The British and US Virgin Islands offers one of the greatest and most relaxing boating experiences in the world and we’d like the opportunity to offer up a selection of BVI boating tips. Several factors contribute to this well earned reputation: plenty of small islands, regular E to NE winds, protected waters, great beaches and places to moor and go ashore and an overall excellent vacation experience even in bad weather. As you can imagine, there is also a huge selection of boat companies and models available for charter for both power and sailing enthusiasts.
Our company represents a number of these charter operators and we only deal with those operators who have consistently shown good service, well maintained boats and effective emergency service because, well, boats are boats and things do go wrong. In addition to this these is a well-organized Search and Rescue infra-structure offered by VISAR which is a volunteer based service and that can be called upon as a last resort.
Typically most BVI charter companies operate out of Tortola where there are several excellent marinas. Let me go on to describe, briefly, how the industry works in practice:
a) The charter companies don’t own the boats that they charter out. They are owned by private individuals who have placed their boats in charter and entrust them to boat operators who charter them out to clients like you and I. They maintain the boats, provide skippers upon request, offer provisioning services, and generally look after the boats they have been entrusted with.
b) Not all charter operators are created equal, there are First, Second and Third tier companies, This Tier system operates as follows. The First Tier companies only manage new boats and they keep them in service for 3 to 4 years. Then these boats that now have 4 seasons on them are passed on to the Second Tier and so forth down the line.
c) Many First Tier companies will only accept boats of a certain make or brand. Many times these boats will have been designed specifically for the charter trade and if prospective owners wish to participate in their ownership program, they have to choose to purchase a certain brand of boat that has been designed specifically for a particular operator.
So, if an owner wishes to take advantage of, for example the Moorings ownership plan, he will have to purchase a Moorings designed boat. If an owner wishes to purchase a Lagoon Catamaran, he or she will have to approach a company that offers an ownership plan for new Lagoons that have been designed or have had the design tweaked to meet the requirements of that particular operator.
c) Typically, as I mentioned before, the older boats that have a number of seasons on them are passed on down the system to other operators (these are the now, budget boats) that handle older boats.
d) There are, of course, companies that manage both newer and older boats and that don’t really care what brand they are. This can get a little complicated because their service and maintenance people need to be well versed in a number of different brands.
First tier companies that operate in the BVI are the Moorings, Sunsail, Voyage, Horizon, Catamaranco and a couple of others. Second Tier companies are Conch charters, BVI Yacht Charters, Dream and others. This is not a “ranking system and doesn’t mean that one particular is better than another. It’s merely a reflection of the market they specialize in and the age of the boats they offer. Again, this is a generalization and in practice many operators have a mix of newer and older boats. So, on the basis of the above, I’ve developed some hypothetical FAQ’s
Which boat is right for me?
First question you have to ask yourself: do you really care if the boat is newer or older? Again, generally speaking, newer boats are generally more expensive than older ones, so what’s the budget looking like? Of course, a nice crisp, new boat with tight sails, electric toilets and plenty of room are a new captain’s dream. But there’s nothing wrong with floating around the BVI in a lower cost, older boat with baggy sails, after all you’re not here to win the America Cup..!! You’re here for the sun, the sand and the sheer enjoyment, sometimes sailing slowly and taking your time is all that’s needed.
How do I find the right boat at the right price?
It is Best to use a broker or booking agent. Find one you’re comfortable with and that you can trust. The booking agent typically has access to all or most of the operators, knows the boats, knows the area and can offer you exactly what you’re looking for at the right price.
If I use a broker, will I pay more?
No, most good brokers will offer all the discounts offered by the operators, including the seasonal toofers and threefers, multiple boat discounts, repeat customer discounts and many times can obtain an even better price that if you go to the operator directly. The brokers and booking agents are paid by the operators for their sales and marketing function, you don’t actually have to pony up any special fees or surcharges.
What constitutes a good broker or booking agent?
Knowledge of the boats and the destinations and also very importantly, instant access to the industry databases and seasonal pricing and discount charts. Some brokers use specialized search engines on their websites that you can use to browse through the boats of different operators, with pricing, availability, specifications and pictures of each available boat. As an example, use our yacht search engine on this website that actually offers two boat search engines, one for special boats and the other for a number of other independent 1st and 2nd tier operators. (You know what tiers are now, right?)