Book a Bareboat Online?

These days, booking a bareboat charter often starts with surfing the Internet. Visiting companies¿ websites is a great way to educate yourself about fleets, boat availability, destinations, rates, special deals, and more¿before you make your decision about which company to use. Browsing online saves time over waiting for hard-copy brochures in the mail and making phone calls to get them, and the information is accessible at any hour of the day or night. Finally, when you do decide to pick up the phone and book your charter, it allows you to ask more educated questions.

¿In the last two years, bookings from website response inquiries have increased to 80 percent of all our bookings,¿ says Deb Adao, co-owner of Jolly Mon Sailing, a bareboat and crewed-yacht brokerage based in La Quinta, California. The standard practice of mailing hard-copy brochures hasn't become an obsolete practice, but according to Karen Roman, web-content manager for The Moorings in Clearwater, Florida, ¿Clients love being able to direct their own education via the Internet.¿ Steve McCrea, marketing director for Stardust Yacht Charters in Portland, Maine, agrees. Bareboat-company websites ¿are like brochures online,¿ he says. ¿They're a research tool that's made information gathering for clients more accessible.¿

One advantage of using the web, says Trade Wind Yachts president Chris Bent, is the fast, easy, and convenient access to comprehensive information on destinations, fleet descriptions, pricing, and availability. The ¿instant gratification¿ the web provides is also a plus. ¿Access to information is 24 hours a day on any destination worldwide,¿ says Amy Carris, marketing executive for Sunsail in Annapolis, Maryland. Another advantage is having time to gather information without pressure. ¿Clients can browse at their leisure and get unbiased information rather than just hear the pitch from a salesperson over the phone,¿ says Stella Beavis, charter sales manager for Voyage Charters, also based in Annapolis. ¿All the information available also helps clients to educate themselves and not feel like novices when they finally do e-mail or pick up the phone [to book a boat].¿

One big benefit of the Internet is that it's a timely way for companies to advertise last-minute deals. ¿Before the Internet, we still offered specials, but the only way people learned about them was through a direct mailing or being a repeat customer,¿ Carris says. 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, free days, or the waiving of a flotilla fee.

The best way to navigate a bareboat company's website, say the experts, depends on a person's experience level. ¿Most people who've chartered know the makeup of their crew and time of year they want to go,¿ Carris says. ¿But a big pull is still looking at yacht layouts and destination information, especially if it's a locale they haven't sailed before.¿ For those who've never chartered, Roman suggests ¿going to the destination and fleet sections first. We have an online sailing résumé where first-timers can see if they qualify for a bareboat and get an answer immediately.¿ After reviewing destinations and selecting a boat, says Bent, ¿most people check out the rates and availability through our online booking system, where you can confirm a reservation or look for other information.¿ Once a charter is booked, the Internet continues to be a useful planning resource. ¿We have an online preference sheet for everything from provisions to water-sports equipment,¿ Beavis says.

Using the Internet to complete a charter booking ¿means that there's no need to make a phone call. It's immediate,¿ says Carris. Sunsail has offered the option of online bookings since June 2000. ¿We offer online protection for credit cards and have an information-technology group that checks the website regularly for safety and security. Everything's been smooth so far.¿ The accessibility, ease, and speed of online charter bookings could create a problem in situations where a snap decision to charter ends with a change of mind and the cost of a nonrefundable deposit. ¿Charters are a very big commitment, but so far we haven't had the problems of clients with buyer's remorse,¿ Carris says.

Even with online booking, clients typically 'still want to talk to a real person,¿ says McCrea. ¿People want to know if what's represented on the web is really what's available,¿ Beavis adds. Bent agrees. ¿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.¿

In the future, ¿people will use the Internet more and more, whether it's to research charters or book them,¿ Beavis says. Among charter-broker enterprises offering online options for confirmed and potential bareboat and crewed clients is Ed Hamilton & Co. of Maine. ¿It's worked out very well, and it's expanding all the time,¿ Hamilton says.

Carol M. Bareuther