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Yacht Etiquette for Your Charter Vacation

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As you enter the world of yachting, you will be exposed to etiquette and the nautical way of life. The language, much of which dates back to Nelson’s Navy, takes on a tone of its own. No matter how large the vessel, the kitchen is called the “galley,” for example, and the bathroom is a “head.”  Along with the new terminology are nautical rules referred to as “yacht etiquette.”  While no one wants to hear about “rules” on their holiday, it is best to be aware ahead of time of these simple instructions – such as, “Please remove your shoes” – which quickly become a part of everyday life aboard.


Financial Matters

It is advisable to discuss all financial matters associated with your charter vacation with your Charter Agent before your trip. Meals, beverages, taxes and dockage typically are additional expenses beyond the charter fee. The Advance Provisioning Allowance (APA) helps the boat to stock your favorite food and drink prior to your charter. Typically, expenses are estimated at 30 percent of the base charter rate, although this can vary.

In most circumstances, a 50 percent deposit is required at the time the Charter Agreement is signed, and the balance is due 30 days prior to the start of your charter vacation. The APA and any additional pre-paid expenses also are due at this time.

During your charter, your Captain is responsible for keeping track of all expenses, and for the purchase of any incidentals that should be needed during your time on board. Generally, there is only a slight change between the estimated and actual expenses incurred during a charter; however, your personal taste and preferences will determine the bottom line.

Communicate with Your Captain

Although the whole crew of your charter is there to serve you, it’s proper etiquette to direct any requests you may have while onboard (apart from drink orders, that is) to the Captain, his or her Officer in Charge, or the Chief Steward(ess). A deckhand or second stew may not have the authority to carry out your wishes, so it’s the best policy to go right to the top. If you’d like to make a change to your itinerary or invite newfound friends aboard, the Captain is your man.

Requests pertaining to the boat’s interior, such as swapping stateroom assignments, special laundry instructions or changes to the menu are the province of the Chief Stew. Each yacht is different, so always ask the Captain before “jumping in” to assist the crew with their duties. Remember, you are there to relax!

What’s With the Shoe Basket?

While no two luxury charters are identical, there’s one thing they all have in common: a basket for shoes by the gangway or passerelle. Street shoes can track in dust, dirt, mud, chewing gum and even tar that can ruin a vessel’s custom carpets and other exotic floor coverings (some are woven from pure silk!). Dark-soled shoes and boots can make marks and dents in wood decks and floors, no matter how carefully you tread. So it’s customary for owners and captains to request that guests “leave their shoes at the door,” giving the ladies a chance to show off their pedicures.

This rule puts most guests in the carefree “barefoot” vacation spirit. If your feet feel naked without shoes, however, ask your Charter Agent in advance if it’s okay to bring a pair of clean slippers or soft sandals to wear onboard.

Playing with Toys

Most charter yachts are equipped with a “fleet” of tenders and water toys that can provide you with hours of fun in the sun. When anchored, you may find the toys are already launched and waiting in the water before you even wake up. But before you jump onto that “Jet Ski” and take off, be sure to ask the Captain if it’s okay. And, if you are unfamiliar with the craft, have a crew member give you a thorough orientation first. In some areas, such as Florida waters, local regulations even may require a boating safety session for everyone before they can use the tenders and toys.  For those who wish to pursue U.S. personal watercraft licenses in advance, it can be done via

It’s important to be aware that different ports around the world have different rules governing watercraft. Jet Skis are not allowed in many places, and there are even spots where water-skiing is prohibited. Don’t blame the crew if they have to keep the toys stowed in those ports. There are always plenty of other things to do and see!

Different charter vessels are equipped with different “fleets” of tenders and toys, so if there is a particular water toy you want to play with on your vacation, please inform your Charter Agent in advance so she or he can find a yacht with one on board.  As DJ Parker says, “There is a yacht for everyone, and someone for every yacht. It’s our job, and our pleasure, to match them up.”

Galley Guide

On most yachts, the galley is a commercial workspace much like a restaurant kitchen. Entry is generally “by invitation only.” Not only is the chef usually hard at work preparing for your next fabulous feast, but he or she also may be cooking for the crew.

Having said that, we’ve been on plenty of charters where the chef enjoys welcoming guests into the galley for a tour when he or she has a few minutes to spare. Some vessels even feature a Country Kitchen-style galley with a table where guests can sit and watch the chef at work. Let us know whether you prefer “invisible” food service or you like to watch, and we will match you up with the perfect boat and chef.

If you have any special dietary restrictions, or favorite foods and beverages you want to be sure are stocked on board, the best way to notify your chef is well in advance of the charter on the Preference Sheets provided by your Charter Agent. During your time on board, if you plan to skip a meal or eat ashore, it is most appreciated if you give the chef as much advance notice as possible.

What Is Guest Space vs. Crew Space?

On smaller charters, the guests and crew generally enjoy a more casual relationship, whereas on larger trips, the separation between guests and crewmembers typically is more formal. Unless there is a special celebration, the crew does not eat with the charter guests. Separate sleeping and dining quarters, usually with a separate entrance from the guest accommodations, are the norm, ensuring privacy for everyone aboard the yacht.

Going Ashore

While you enjoy beachcombing, shopping, sightseeing, hiking or water-sports, the interior crew will use that time to ensure you return to a freshly spruced and “fluffed” yacht by making up your cabins, preparing meals and if you desire, creating exotic cocktails for you to enjoy on your return.

If you are spending the day on the beach and just can’t resist picking up some shells or driftwood to keep as souvenirs, please give them to a deckhand to rinse off before going aboard. You’ll enjoy the sand between your toes on the beach better than on the boat!

Tipping the Crew

It’s customary to give your Captain and crew a gratuity at the end of your vacation to reward them for a “job well done.”  The charter industry standard for the crew gratuity is 10 to 20 percent of the charter fee. Of course, the amount is at your discretion, and can be scaled up or down depending on your satisfaction with the service.

Since there may be crew members aboard whom you rarely see but are working equally hard to make your vacation a success, the gratuity is given to the Captain to be split evenly among the crew, unless you specify otherwise. In the latter case, please make the Captain aware of any special services provided to you or your guests by a particular crew member.