with friends and family, without the distractions that come from daily life. Charters offer all of these experiences and more, so choosing what you want out of your trip is an integral first step.

Ask yourself: do you want to cover a lot of area in a limited amount of time or take your time meandering towns and anchorages? Is it more important for you to have space and comfort, or speed? How well-equipped does your vessel need to be and how seaworthy should she be? Do you want to have a self-sufficient experience with a bareboat charter or make new friends with a guided flotilla?

For long-time charter customer David Charvat, nothing compares to the Inside Passage through British Columbia. The trip offers “breathtaking beauty and endless remote anchorages,” Charvat said. “It’s like Lake Huron and Lake Superior on an overdose of steroids!”

The further north one ventures, the more likely it is that one encounters jaw-dropping glaciers.

The further north one ventures, the more likely it is that one encounters jaw-dropping glaciers.

Jean Turnbull agreed, saying “nothing compares with the waters of British Columbia and Alaska for wildlife and scenery.”

Whether you’re looking for ultimate seclusion or bustling seaside towns, understanding what you want out of your trip is the first step in planning it.

2. Research the Company. Getting to know the company will tell you a lot about the yacht. From how they answer the phones, to the quality of their website, to their online reviews, there are plenty of ways to research a company before booking your trip.

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, take the time to research the company’s reputation. Ask your charter friends and check out reviews on TripAdvisor. Also, research the team and company culture. What’s their mission and core values? Are they boaters themselves? How knowledgeable are they about their yachts and local boating?

If something goes wrong on your trip, do they have a support system in place to assist you? What’s their policy in case there’s a mechanical issue?

Picking the right charter company ensures you have the yacht, support, and experience you want.

3. Know the Vessel. For many charterers, it’s all about the boat. Making sure your boat is in prime condition will help you avoid the annoying mechanical errors and oversights that can ruin a trip. Age isn’t a clear indicator of a boat’s health (even new boats break down, after all), so ask to see the charter company’s maintenance schedule and checklist. NW Explorations, for example, has an extensive 18-page checklist that each of their yachts must pass before leaving the dock.

Also check out the navigational equipment. Is it up-to-date? Is the interior kept clean, modern, and welcoming? Are the galleys fully stocked? Are there fishing suplies, crab pots, and dinghies on board?

More than anything: don’t be afraid to ask! Your charter company should have answers for all of these questions. If they don’t, you might want to look elsewhere for your next charter.

Is a Flotilla Right For You?

While some charterers prefer the independence of bareboat charters, others like the camaraderie and guidance of flotillas.

“Flotillas offer an incredible adventure, paired with getting to know a group of adventurous skippers from all over the world,” Pemberton said. “Our flotillas are led by a U.S. Coast Guard Licensed Captain, mechanic, and certified naturalist who narrates key sightseeing spots and historical locations along the way. For our flotilla customers, this trip offers the best of both worlds: they get to experience real freedom and adventure in some of the world’s most beautiful locations, while making new friends and having experts help them along the way.”

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