The yacht, the crew, and you: yacht charter etiquette for smooth sailing

Sep 30, 2016

How exciting! You’ve come up with the perfect way to celebrate an upcoming birthday or holiday – or you’ve just decided a day (or several days!) on the water is the perfect remedy to clear out the mental cobwebs. You’re booking a private yacht charter – because you deserve it!

You’ve done your homework to arrange the perfect day. You’ve worked with a reputable charter broker to find the crème de la crème of luxury sport yachts right for you, calculated the finances and payments, figured out the route and invited your guests. But there is one more preparation step needed to ensure a great trip.

Charter Etiquette 101. Yes, there may be some things you don’t know about how to conduct yourself on a yacht. You may not be used to traveling with crew to take care of your every need, and you may not be used to the yacht environment. Before you depart, it’s best to “get on board” with yacht etiquette that will keep you and your guests happy, make your crew happy, and will create a smooth charter for all.

The Yacht

Treat it well. The luxury rental yacht will be your home for the next few hours or days, depending on your charter. Well, it is not exactly your home…it belongs to an owner, a real person who keeps it in tip top shape for you and who cares if it is kept clean and intact. As soon as you set foot onboard, you will appreciate the gorgeous furnishings, pristinely clean staterooms and that “I’m on vacation” feeling.  Appreciate it. Try not to scratch the furniture or spill your red wine.

Attend safety briefings. And actually listen. The captain and crew are there to serve you, but also to keep you safe. Their pointers on how to disembark, communication and equipment instructions are there for you. You will enjoy your trip more knowing you’ll know what to do “just in case.”

miami-palm island
miami-palm island

Smoking rules…or not. Most luxury yacht owners allow smoking on the exterior levels and decks, but not inside. This is not designed to limit your enjoyment, but these days, these rules are the norm. It will ensure that the next charterer can enjoy a smoke-free environment.

Take off your shoes. If you are attending a party on a rental yacht, or inviting guests to your own party, it might be nice if you let everyone know that once they arrive, you are all going barefoot. Upon boarding, there will be a shoe basket for all of the shoes. This is to protect the carpet and decks from not only sand and dirt but stilettos. (Not to mention that once the cruise begins, the crew doesn’t want you to fall during a big wave.)

Respect the water toys. Jet skis, tenders and water skis – what a blast! Yet with a few key communication rules in place, your experience will be a lot safer. Listen to the crew’s recommendations on navigation, speed, signals, no alcohol rules and more. And respect their decision when it is not the best time or place to use the toys. Sometimes in strong winds and rough seas, it is not safe to use the water toys, and they will advise you of this. Also some toys (like jet skis) can only be used in designated areas. The crew will always do their best to make sure you have a great time, but safety and staying within the law come first.

The Crew

The “route” of way. Have a desire to see a certain site during your yacht rental?  Did you do some navigational research and would like to stop for a swim in a calm, serene cove? Feel free to discuss your route preferences and ideas with the yacht’s crew. Most likely they can accommodate you if they know ahead of time. Or, if it won’t fit into your rental timeframe, they are happy to make suggestions about your route and stops. For a term (multi-day) charter, you’ll be asked to fill out a preference sheet. This lets you list destinations you’d like to visit during your charter. Armed with this, the yacht’s crew will create a perfect itinerary just for you.

Give them their space. The crew is there to serve you, but they need privacy just like you do. Please don’t enter their quarters. The galley is also off limits – after all – you won’t need to worry about cooking, so there’s no need to enter the kitchen! If you are on a term rental, the food is prepared on board by experienced chefs who are proud of their craft and cuisine. Let them delight you.

miami-palm island
miami-palm island

Let them do their work. To keep your luxury charter running like clockwork, the crew does a lot of behind-the-scenes work. They have housekeeping to do, and cooking, and navigating. While you are relaxing in the sun, they are working hard to be sure your dream trip is exactly as you’d hoped. Let them do their work so that you don’t have to lift a finger!

Invite your babysitter. As much as the yacht’s crew will enjoy your children, they are too busy to babysit while you disembark and go shopping or dining. You’ll need to make provisions. Either take your children with you for a family time, or bring a babysitter with you on the charter for when you want some adult time.

Leave them on board. The crew enjoys the charter and having you on board. They will be friendly and knowledgeable. But please don’t expect them to disembark with your party to go explore the port. Be fine leaving them onboard. They will stay and clean up, rest, or plan the next day.

Go to the captain. If you have any questions for the crew, first go to the yacht’s captain. If you have a request, ask the captain first. It’s just the best way for the hierarchy to work, and most likely the best way for your need to be met.

Plan ahead for dinner guests. If you book a day charter, the boat provides soda, water and ice. You may bring your own food, or even stop at a waterfront restaurant for a meal. If you are on an extended rental, your chef has provisioned to prepare meals for only the number of guests that you chartered for. Should you have a great time in town and want to bring your new best friends back on board, bring them for a drink, but please don’t surprise your chef by inviting the new folks to dinner. If you would like to invite them, discuss it with the crew ahead of time so that plans can be made for the best presentation.

And You

Pack in soft luggage. Duffle bags and totes fit the storage cabinets better. They won’t scratch the furniture. And they are typically lighter. Enough said.

Respect the guest count. When you signed the contract with your charter broker, you gave a guest count. For a term charter, the food has been provisioned for this count. The staterooms are prepared based on your guest count. And, the yacht is limited to 13 guests so they do not violate the Coast Guard regulations for a private charter. Do not try to include someone new at the last minute. Plan ahead.


Preference sheets are a good thing! Chartering for several days? You’ll have some paperwork to fill out prior to your term charter and part of it will be called preference sheets. Yes, more to fill out, but the information you log into these sheets will help tailor your luxury charter to you and your guests. You’ll get to specify foods you like or can’t eat, allergies, dietary requirements, food brands, preferred meal times, and more. It’s best to get together with your entire charter party to fill these out, so that everyone’s food preferences will be recorded. There will also be a bar preference list (very important!) and even a kids’ preference section. You’ll be asked to fill out all of your party’s names, ages, addresses and whether or not they are a US citizen. Your flight information will also be requested, as well as your chartering experience, medical conditions and more. Fill these preference sheets out as completely as possible…you’ll be glad you did.

Souvenirs. If you bring souvenirs onboard your rental yacht, be sure the yacht’s crew knows. If you bring shells or driftwood, let crew rinse them off. They’ll be happy to do so to keep the sand out of your stateroom.

Legal only. Bring nothing illegal on board. No drugs, period. You can be arrested on the water, and your crew has every right to turn back around for home and cancel your rental if it is discovered that you have illegal items on board. You are putting their license at risk. Check your contract – disallowed items will be outlined in detail.

Tip correctly. You are expected to tip the yachting industry standard rate, between 10 to 20% of the charter total before tax to your crew, based on your satisfaction, at the end of the charter. It is best (and most easily) handled in cash. You may give it in a lump sum to the captain for distribution or you may hand it around to the entire crew individually.  Please be generous.

Hopefully these charter rental “to do’s” and “to don’ts” were helpful! Of course your goal, and the goals of the crew for you, is total freedom, a wonderful, memorable time, and relaxation during your luxury yacht cruise. You can always trust your charter broker to answer any other questions about your upcoming time on the water. Being aware of and following these etiquette tips will help your charter sail smoothly into the sunset!


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