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Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid on a Yacht Charter Trip

mooring mistake with a single line through the pennant eye

Photo: catamaran with one line to secure to the mooring ball. This method can easily break the line and cast the yacht adrift. 📸 Sean O’Leary

We all make mistakes.

That’s part of becoming a seasoned yacht charter skipper.

But, want to get a head start? Read these and you’ll be ahead of 75% of other skippers.

I also suggest you pick up a copy of the Smarter Charter – lots of good practical chartering advice. I usually give it a scan through as a review before my next trip.

These are my top 10 mistakes to avoid on your yacht charter trip, some of which I’ve had to learn the hard way.

  1. Arriving to your anchorage too late
  2. Entering off-limits, red lined areas
  3. Running a single line through the mooring ball
  4. Not conserving water
  5. Forgetting to pull the dinghy line in when mooring
  6. Ignoring weather reports
  7. Sticking to a planned itinerary
  8. Leaving your fenders out
  9. Letting your engines run unattended
  10. Racing through a mooring field
Cane Garden Bay | Read about an incident below that happened here as the result of arriving too late

Arriving to your anchorage too late

Don’t be that crew that pulls into the mooring field while everyone else is relaxing over a sundowner, or worse, after dark.

Most yacht charter trip contracts require you to be anchored or moored at least 1 hour before sunset.

There is good reason for this.

Arriving before daylight begins to fade allows you to safely navigate through the approach. This matters if you have to pass through a channel and identify the markers (such as Cane Garden Bay or North Sound). Or, you want to be able to see where you are dropping the hook – pick the sandy patch, not the coral.

Additionally it gives you time and the visibility necessary to inspect your mooring ball condition or to dive on the anchor.

What can happen if you arrive to your anchorage too late

Here’s a real world example of what can go wrong from an incident that happened at Cane Garden Bay in 2020:

  • The crew of a Helia 44 arrived after dark, tied off to a mooring ball, and then went ashore for dinner or drinks
  • The mooring ball they tied off to? A private, ill-maintained ball not designed for a 44 foot catamaran. If they had arrived with more daylight, they likely would have noticed it was not a regular ball
  • When they returned on their dinghy, the boat was missing 😮 The yacht had broken loose and went adrift. Somehow no one noticed and it drifted past the reef
  • Luckily, it was later recovered off the north shore of St. Thomas, USVI
  • The crew learned an expensive lesson and had to pay a hefty fee for the recovery

Having a backup plan

Another reason to arrive early? What if your Plan A falls through? What if there are no mooring balls available?

You need enough time to be able to execute your backup, Plan B.

This yacht entered the red lined area between Beef Island and Little Camanoe in the BVIs
Off-limits passage between Little Camanoe and Beef Island
This red lined areas has claimed more charter yachts than anywhere else

Entering off-limits, red lined areas

Red lined, off limits areas present serious hazards to yacht charters.

Reefs, shallow water, and exposure to weather conditions such as north swells, to name a few.

Don’t believe me? Check out Groundings of BVI for some examples of the severe consequences that can result.

It’s simple.

Pay attention during your charter briefing and stay out of areas that are red lined. You can read about the more notorious BVI red lined areas here.

Running a single line through the mooring ball

I see this happen often with beginners.

When tying off to mooring balls, they run one line, through the pennant eye, and then tie it off to the cleat on the other side of the vessel..

This is bad practice.

As the yacht swings on wind and tide, the pennant eye acts like a saw on the line. Eventually it can break it loose, setting your yacht adrift.

Better idea? Run two independent lines, one from each side or pontoon. Secure the lines back to the same cleat on either side.

Check out my charter beginners guide where I posted a video about how to properly pick up a mooring ball.

The consequences of your yacht going adrift? Find out what happened to the Sunsail catamaran Panema.

Not conserving water

Ever heard of a navy shower? 

Or better yet?

We like to bring reef-safe shampoo and take a sea shower off the back of the catamaran. Do your final rinse with fresh water.

Many yachts have water makers these days, but not all of them. Relying on a water maker to work for your whole trip is, well, playing with fire.

It’s no fun needing to pull into a marina to fill up your water tanks when you could be offshore catching fish or lazing on a beach.

Brief the crew: use water sparingly. Don’t take long showers. Do dish washing heavy lifting with sea water if you can.

If your water maker is working and you have just a couple days left with full tanks? Go wild! You are water rich.

Forgetting to pull in the dinghy line when mooring

Yup. I’ve done it.

I’ve wrapped the dinghy line around a prop.

Not a big deal, but I did have to spend 30 minutes diving on the prop to cut loose the line. If this happens you should also inform the charter company since there could be unseen damage to the saildrive.

Just make this one part of your crew’s anchor/mooring routine. 

Have someone responsible for pulling in the dinghy so there is minimal slack in the line, every time.

Virgin Islands NOAA Forecast Zones
NOAA marine forecast zones for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

Ignoring weather reports

On my first trip to the BVIs, I didn’t pay attention to the weather reports at all during the trip.

That was a big mistake.

Luckily, we had the consistent, beautiful BVI trade wind weather that is often present.

But what if a north swell was running? I could have been caught off guard.

Take it a step further beyond the marine forecast printout you’ll receive (sometimes) at your charter briefing. Check the forecast resources everyday. In most charter destinations, cell phone coverage or wifi should be available most days.

If you are sailing during hurricane season, be even more vigilant.

I talk about which resources I use for by bareboat charter trips in my BVI marine weather post.

Dodging squalls on the way to the Dry Tortugas on a bareboat charter trip
A squally day on a recent trip to the Dry Tortugas, the least of the challenges we encountered

Sticking to a planned itinerary

Be. Flexible.

The boat is going to have a maintenance issue.

Someone of the crew might be seasick.

A day or two of thunderstorms and squalls might interrupt your plans.

On my recent yacht charter trip to Key West to the Dry Tortugas, we had a lot of issues to deal with, but we adjusted. That’s part of the territory with yacht charter trips.

  • We had to swap boats after our first day
  • The AC didn’t work in August in South Florida ☀️☀️☀️, so we moved the boat to a better slip for a breeze
  • We added an extra day to the trip so we could make it all the way to the Dry Tortugas
  • Lost a day of exploring in the Dry Tortugas, but it was better than not going at all
  • Lastly, we grabbed a hotel room the last night, well, because of ☀️☀️☀️

One of your jobs as skipper is to create a happy ship. Shake off the disruption, whatever it is, and adjust the trip as needed. Even if it means you have to cut out a favorite stop or destination.

Another good piece of advice? Don’t try to do too much on your first day. Have a short and easy passage. Let the crew get adjusted to the yacht. We also rarely get out of the marina as early as we’d like to.

Leaving your fenders out

Ok. This really isn’t that big of a deal.

But.

There is no better way to identify yourself as a beginner to other yachts 😎. Don’t be that skipper!

Letting your engines run unattended

It might be tempting to charge the batteries in idle while your ashore enjoying a specular meal.

No one likes to hear the engines running.

But seriously, don’t do that. We don’t run any systems – engines, generator, or water maker, when we are not on the yacht.

Here’s an example of what can happen if you don’t take my advice.

Anegada Setting Point anchorage and mooring field
The somewhat crowded mooring field at Setting Point, Anegada

Racing through a mooring field

Don’t try and race another yacht to try and pick up the last first come first serve mooring ball at Cooper Island.

It’s dangerous, and not worth it.

Lots of people, myself included enjoy swimming off the back of the boat and would love it if you don’t run us over 🤝.

Thanks for reading my post about the top 10 mistakes to avoid on a yacht charter trip and making it all the way to the end! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about my favorite BVI anchorages.

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