To ensure your trip is enjoyable, safe and good value for money, here are some questions you might want to ask before deciding whether to make a booking on a particular yacht or other charter boat.
Is the boat large enough for your group?
Every boat licensed for charter is allowed a maximum number of guests plus captain and crew. However, that doesn’t mean the boat will necessarily have enough space for everyone to be comfortable and able to enjoy activities such as sunbathing. As a general guide, allow one metre of boat length for each guest.
Does the ship have full Public Liability Insurance?
A boat licensed for charter will have produced evidence of public liability insurance before being granted its licence. The amount of cover varies from country to country - in Spain, the minimum is 2 million euros.
Is the ship licensed to charter in this area?
In many countries, including Spain, unlicensed boats are sometimes illegally offered for charter. If in doubt, always check beforehand.
Here in Mallorca (or Majorca) there are two distinct licences for charter. Most boats are licensed for bareboat charter, which is without a professional skipper (alquiler sin patron professional). This licence allows the marine leisure industry to rent out boats to non-professional skippers, usually for week-long cruises. The agencies and brokers marketing these boats normally have a minimum qualification and experience level for hirers. A boat with this licence cannot legally take on board paying passengers for a day charter with a professional or non-professional skipper.
The other type of licence available, charter with a professional skipper (alquiler con patron professional), is quite rare for various legal reasons involving territorial rights and privileges. This type of licence is obtainable only if the ship is registered in a country where the professional qualification of the skipper has a commercial endorsement and will state the maximum number of passengers that can be carried. It also relies on Spain recognising the qualification and granting co-validation.
At the time of writing, Spain only recognises the UK MCA commercial qualification of Yacht Master Offshore (STCW95) and above to sail a foreign flagged vessel. Neither Germany’s nor Spain’s equivalent level sailing ticket is currently approved. This means that a skipper with a German qualification, for example, cannot legally operate a Spanish-registered boat with fare-paying passengers or a charter group.
Is the ship coded for charter by the maritime agency of its country of registry?
In most countries, before a boat can be used for charter, it must be checked to confirm that it’s structurally sound and its equipment is in safe working order. In Mallorca and elsewhere in Spain, there’s a very strong emphasis on regular revisions of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, life-rafts, life-jackets and first-aid packs, which are checked by authorised personnel every year. The ship is inspected thoroughly both in and out of the water by a qualified surveyor every four years, every two years whilst in the water. In the alternate years the owner/skipper is required to complete a declaration and provide proof that the necessary revisions of safety equipment have been completed.
Is the captain qualified and experienced to handle a boat with paying passengers?
In nearly all countries, anyone in charge of a charter boat has to pass stringent qualifications. That doesn’t stop some skippers offering their services illegally, so it’s worth checking. In Spain, the law varies depending on where the boat has been registered, and the individual requirements are too complicated to describe here. The captain of Vita Bel II, Nigel Lewis, is fully qualified, having a Commercial Yacht Master Offshore qualification.
How much sailing and chartering experience does the captain have?
As well as a qualification, you might like to check the skipper’s experience. Nigel Lewis has over eight years’ experience as owner and captain of Vita Bel II (the yacht was also available for charter under a previous owner for seven years before that).
Is there crew on board?
If there’s just a small party, additional crew isn’t necessary. However, if there are more than 10 guests, it’s best to have an extra crew member to ensure you’re well looked after.
Is the boat suitable for old, sick or disabled people?
Very few boats are equipped to deal with less able people. Apart from anything else, this can lead to difficulties when boarding. On Vita Bel II we have a special hydraulic platform which can be lowered between the deck and half a metre below the sea level. As well as helping swimmers, this allows everyone to get on board easily – even if they’re a wheelchair user.
We’re also pleased to assist less able people in whatever ways we can – as well as numerous safety features, there’s plenty of comfortable seating room.
How long is the charter?
It seems an obvious question, but some skippers can be vague or misleading about this. Make sure you get a firm answer beforehand – or your charter could finish earlier than you expected.
Where does it start and end?
Many boats are inflexible when it comes to start and end points and places to visit in-between. It’s particularly important to make sure that you know exactly where you’re returning to, as some charters have different starting and finishing points. If you’re not aware of this, you could end up a long way from where you thought you would be.
The base port for Vita Bel II is Cala D’Or in south-east Mallorca. However, to fit in with our customers’ requirements, we can start and finish trips from different locations, if specified beforehand. We operate as far north as Porto Colom and as far south as Cala Llombards, and if you want to visit anywhere in-between, just ask.
Are there any extra costs?
When you charter Vita Bel II, all costs are specified in advance. In general, everything is included – and optional extras such as barbecue meals are clearly specified. With other boats, you can find yourself suddenly being charged extra for what you would expect to be included, such as further crew, cleaning and even fuel.
Is there tax to pay?
