Posted by Alan on 8/27/2021 to Blogs
Norman Island, BVI
The previous article discussed the importance of the charterer's first encounter with the boat; which must be present, available, and clean, and the systems must be functioning adequately so that the boat is safe and reasonably comfortable for everyone aboard. Most charter boats will not have 100 percent of their systems completely functional, and any boat owner or experienced charterer will be all too familiar with this situation and will recognize that minor problems are probably not really problems. It is beneficial if the skipper thinks ahead of time about the initial acceptance of the boat upon arrival and what mechanical aspects of the boat may result in having to make a go/no go decision. A failed knotmeter or wind indicator is, for example, probably insignificant, but the failure of a more significant component may be cause for the skipper to require repair prior to accepting the vessel and departing the dock. The skipper should not feel obligated to accept a vessel in marginal condition, especially if it relates to a safety issue. Perhaps the most contentious mechanical malfunction for starting a charter is that of a boat’s air conditioning system. The charter company may be of the mind that a failed A/C is not a safety issue and a charter can be perfectly enjoyable without it functioning. However, the charter will feel as though that is an item that they paid extra for or even selected the boat for, and they should be somehow compensated if it isn’t working. It may be worth reading the fine print or establishing ahead of time with the charter company the compensation that can be expected if a significant non-safety item (namely the generator or A/C) is not functioning.
Boat and Chart Briefing
One of the first steps in any bareboat will be the boat and/or chart briefing. In the boat briefing, a charter company representative will walk through the vessel and all its systems relevant to bareboat use. Generally, this works best with around three of the crew members partaking in the detailed tour. Alternatively, the skipper and one or two others can attend the on-deck portion of the briefing, and the skipper and different crew members can attend the interior/accommodation portion of the tour. The skipper alone will not be able to remember every detail so it is very helpful to be able to ask others what they recall.
Getting into the engine room details during a charter briefing
The boat and chart briefings are not the time to be shy; the briefer will probably be thinking of all of the other things they need to do that day and may skip over something relevant if allowed. The more intelligent questions that they receive, the more likely they will be to go into a good level of detail on all systems. If anything does not appear to be working correctly, this is a good time for the skipper to get the representative to be clear on whether there is a misunderstanding or whether an item is actually nonfunctional and could potentially be repaired before departure.
In the chart briefing, the representative will give the skipper and interested crew members an overview of the cruising area, any applicable limits to how far can be traveled, and any areas that are to be avoided. This is a good time to ask about navigating any areas that seem challenging, what may be ashore at different anchorages, or any other destination-related questions.
Skipper’s Crew Briefing
After accepting the vessel and before departing the dock, it's necessary for the skipper to give a briefing to the entire crew to familiarize them with safety items, how the skipper wants things to be done aboard, and other procedural aspects of the charter. A good start here helps establish the authority of the captain and make the crew aware that the skipper is taking action for their safety, comfort, and well-being. This will make crew more likely to follow directions and trust the skipper's judgment.
Each skipper will have their own briefing style and different specifics that they want to communicate. Some ideas for good briefing items are as follows:
SafetyThe location of lifejackets and all fire extinguishers.Dingy situation – the dinghy (or other vessels’ dinghies when swimming in an anchorage) is a potential cause of serious injury (mostly the propeller, but also slipping and falling while boarding) and should be treated with respect. Used properly, it will be a really fun addition to the charter.Man overboard – is a serious risk, especially if no-one notices a crew member going overboard. It may be worth suggesting that crew are not to be alone on the back of the boat while underway without first telling other crew members they will be back there. The skipper should also brief the crew on how they want a man overboard recovery to be conducted. This will likely include assigning one person to keep their eye on the person in the water and never taking their eye off of them. In a charter catamaran, turning on the engines and making the recovery from leeward under power with the sails flogging is probably the preferred method of recovery. It can be extremely valuable to do a man overboard drill with a fender or life jacket early in the charter. It not only gives the captain and crew the opportunity to practice the drill, but is also very instructive for the crew on how seriously to take the man overboard situation when they observe the challenge in keeping a person in view and recovering them safely in any kind of seaway.Buddy system - Depending on the makeup of the crew, it may be beneficial to suggest that crew follow the “buddy system” either all of the time or at least after dark. It is an uneasy feeling when the crew notices someone is missing and has no idea where they are. The buddy system, while sounding childish, makes it much less likely that someone slips underwater or gets lost without anyone realizing it.Safety when docking - People used to boating in runabouts may think they can fend off by hand or leg when docking a charter catamaran, but these vessels are very heavy and fending off by hand should not be attempted. Instead, consider assigning someone with familiarity with boating to handle the “roving fender”. This person keeps one fender that is not attached to the boat during docking, and moves to where an impact could occur- the fender is dropped by its line by hand into this location to prevent anyone from being tempted to fend off using a body part.
