Many of our British Virgin Islands charter guests like to snorkel, SCUBA dive and fish from their charter yachts. I get many inquiries about these activities and I thought I get some information together and put it all in one place so people can browse this article at their leisure. Although this information is primarily for the BVI and the USVI, it’s also valid for many of the other Caribbean islands.
Snorkeling, of course, is a no-brainer. You don’t need any special permits or certificates to go snorkeling, suffice to say, however, that snorkeling masks available from charter companies and charter boats are not always top quality. If it’s important for you to have a really good diving mask, bring your own. If you’re a scuba diver, bring your own regulator too. Snorkels and fins are not such a big issue, you can live with floppy fins and straight-through tube snorkels.
BVI Scuba Diving
Scuba diving is a different matter altogether, let’s talk diving on charter yachts. Some charter yachts offer on-board diving, others offer rendez-vous diving. The difference is that the yachts or catamarans that offer on-board diving have the right insurance and have a master diver or diving instructor on board; some offer the equipment too. This is expensive stuff and on-board diving boats usually charge a premium either baked into the price or they charge for each dive.
Rendez-vous diving requires none of this. It simply means that the captain will organize, usually via VHF radio or by phone, for a local dive shop to pick the divers up off the yacht, take them diving and drop them off back at the yacht afterwards. The client pays for this separately to the dive shop. There are several extremely reputable dive shops scattered throughout the islands, only a phone call away – as an example, check out www.divebvi.com for valuable information.
Some boats have air compressors on-board but it’s not really important if they have one or not. Frankly they are quite noisy and the last thing you need on vacation is a constant chugging in the background morning, noon and night. The captains of the boats that do not have compressors go ashore in the dinghy and swap out their spent tanks for fresh ones at the many local dive shops along the route so that the divers aboard always have full tanks available.
Let’s talk briefly about Certification. All divers that wish to use the services of a charter yacht that offers on board diving need to be certified and carrying a PADI or NAWI card. Many clients ask me if it is possible to get SCUBA certification while they are on charter. Well, yes, it is possible, but you should get the basics and the bookwork out of the way before you go.
Use your charter vacation for the final open ocean dives and the on-board instructor (make sure there is one on board!) can give you a certificate of completion. DON’T attempt to start your scuba diving course while on-board and complete it in a week. It also wouldn’t be fair to the other guests on board since you’d be taking the captain or mates time up when they should looking after ALL the guests and not just the student diver.
Now, what CAN be done, if you have never done scuba diving before, and you are on a charter yacht that has an instructor on board (as opposed to a Master Diver), is to take what is known as a RESORT course. This is an introductory course where you only go to one atmosphere (33 ft or less) which is not dangerous, but you would use all the gear and the instructor would be by your side all the time. This is a great way to see if you really like the diving experience and is certainly a motivation to take the complete course when you return home.
A word about fishing now: fishing in the Virgin Islands, both US and British, require permits. The BVI especially is extremely sensitive about fishing of any kind and the catching or removal of any species being restricted to locally born Virgin Islanders unless you obtain a permit. Many boats do carry rods and light tackle, however it’s best to discuss fishing of any kind with your captain and to clearly state your interest in fishing on the Preference Sheets that we send to you 30 days before the charter. You will have to apply for your permit in person however.
For all your BVI diving and yacht charter requirements please contact our knowledgable owners, who have spent several years sailing the Caribbean. If you are looking for a charter yacht and wish to dive and rent equipment from a local dive-shop, please visit our specialized charter section to find the perfect boat or your trip.