Research routinely suggests that boat owners hardly ever use their boats. You could end up spending £10,000 a year plus the initial cost of buying a boat just to have something quietly floating at the dock for all but a week a year.
Is there any point in learning to sail? Of course there is! You can sail anywhere you like with a sailing qualification, and pay for a boat on a charter ‘rental’ basis!
Yacht charter companies around the world recognize all the major sailing qualifications. You may have an ASA, RYA, CanSail or other sailing qualification and will be able to book a week or two afloat a year.
Charter companies operate in almost every major sailing hotspot around the world. You may wish to cruise the Caribbean or Ionian, or join a flotilla on the Med – it is up to you.
If you owned your own boat and wanted to sail in the Caribbean one year before the Aegean the next, this would cost thousands of dollars to manage. Instead you can just book a holiday with Sunsail or any other charter company, and use their vessels that are already in your destination of choice.
There are two forms of chartering – the bareboat and the flotilla schemes.
As the name ‘flotilla charter’ suggests, this means that you will sail as a fleet from A-B every day. For the sociable types who enjoy package holidays, or those who need to get more confidence sailing, this might be all you need.
The conditions of the charter agreement will limit you some – you won’t always be able to do night passages and may have to moor in a marina overnight – but you will largely be free to go where you choose.
Don’t expect to find a welcoming, empty and clean marina every night as this just won’t happen in places such as Greece, Italy and France during peak season!
You will have a greater range and won’t be sailing at the speed of the slowest (or drunkest) boat in the fleet.
There is a company called Crewseekers based in the UK that links up crews with skippers. Skippers don’t charge but you may have to pay for some of the food and fuel expenses. The qualifications you need depends on what the skipper may think necessary.
As I have written before you may be an extremely experienced Day Skipper or an incompetent Yachtmaster – qualifications can say very little about your skills and abilities – it is largely down to what you can do and what you have done. Some boat owners may be after a very experienced ocean going skipper to get them across a tricky ocean passage, but some want to have a fun couple of weeks and don’t have the crew to get their boats where they want.
There are a growing number of sailing companies such as Italy based Sailsquare that link up skippers with crew, and the crew pays the skipper to go out sailing. This is a middle ground between Crewseekers and Sunsail.
You could pay someone €500 to go sailing with them on the Adriatic for a week, on waters known to them. This is a commercial agreement though so they cannot train you towards any new sailing qualifications.
The skipper will dictate the level of sailing experience you need before going sailing with them.
Some boat owners go racing every weekend and may need someone from the club to go sailing with. Make contact with your local sailing club to see what the scheme is.
During my Master’s Degree in Falmouth, Cornwall, I used to turn up on a Sunday morning an hour or so before the race and I’d never end up staying on the dock! For my part I ended up on one of the best boats on the fleet twice a week throughout the summer.
For this sort of sailing there is no need for any sailing qualification whatsoever. It is ideal for those who just want to get some experience, and as long as you’re safe and do as you’re asked with a bit of enthusiasm then you could well end up meeting new people and getting into the local sailing scene.
This isn’t specific to the UK either – I’ve crewed in Boston, Massachusetts, New York City, and Racine in Michigan as well as Roses in Catalonia.
To begin your sailing career you should start club sailing before doing formal sailing qualifications. Then, with some basic sailing qualifications you can flotilla charter or crew with Crewseekers/Sailsquare and build up from there to bareboat chartering.
It may cost a few pennies to get up the ladder, but certainly less than £10,000 a year in owning and maintaining your own boat!