Special delivery: Sign up for the free Cruising World email newsletter. Subscribe to Cruising World magazine for $29 for 1 year and receive 3 bonus digital issues.
The sun had just come up, and the stovetop espresso maker was already in action. Even though it was early—and we were on vacation—everyone was eager to get underway to the Dry Tortugas, an island group 70 miles west of Key West, Florida.
William was in the cockpit sorting out the snorkeling gear, while my husband, Green, was plotting the day’s route. Giulia and I were getting some breakfast sandwiches on the table. And the four teenagers aboard? Still sleeping, of course.
Our ride for the week was a Fountaine Pajot Astréa 42 catamaran chartered from the Dream Yacht Charter base in Key West, and it was perfect. It had four staterooms and en suite heads, dining tables inside and out, and enough room for eight of us to stretch out and socialize. The week included fishing, snorkeling, sunbathing, plenty of sailing, great food, sundowners and laughs. The best part? Everyone (including the teenagers) is ready to do it again—truly the mark of a good vacation.
According to a recent survey of the bareboat industry, catamarans now make up 45 percent of the worldwide charter fleet—a new high—and for good reason. With enough space and accommodations for large families or groups of friends, cats make excellent sailing vacation platforms.
Are you qualified to charter a catamaran? For many people, the path to a bareboat charter is through courses such as those offered by US Sailing and the American Sailing Association. Some schools offer courses specific to cruising multihulls.
Already an experienced sailor? In many cases, particularly at bases in the Caribbean and North America, formal certifications aren’t necessary, but a sailing résumé showing some experience sailing boats of similar size is important.
“In most cases, experience aboard a similarly sized monohull would be acceptable,” says Carol Hansen, head of marketing for Dream Yacht Charter. “But we review sailing résumés on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the boat and destination of choice.”
Most charter companies also have professional captains available.
Time for the fun part: selecting your charter company, destination and boat. Try to focus on your priorities. If you are only looking to charter a specific catamaran model, that will limit your choice of companies and destinations. On the other hand, if you’re set on a destination, you will have your choice of operators in that area.
Bound by a tight budget? Consider low-season dates, a destination closer to home, or chartering an older boat. If you are traveling with another family, like we did—a definite perk of choosing a cat—splitting the costs makes for an affordable vacation for everyone.
For first-timers, Hansen recommends the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands.
“Both offer deep water, steady wind, and readily available mooring balls at the popular anchorages,” she says. “I would consider the Abacos or Antigua as the next step up because they are slightly more challenging destinations.”
Things to consider include all travel logistics (flights, ferries), a provisioning plan (do it yourself or order groceries ahead of time), itinerary options, and any toys you want to bring or reserve from the charter company.
Insider tip: If you’re traveling with teens, consider renting kayaks or stand-up paddleboards to give them some fun and freedom. Trust me.
When packing your bags, go lightly—fortunately, swimwear and T-shirts don’t take up much room. And don’t forget your camera.
For more information about the ins and outs of planning a charter vacation, including packing tips, building an itinerary and how to provision like a pro, visit cruisingworld.com/charter