UnderwayThere are a few more tips to help the crew contribute and stay safe when underway.Lines overboard – all crew members should keep a sharp eye out for lines that are running overboard and could get caught in and wrap the boat’s propellers. This has been the cause of many lost vessels so all crew should pull any lines in the water aboard, especially when maneuvering.Winch use – The winches on cruising catamarans are very powerful and the loads on lines can be extreme. Care should be taken to explain the functions of the winches to anyone who will use them, including how to wrap and unwrap them safely without getting fingers pinched and where to never place a hand or finger even if the winch is stationary. If electric winches are present, this is an even greater safety hazard and all crew should be aware of the risk of stepping on the activation switch inadvertently.Traffic awareness – Crew should feel welcome to point out any vessel traffic that they are concerned that the helmsperson may not see. Anyone driving should receive this information with appreciation even if they had already seen the traffic or consider it to be obvious. Crew should be encouraged to point this out but expect that it has probably already been considered, and during the briefing the skipper should indicate that they appreciate the alert and will answer with a brief “thank you” or “got it”, etc.
How things work on the boatThe next part of the crew briefing is to discuss how things should typically be done on the boat; the procedures.Water use – Fresh water on a boat is precious and the better a job of conservation that the crew does, the fewer times they will have to stop to resupply. During showers, the water should be turned off while soaping up for conservation. If all crew members pay attention to the sound of the fresh water pump and notice it running at a time it shouldn’t be, that can be investigated to potentially prevent a faucet left on or other leak from completely emptying the boat’s water tank.Dish washing – in some anchorages, it may make sense to do a coarse wash of dishes in the sea off of the back deck before the final wash in the galley. This can save fresh water and also spread out the work between multiple crew members as the galley sink can probably only accommodate one person at a time.Heads – The operation of the heads will be mostly a repeat of what was learned during the boat briefing. Heads are very easy to clog, and the crew should be reminded to bag all paper or hygienic waste and not put those items down the boat’s head. Also, it is wise to flush early and flush often when using the head so as to prevent clogs as no-one, either in the charter crew, or in the charter company’s maintenance personnel, wants to disassemble a head or hoses to clear a clog.Money situation – Here, the skipper can repeat the agreed-upon plan to handle the boat’s community costs.Schedule for morning departures and day stops - The skipper can once again reiterate the need to keep on schedule at certain times of the charter, such as when staying at a day stop for as long as possible can conflict with reaching the next anchorage before dark. Encourage the crew to respect the Social Director in this way and to all be willing sheepdogs to keep on schedule. One beneficial way to make this work more smoothly is for the skipper to keep a small whiteboard in the salon that indicates the next relevant departure time or day’s plan. For example, “Tomorrow, we depart this anchorage at 9:15 am”, or “Cocktails on the beach from 1:30 to 3:30, then we depart for Cane Garden Bay). This helps reduce confusion, keeps the crew on the same page, and helps reduce the number of times the skipper has to repeat the plan. It also makes the departure time seem more "official" than communicating it verbally.Finally, crew should be encouraged to come to the skipper or 1st mate for any safety or comfort issues. It shows some humility to indicate that, as the skipper, you may be the cause of the issue, so it may be wise to admit that during the briefing! The crew should be assured that they can alternatively take their comment to the 1st mate who will ensure it is addressed adequately, in private with the skipper if necessary.
While this list seems long for a briefing for a recreational charter, the purpose is to align everyone’s expectations, ensure that the crew understands that their safety is of great concern to the skipper, and ensure that the crew is comfortable with their place on the vessel and the ways that they can contribute.
Recommendations for the skipper during charter
This section contains a few suggestions for the skipper’s own personal benefit during the charter.
Personal considerations - Skippering a large charter catamaran can be immensely enjoyable, but can also be very stressful and a good skipper will admit this and be realistic about it. There are a lot of moving parts for this type of adventure; many of the sources of stress have been described in this series of articles. The skipper needs to devote some energy to their own self-care to prevent these stressors from becoming overwhelming. Perhaps the skipper shouldn’t go on every shore excursion that the crew takes. Sometimes, some decompression time in which the skipper can just sit aboard a quiet empty boat and take some time to fully understand one or more of the systems aboard can be very beneficial for confidence and increasing how comfortable he or she is with all of the attendant responsibilities.
On a mooring in White Bay, Jost Van Dyke. This is one of the most fun and beautiful places in the BVI, but the charter boat traffic, dinghys zipping around, swimmers in the water, and potential for large breaking surf caused by swells reflecting off of Tortola can make for a stressful experience for the skipper.
