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Old 06-12-2002
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Carol Bareuther is on a distinguished road
Internet Chartering


A large number of crewed charter boats like the Sea Nymph (above) represent themselves on the web, so surveying your options and getting detailed information is easier than it's ever been.
When Elizabeth Pitts began planning a crewed charter yacht vacation, her first stop was the Internet. "I looked up several charter sites when doing my research before finally selecting a broker and boat," says Pitts, a Charlotte, NC, resident whose family of five enjoyed a crewed charter vacation in the Virgin Islands last winter.

In the last several years, surfing the Internet has become a common way for would-be chartering clients to locate the crewed or bareboat charter vacation of their dreams. "In the last two years, we have had an 80 percent increase in our bookings from our website response inquiries," says Deb Adao, who with her husband Wayne, owns Jolly Mon Sailing, a bareboat and crewed yacht brokerage based in La Quinta, CA.

Anne Borns and her husband Hal who operate the Admiralty Yacht Vacations in St. Thomas, USVI say they too have seen the same phenomenon with their website where over 500 yachts are showcased. "When we started in 1992 we did six bookings via the Internet, whereas last year over 100 bookings came through the web," Borns says. Bareboat company websites "are like a brochure on line," says Steve McCrea, marketing director for Stardust Yacht Charters, in Portland, ME. "They're a research tool that has made information gathering for clients more accessible."

Though the practice of mailing hard-copy brochures has yet to become obsolete, Karen Roman, the web content manager for the Moorings says "clients love being able to direct their own education via the Internet. It's fast, easy, available 24 hours a day, and spans destinations worldwide." And Stella Beavis, charter sales manager for Voyage Charters, based in Annapolis, MD, believes that a major advantage of the Internet is that "Clients can browse at their leisure and get unbiased information rather than just hear the pitch from a salesperson over the phone."


Because there's more to choosing a bareboat than any on line presentation can offer, it pays to follow up your Internet research with questions via phone.
"When using the Internet," explains Kathy Mullen, president of Regency Yacht Vacations, a crewed yacht brokerage in St. Thomas, "potential clients can look at a variety of boats on line, read about the crew, survey the prices, and learn the logistics of planning and actually booking a charter. Then when they call us, they usually have a boat or couple of boats in mind."

Pitts says that she found this to be true. "The websites I visited offered a sampling of charters available—each was briefly described, stating the number of passengers, available equipment, photos, and price, and all this was all helpful in forming some preliminary ideas."

So how does a prospective charterer go about navigating the web to get the best information? Good question. The experience of clicking around a charter company or broker's website can range from trouble-free to tricky. Although Pitts believes that the charter sites she used were fairly easy to navigate and provided adequate information, Jack Edwards, an avid boater and past bareboat client from Gibbsboro, NJ, says: "I've found some websites simple to navigate, but too often things can get very complicated and mind boggling."

""I think the most useful items on a website are the pictures. Interior layouts especially interest me the most."

Edwards explains: "I think the most useful information on a website are the pictures. Interior layouts especially interest me the most. I've purchased and exchanged timeshares using the Internet, and have I always look for pictures that show the outside of the unit as well as a schematic of it."

Pitts does have one suggestion for charter companies that peddle their services via a website: "The one thing that would have been helpful to me would have been a sample itinerary."

The best way to navigate a bareboat company website depends on your level of experience. "If the person has chartered before, they go right to the availability listing," Voyage's Beavis says. "Most people who've chartered know the makeup of their crew and time of year they want to go," Christine DeSimone of Sunsail says: "Our website is a wonderful research tool, whether it be for general information about all of the exotic sailing locations we offer around the world, to see photos of the possible cruising areas, or to review a particular yacht's layout and specs in comparison to others. It's also a good place to pick up sailing and chartering tips." For those who have never chartered, "We suggest going to the destination and fleet sections first," advises The Mooring's Roman. "We have an on-line sailing resume where first timers can answer a few questions and see right away if they qualify for a bareboat."

After reviewing destinations and selecting a boat, "most people check out the rates and availability through our on-line booking system where you can confirm a reservation or look for other information," says Chris Bent, president of Trade Wind Yachts, Inc., in Gloucester, VA. Once the charter has been booked, the Internet can continue to be a useful resource for planning a repeat or first-time charters. "We offer an on-line preference sheet for everything from provisions to water sports equipment," Beavis says.


When hunting around the web for chartering opportunities it's best to look at all the offerings, including those by brokers and individual charter companies alike.
There are two types of websites for crewed charter yachts. The first is essentially a no-contact, on-line brochure that often links to a broker's site. This is the case with the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League's website at www.vicl.org. "We don't want to compete with the brokers, but rather bring business to them by getting out the word about our industry to other segments of the public that have previously been untapped," says Susan Chandler, executive director of the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League. Several brokers participate in the VICL site and receive inquiries in a blind random rotation. "The site is really designed as educational piece, so that the public knows what to look for in a crewed charter when they approach the broker," Chandler explains.

The second form of website is an on-line brochure that gives contact information for an individual boat. About 30 percent of the crewed charter yachts that are based out of the US Virgin Islands book directly. This saves on the commission a boat would have to pay to the broker. However, for the client "there is no advantage in booking the boat directly," says Ed Hamilton, owner of Ed Hamilton Yacht Charter Agents, a brokerage based in Whitefield, ME, which does numerous Caribbean and worldwide bookings annually. "The price is the same and a boat owner or crew is going to have a less objective view concerning the boat's condition, crew's character, reliability, and standard of service." Another benefit of going through a broker is that "the money goes into an escrow account and isn't turned over to the captain until right before a charter," Admiralty's Borns explains. And, "if the boat selected has to cancel because of repairs or other reasons, the broker can usually find another similar boat so the trip doesn't have to be canceled, or worse yet the client doesn't end up standing at the dock all alone.

