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post #10 of Old 03-15-2013
Captain Bill
Join Date: Mar 2013
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Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key

Yes. Monitoring the weather and deciding when to cancel or move a charter is “tricky”. If I feel we can safely depart and return to the dock, the decision is mostly based on our guest’s experience and attitude. Laura and I want all of our guests to be comfortable and enjoy themselves – I’m not going to take people sailing if they are not going to have a good time (and good memory of their trip with us). If I don’t think we’ll be able to get the boat safely in and out of the dock, the decision is easy – cancel or move to another day.

That said, how potential charter guests define “comfortable” has a very wide range. We’ve had guests that wouldn’t go out unless the weather was less than 10 knot winds and calm seas. Other guests were sailors and wanted a brisker wind for excitement. Then there were the two gals a few weeks ago who talked us into going out on a cold, overcast, rainy, 20+ knot wind day. They put on raincoats and sat up on the bow with the rain in their face, holding onto the boat with one hand – beer in the other, while laughing and having a ball. Bottom line, we talk to our guests ahead of time to understand their definition of a nice sail and use that as criteria for cancellation.

Oh… I have talked guests into coming sailing with us when they really didn’t want to because I knew from experience the trip would be fine. Let’s say it’s a warm, sunny day but the wind is blowing 15-20 from the north. That’s quite a bit of wind for people who have never sailed before. But.. I know a north wind allows us to stay in the lee of the islands and it will be a great sail on calm waters. I’ll probably only put up jib and 1/3 main so they get the sailing experience without the gusts heeling us over to 30 degrees. Since all of our charters are private, it’s easy for me to customize each sail to the comfort level of our guests. We don’t have 20+ people on the boat with some yelling, “GO FASTER!” while others feed the fish over the side.

From a business perspective you have to decide what happens when you cancel a charger because of the weather. Most charter businesses keep a portion (or all) of the deposit when the charter is cancelled because of the weather. I look at it from our guest’s perspective – If I was chartering with someone and the weather was bad enough to cancel the sail, that’s not my fault. We offer a fair-weather guarantee on all of our day charters. If you pay for the charter ahead of time and the weather doesn’t cooperate, we’ll work with you to rebook for a better day or refund all of the monies you’ve paid – your choice. I think this policy makes people feel better about reserving cruises with us and paying ahead of time.

How many times do you think I’ve had to cancel and refund deposits? I just checked back through my records for this season and it’s less than 5%. For a business that’s totally dependent on the weather, I think that’s a very good number. The reason it’s low is I monitor the weather like a lion stalking dinner. My favorite weather forecast websites are the first thing I look at in the morning (after my lovely bride and a cup of coffee of course) and the last “work” I do before going to bed. I call guests 2 or 3 days ahead of time if the weather doesn’t look good for their charter to see how aggressive they want to be and what other days might work for them. It's a lot of work but well worth it.

That’s a long-winded way of answering your questions but the weather, your cancellation policies and how you manage guests expectations are a huge part of successful chartering.

Gotta go… time to check the forecasts….. :-)
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