If something ever goes wrong, it can be a problem if the skipper is already at the end of their rope or extremely fatigued mentally; this can cause problems to snowball. A good skipper should consider what symptoms they exhibit when stressed and how stress changes their behavior. Are they likely to snap at a crewmember? Will they shut down and become ineffective in a minor emergency? It is critical to see the signs of building stress to take action to address it immediately within the confines of safe operation. Perhaps it can be as simple as diverting to a nearby anchorage to allow the crew time to swim or make cocktails while the skipper lies down in the cabin to rest and recharge for an hour – that could be all it takes to get back on track. Staying hydrated can be a big part of success in this regard. Keeping a large water bottle by the helm station can be very helpful along with the goal of drinking it one or more times during each day.
Trouble in paradise. Here in the remote anchorage of Setting Point, Anegada, the author and 1st Mate consider how to repair a dislodged steering cable. Being hydrated and relaxed is an important part of being able to address the unexpected successfully. Being able to effect minor repairs without having to wait for charter company personnel to arrive can help keep the charter going according to plan.
Crew Morale - It is beneficial for the skipper to have a 1-on-1 conversation with every member of the crew at least every other day, while aiming to do this every day. This is a good idea to ensure that their needs and wants are being met and that they are reasonably comfortable. This focus improves the morale of the crewmember and can help them to find their place in the dynamic of the crew and operation of the boat. The skipper also needs to know if there is any trouble or discontent brewing so that it can be addressed and nipped in the bud.
One challenging aspect for the charter skipper to manage will be crew requests. What if someone wants to do a scuba dive off by themselves? What if someone wants to visit an anchorage that isn’t on the itinerary? What if someone needs to leave a day earlier and their departure could be greatly facilitated by the boat visiting an unplanned anchorage? A good skipper should try to accommodate any of these types of requests, but make sure that they really do not unduly burden the rest of the crew and the charter plan. It is tempting to immediately say yes, but it may be of benefit to consider any of these types of request in private for a few moments. The skipper should have the goal of maintaining enough crew morale he or she can say no to any request that really doesn’t work for the group without upsetting the requester.
Mooring vs. Anchoring - Popular cruising grounds often have mooring fields available to charter vessels. Some skippers prefer to take mooring balls and some prefer to anchor whenever possible. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and whichever affords the skipper the best night’s sleep is the way to go. However, one should not rest easy based on misconceptions. The process of taking a mooring in a catamaran is almost certainly easier than the process of dropping anchor, testing its set, and determining swing room. However, the condition of the mooring is almost always unknown, and may not be able to be determined without scuba gear. There could be corrosion or chafe somewhere in the mooring that could part at any time. The condition of the anchor, its shackles, and seizing wire can be easily inspected prior to dropping, and once the anchor is set in the type of seafloor for which it is designed, it is unlikely to fail unless there is a significant change in wind direction. Whether on anchor or a mooring, the best night’s sleep will probably be afforded by a sparsely populated anchorage with no vessels to windward and no vessels and only open sea to leeward.
Approaching Setting Point, Anegada, a mooring field with significant room to anchor on the outside of the moorings. Whether to drop anchor or take a mooring is the skipper’s choice.
Daily Log - Very fastidious skippers may enjoy keeping a daily log of the vessels operations. In particular, noting operational parameters on the first few days can be useful later in the trip. Noting the typical engine and generator coolant temperatures, the oil pressures, etc. early in the cruise may be helpful for reducing uncertainty if, later in the charter, a potential variation catches the eye. Was that water temperature always 205 degrees? What was the battery state of charge after running the generator overnight when we first boarded? Has the port engine's oil been low on the dipstick in every morning's engine room check? It can be very helpful to be able to determine definite answers to those types of question based on the first few day’s logs. At what state of charge did the boat briefer say to recharge the batteries? These types of written notes and logs can be helpful if a change in the vessel’s mechanical health is suspected later.
The last night - The last night can often be more enjoyable for the skipper if the boat is as close as possible to the charter base. For example, anchoring or mooring in a bay adjacent to the base can be a good idea for minimizing the time required underway before checkout. There is always a lot of activity on the last morning as everyone tries to get organized, packed, and off the boat while leaving it reasonably clean. This can be facilitated by keeping the boat as near as possible to the charter base on the last night, especially if there is a spot that is aesthetically pleasing and very close by. If the crew is not particularly organized, it may even be easier to dock at the charter base on the last night to make the departure more enjoyable for everyone.
Hopefully, this series of articles are helpful for those preparing for a bareboat yacht charter. While these articles encourage the reader to make extra efforts in preparation and be aware of the level of stress that can be encountered, a bareboat charter can be one of the most enjoyable experiences that an aspiring yachtie can have. Compared to ownership of a pleasure yacht, a bareboat charter can bring much of the enjoyment that a yacht can provide at a tiny fraction of the cost.
Don’t forget to pack your Swim and Sip floating drink koozie on your Caribbean bareboat trip! A complete packing list will be presented in Part 3 – Bareboat Charter Packing List.