Finding Deals    The Internet can offer real deals on yacht charters that can't be obtained through standard magazine ads or snail mail brochures. "Periodically, yachts may offer specials and we post them immediately on our website," says Deb Adao of Jolly Mon Sailing. Admiralty Yacht Charters has a site, www.charterbid.com, which also offers specials. "When boats are not as busy as they want to be, they often discount a week at the last minute and we post that deal on our site. Potential clients can then bid on line for the best price," Born says.

"Discovering last-minute deals is one particular advantage of booking charters via the Internet."

Discovering last-minute deals is a growing advantage of the Internet. Sunsail's DeSimone says visiting the company's website "is a great way to stay up to date with any ongoing specials we might be offering." She says interested parties can also sign up to receive the Sunsail newsletter escape via e-mail, which details monthly updates and specials. Web-posted special rates, which are updated as frequently as weekly or even daily, are usually for specific dates, destinations, and boats. Cost advantages can include a straight discount off the cost of the charter, additional days for free, or the waiving of a flotilla fee.

Trusting What You See    What you see on a website might not be what you get, warns Carter Wilbur, manager at Flagship, a crewed charter yacht clearinghouse in St. Thomas. "Anyone can put a pretty picture up on the Internet. That's why it's crucial to still go through a broker to make the actual booking," Wilbur explains. "Brokers make a point to see the boats and know the crews."

From the client's perspective, Pitts recounts what precautions she took when selecting a broker online: "Once I had found a website and broker I liked, I called to verify the legitimacy as I'd heard that some vacation websites could be a scam; they just take your money and run. Ultimately, I selected the broker I did because after spending an evening on the computer researching the various charter opportunities and seeing very little difference in the product being offered, this one seemed the most responsive to my inquiries; the one who responded to me promptly and answered by follow-up e-mails in a timely manner."


Veteran bareboaters say that one of the most useful features of researching prospective charters on line are the photos. This shot of Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands gives a pretty clear indication of what awaits future charter guests in this region.
Edwards says he too learned a few lessons from his bareboat charter. He says: "I was disappointed with the bareboat; it wasn't in the best condition. That time, I worked through the company and didn't talk directly to the charter base operator. I'd do that differently now."

Show Me the Money    These days, as with any other purchase you might make via the Internet, you can complete the transaction on line, including payment of the charter, without ever having to talk to anyone directly. DeSimone says Sunsail has offered the option of on-line bookings since June 2000. "At Sunsail.com, we offer the convenience of booking a complete charter online, it's immediate, safe, and secure. We even recently introduced the option of ordering all provisions online. It's very hands-on and simple to do. However, we still believe nothing replaces the one-on-one personal touch you receive when speaking to an experienced sales agent. These people can offer information from past experiences that many of our clients find useful or perhaps just answer that difficult question."

Even though on-line booking is available, clients typically prefer talking to a real person, says Stardust's McCrea. Borns confirms this: "We book about one-third of our clients over the Internet. The other two-thirds still want to talk by phone, and perhaps have their contract faxed or mailed to them."

Bent at Trade Wind Yacht says: "I think the 'human touch' is always helpful for most clients. Often it takes a real person to confirm details and answer specific questions that may otherwise take more time to locate on the Internet. That's why we offer the option to click through and speak with a reservationist for free."

"I think the 'human touch' is always helpful for most clients. Often it takes a real person to confirm details and answer specific questions."
Edwards agrees: "I've been very successful, obtaining excellent prices and service when I buy items over the Internet like a TV, where I know the exact model and the retail store price so that I can compare it to what I'm being offered on line. But a yacht charter is much more involved. I haven't booked a charter directly through the web, but rather have had many serious personal conversations and communications with the company or the broker. In other words, I believe a good deal of personal contact is still needed before committing dollars and lining up a successful yacht charter."

In the Future    The future of charter booking through the web looks promising, according to most brokerages. "Potential clients will be using the Internet more and more," says Voyage's Beavis, "whether it's to research charters or book them."

"The only thing the Internet lacks is subjectivity. And, that's important in a sport that so many people feel passionate about," Stardust's McCrea adds. "Perhaps, we'll start to see interactive chat forums to fill this void."

"What I'd really like," Edwards says, "is an independent site that gives a rating of the vessel, the company and the manager. This information is available in the timeshare industry, but I haven't seen it for charter yachts—at least not yet."

On-Line Sources
There are literally hundreds of companies involved in offering or brokering charter vacations. The following list indicates just a few that operate on line. It is by no means comprehensive, but these companies do have websites that are the easy to navigate and highly functional when it comes to details regarding the boats and services offered.

Admiralty Yacht Vacations: www.admirals.com

Ed Hamilton & Company: www.ed-hamilton.com

Stardust Yachts: www.syc.com

Sunsail: www.sunsail.com

The Moorings: www.moorings.com

Trade Wind Yachts: www.tradewindyachts.com

Voyage Charters: www.voyagecharters.com

Despite what the interviewees say above, there are on-line means for getting subjective feedback on charter companies and their boats. To see what other SailNet users have to say about various charter companies, destinations, or specific boats, log on to SailNet's Message Boards (Chartering Message Board) or check out our E-mail Discussion list (Charterboat discussion list).




Suggested Reading:

Charter Boat Preparation by Tania Aebi

Chartering Experience by Dan Dickison

Cape Horn Charter Opportunities by John Kretschmer


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