In Spain and many other countries, there is a sales tax. Make sure you know whether quoted prices are inclusive or exclusive of tax.
Is it usual to give a gratuity to the crew?
Generally, crew should be tipped 5 – 10% of the overall cost. However, it’s certainly not obligatory.
Are there toilets on board?
On Vita Bel II we have two toilets. Many charter boats have only one and a few have no functioning toilet at all.
Do you provide food and drink?
It’s best to check beforehand what to expect, what options you have and what you will pay. On Vita Bel II, a set menu prepared by a local restaurant together with complementary drinks is included in the overall cost. Alternatively, you can opt for a barbecue, prepared on board, for an extra cost.
Can you cater for diabetics, vegetarians, vegans or kosher?
Very few charter boats are equipped to offer special menus (even in restaurants in Spain it’s often hard to get vegetarian food). On Vita Bel II provided we’re notified in good time, we’re happy to cater for all preferences. We can also provide menus chosen by you - we’ve catered for up to 35 people when sailing with several boats and more when in harbour.
Will you make an occasion extra special?
Most boats will offer little or nothing in the way of extra touches to mark a celebration or other event. We welcome special requests, and have hosted many celebrations and parties, both formal and informal, arranging birthday cakes, flowers, boat decorating, theme trips, team challenges and more.
What happens to my money if the weather is not good enough to sail?
Some captains will simply say ‘tough luck’ and leave it that. Some will offer credit of another day and no refund. We always offer another day at no extra charge or, if this is not possible, an 80% refund.
What happens if the weather turns bad while we are out at sea?
Obviously we always return to shore rather than compromise safety. We then try to arrange another day, free of charge. We always try to be as fair as possible. For instance, if you’re on a full day charter and the weather turns bad just after lunch and we have to return, then we will offer at no extra cost a short charter to make up for the time lost. On most other boats, you won’t be offered a free charter on another day to make up for curtailed trips.
What happens if I or my friends are seasick?
Seasickness can ruin a trip, and many boats make no provision whatsoever for this. We have state-of-the-art electronic wristbands to counter seasickness – 90% of the time these make all symptoms disappear. We also offer seasickness pills before leaving shore. If you’re prone to seasickness, it’s a good idea to take a tablet the night before, another on the morning of the trip, and a further one once on board. That said, Vita Bel II is a steady, gentle yacht, and most people do not experience any discomfort.
Is this boat equipped for children?
Some boats have no facilities for children and don’t even provide lifejackets suitable for children of all ages. On Vita Bel II we have a wide range of lifejacket sizes to cover everyone from babies to adults. We also have both a permanent sun-cover and a removable sun-cover, on the aft deck, to provide shelter for sleeping babies. Open pushchairs can be firmly secured and there are guard rails all round the boat. Our cabins have secure bunk beds where children can sleep without the worry of falling out. Our hydraulic platform makes it easy for kids to swim, and we also carry floating tubes, arm bands, child-sized snorkels and so on.
How do you decide if it’s safe to sail?
Some boats make more extensive checks than others. As well as a visual inspection, we use three separate sources to check forecasts to help ensure we get an accurate view.
Will guests be expected to help with mooring and sailing?
With some charter boats, especially yachts, you will be asked to assist, even if you don’t really want to. With us you’re not expected to. However, many like to lend a hand as part of the experience and we’re happy to accommodate them.
Could I fall overboard?
Certain boats are safer than others. On Vita Bel II we have a full range of safety features, including railings, a big open deck with non-slip teak flooring, life rafts, lifebelts and so on. And we’ve never once had anyone fall overboard.
Will we be able to stop for swimming or to visit a beach?
Some boats have a rigid schedule which doesn’t allow for swimming stops – check in advance to avoid disappointment! With us, your trip is entirely tailored to your wishes, so if you want to stop to swim or drop in at a beach you can.
Is smoking allowed on board?
If one or more of your party smokes, it can be hard for them if they’re not allowed to light up. Many charter boats are non-smoking. On Vita Bel II, considerate smokers are welcome.
What should I bring with me?
It’s always worth asking what’s provided in the way of equipment or safety items. With Vita Bel II, all these needs are catered for. All we would advise you to bring is a swimming costume and a towel, and, if sailing in the evenings or early or late season, a jacket or jumper.
Is there a minimum age?
Sometimes, charter boats won’t allow very young children, so it’s always best to check beforehand. On Vita Bel II, we welcome, and are equipped for, all ages.
Can we play music?
We have an iPod dock and a CD player on board for guests, although the gentle sound of the waves on the boat and the wind in the sails is enough for many. With other boats, if you like a little music to accompany your trip, it’s best to check with the captain first.
Is there parking and how much is it?
In some ports, it can be difficult to find parking – and you may have to pay a lot to park for long periods. With Cala D’Or, there’s plenty of free parking at the marina.