We've all seen the advertising about charter companies offering to manage your boat and have it make money for you in the process. Most claim that the money made will be more than your monthly payments for the boat. If so, how do these arrangements operate? Also, when do you actually own your boat, and are there hidden details that I should be aware of? The advertising makes it seem too good to be true, is it?
Thanks for the question. Putting your boat in charter is a tricky topic with plenty of variables and fine pint to consider closely. And not every charter company offers the same management plan, so right from the get-go we should tell you that we can't answer your question in full, but we can offer some useful guidelines.
Let's start with the obvious aspects of the owner-charter company relationship. The idea that a boat can make money while still being available for your private use several weeks a year in an exotic location is quite compelling. However, the use and abuse that the boat is likely to get will far exceed what one owner can dish out in the same amount of time, so you need to proceed knowing that your boat will probably age more rapidly by being involved in such an arrangement.
Whether such a program will work for you depends largely on your outlook and your level of tolerance. If you feel an emotional or spiritual connection to your boat, our advice would be not to enter into such an arrangement. If you're outlook is that the boat is an investment that can occasionally get you out on the water, that's another matter. While many charter agencies have strict maintenance regimens for the boats in their fleets, they can't fully control how their clientele will use the boats. For example, you are probably careful about lowering the idle of the engine when shifting from forward to neutral and into reverse, but someone chartering your boat might clunk the transmission from high rpms in forward right into high rpms in reverse just like that, with potentially dire consequences down the road. Other things like marred toerails and blown-out sails are fairly common on well-used charter boats, and repairing these things costs money, a charge that is usually absorbed by the owner.
Of course most charter companies require that their clients fill out a sailing resume to prove that they're capable of caring for and handling moderate sized sailboats. And the charter agencies obviously have an interest in ensuring that only qualified people use the boats that they manage. But we recommend that you ask about the company's screening process early on, and find out if they restrict their charterers from going into areas where navigation can be tricky. Also, be sure you know what will happen in the event of a natural disaster like a hurricane.
So whats the bottom line? If you are comfortable that the amount of money coming from chartering fees will offset the costs of taking care of some of the potential problems down the road, go for it. But you should know that the boat you see going in won't be the same boat a few years later. If you feel like you are sacrificing a pristine boat to less-than-careful vacationers who might possess questionable nautical skills, then take a pass.
When it comes to charter companies, its always best to deal with those that have been around for a while and have a proven track record on maintenance. If you're serious about pursuing such an arrangement, we strongly recommend that you request a list of owners who are in a particular company's program and contact them to find out about their experiences with the company. That's probably the best way to learn if chartering your boat is a good idea. You can also log on to the e-mail discussion lists here at SailNet and take your chances with some of the feedback that other list users have to offer. Just log on to the home page and click on Join E-Mail Lists, which is listed under the heading Members' Center on the left hand rail. Whatever route you end up pursuing, best of luck to you.