If you’re daydreaming of cruising across clear, blue waters under sunny skies, no cares aside from choosing where to pull ashore next, then perhaps it’s time to start planning a private yacht vacation. There is a lot to consider before you head out to sea, but with a little research and these handy tips, you’ll be set for the ultimate private yacht vacation.

  1. Choosing Where To Go – And When

The first step of course is to decide on where to go. There are many exotic places around the world to choose from, so this alone could result in numerous Google searches. Some good places to get you started include the Caribbean, the South Pacific, the Mediterranean and the Galapagos Islands.

If you already have your heart set on a specific location, the more important consideration will be when to go. Avoiding bad weather will probably be your number one concern, but there is also high and low seasonality to consider. The travel season you choose will affect prices, although this is not always tied to the best weather as pricing is based on demand.

For example, the high season for travel to the Caribbean is December to April when tourists arrive in droves from the north to avoid winter weather. While temperatures are very pleasant during these months and there is little rainfall, the shoulder seasons in late spring and fall have similar weather, far less crowds and generally cheaper prices (outside of school holidays). Even July and August during the low season offer warm sunny days and the best rates of all.

There’s also availability to consider too. The most popular regions will book up well in advance of high season, however, there can be the potential issue of too few charter yachts operating in a particular area during low season as well.

If you are flexible on when you can take your vacation, it’s best to start with one or more locations of interest and look into weather, prices and availability before narrowing it down to one. If you don’t have any flexibility on when you go, you will need to let weather and availability guide your choices.

  • Planning Your Experience

When you charter a boat, you have the freedom to plan the trip of your dreams. Time and money constraints may dictate some aspects of your itinerary, but if you have a good idea of where you want to go and the things you’d like to do, your yacht broker or the captain can help you plan the perfect adventure.

Start by thinking about what type of experience you’re looking for. Are you more interested in remote beach locations and dive spots or are you looking for cultural experiences and day excursions? Do you want to avoid crowds or be in the thick of the action? Or perhaps you want a little bit of both? Do a little research on the region and earmark places of interest and activities you’d like to include as a starting point for your planning.

  • Choosing the Right Yacht And Crew

Unless you’re planning to charter a bareboat, which is a yacht with no skipper or crew that you sail yourself, you’ll have some choices to make around the type of yacht and crew requirements for your trip. Popular sailing regions usually have an array of charter boats on offer, from sail yachts to catamarans, motor yachts and even super yachts with luxury amenities like swimming pools, gyms and helipads.

Each yacht will have different occupancy limits, lounging space both on deck and below, amenities, cruising capabilities, and price tags, so you will need to review the information on each particular yacht for the full details. Power catamarans and yachts are usually more expensive than sail yachts as they cost more to build and operate.

There are also differences when it comes to provisioning. Some charter yachts are all inclusive, meaning food, drinks, fuel, and on-board services are included in the price. Depending on the company you book with, additional costs might include premium drinks, specialty food items, scuba diving, docking and other miscellaneous fees. Plus-expenses yacht charter contracts on the other hand, will have a set price for the boat and crew with all additional expenses like fuel, food, drink and other items added separately. You can also find charters that require you to do your own provisioning, which means supplying your own food and drink.

Just as there are big differences in the types of boats and how they are provisioned, the service levels will vary widely from boat to boat. From captain-only options where you do the cooking and housekeeping yourself to fully-staffed yachts with complete on-board service, waiters and a chef, how much – or how little – you do around the yacht is up to you.

  • On Board Entertainment

Depending on the level of yacht you charter, there can be a big difference in what is provided for your use on board. Where this becomes important for most people is watersports. Most yachts will stock at least a small selection of water toys like inflatable floats, tows and snorkeling equipment, but many of the larger yachts can provide any equipment you might need, such as diving gear, jet skis, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards. You’ll even find some yachts featuring a water slide.

Other things to consider are your electronics. Most yachts will have a full audio visual system for watching movies or listening to music, along with hair dryers and outlets for charging your own electronics. Just be sure to pack the right adapter for the region you are visiting.

  • Booking, Payment & Contracts

Most people find it easier to go through a yacht broker than booking directly with a boat owner. The broker will help you find the right boat for your needs and can plan your experience down to the finest detail including items like transfers, on board menu items, excursions and restaurant reservations. Your broker is also responsible for providing you with the contract, so make sure the broker you use is qualified. A good place to start is with the American Yacht Charter Association.

It’s important to know that there is an Advance Provisioning Allowance (APA) required in advance of the charter. This is an expense deposit that the charter company uses to provision the yacht. The APA is settled at the conclusion of the charter and any unused amounts are refunded.

  • Money & Tipping

Be sure to have some local currency on hand before you step aboard, as you may not be able to use a card everywhere you go. Other major foreign currencies such as the US dollar, the euro or the British pound may be accepted in some destinations as well. Tipping the captain and crew is also expected. 15-20% of the charter price is customary, although if you are using a charter broker, they will inform you of the tipping etiquette for your destination.

  • Passports & Visas

Just like any other type of travel, if your destination is international you will need a valid passport. Keep in mind that some countries require three to six months validity beyond the period of your intended stay, so double check that your passport meets the criteria of the country you are visiting.

Depending on your nationality, there may also be visa requirements. If you’re crossing international borders within your cruise, there may be multiple visa requirements. Make sure you thoroughly research and if required, arrange any travel documents well ahead of time.

  • What To Pack

When it comes to sailing, less is more. Yachts typically don’t have large amounts of storage space, so you’ll want to pack light. Assuming you’re headed to a warm-temperature destination, a small to medium size duffel bag should be more than enough for everything you need.

Aside from your swimsuit and a few light, casual pieces, you will probably want to bring a dressier outfit or two, and long pants and a jacket in case of inclement weather or potentially cooler evenings. Sunscreen, a wide-brim hat and sunglasses are a must for sun protection, and you’ll want a camera, charger or extra batteries and SD cards for all the photos you’ll be taking – or just your smartphone if you’re keeping things really simple.

  1. Be Prepared With Medications

If you take prescription medication, bring more than enough for your whole trip and consider bringing a backup prescription as well. Always travel with these in your carry-on luggage if you are flying to your cruise destination.

Although there should be a first aid kit on board, it doesn’t hurt to bring along any essentials like band aids, any braces or bandages if you have joint problems, and pain relievers. Allergy or sea sickness medications are also advised if you are prone to these ailments, and medications such as Imodium can be a lifesaver in the case of traveler’s stomach.

You should also bring sun cream, bug spray and an after-sun care lotion.

  1. Be Flexible

Remember that your itinerary may be impacted by weather, so keep your plans flexible in case they do need to change. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the adventure that is sailing… because real travel is the journey, not the destination.