What is bareboat sailing?

There are a few things in life that it’s better to rent than to buy, and a boat is one of them. That’s the appeal of a bareboat sailing vacation: you can charter your own sailing boat for a week very easily and then drop it off where you picked it up. Sail in Caribbean one year, Europe the next – you can’t do that with your own boat unless you literally live on it.
Reach across the open water and feel the power of the wind. The sails vibrate, the lines strain and you’ll bear down on the next headland with the force of a juggernaut.
Bareboat operators usually have huge fleets of vessels, normally all the same make. They are modern, simple, stable and easy to sail – and come in different lengths for different sized parties, from two person to up to 12. For more space, hire a four-berth catamaran – you’ll be amazed at the difference a second hull can make to your saloon. You’ll get an on-familiarisation with your new home at the start of the week. You’ll also get a suggested itinerary and a huge dossier of local information: your bedtime reading sorted for your first night in the marina.
So, you’ve got a boat. But you won’t get anything else. This is where bareboating differs from flotilla sailing. In flotilla sailing you’re looked after by a lead boat who book your berths every night, are on hand to help you moor, give you daily briefings and even provide evening entertainment. In bareboat sailing, you’ll get none of this; you’ll need to be happy planning your own routes, booking your own moorings, and entertaining yourselves. Pick your crew carefully.

Sailing boats will have you living in quite close quarters – tight berths, small indoor space – and of course, it’s not like you can strop off when you’re fed up without getting really wet, so make sure you like everyone you’re with. There are no age limits, so if you’ve got an adventurous brood then bareboat sailing makes a fantastic family vacation. You can get a safety net fitted and have kids in lifejackets clipped on to the guardrail. Children will love manning the helm – steering a massive boat with a single pair of tiny hands is pretty gobsmacking to the average eight year old.

At least one person in your party will need to have an RYA Day Skipper qualification (or an International Certificate of Competence) and your operator will ask you to complete a short form detailing your experience. Some destinations also require skippers to have a VHF radio licence, and some require you to have at least one other person of ‘Competent Crew’ level on board – who can act as First Mate. Alternatively, you can ask to have a skipper on board to accompany you.

The advantages of bareboating over flotilla sailing are the advantages of solo travel over group travel. You’ll be totally free to do as you please. You don’t have to socialise, and you can explore as you see fit. Bareboat sailing is also more intrepid. There’s an expectation that you’ll be a confident sailor, so it’s often run in more difficult sailing areas with more open water, rougher conditions and remote locations.
Travel Team
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What does a bareboat sailing vacation entail?

Bareboat sailing vacations tend to run for a week, starting on turnover day – usually a Saturday. Once you arrive, you’ll be introduced to your boat and given an on-board familiarisation and safety briefing. You’ll be pointed towards the nearest supermarket for provisioning. Buy from smaller, local shops where you can – as it’s usually cheaper, tastier and has a lower carbon footprint. You’ll spend the first night on board in the marina. The next morning is when your vacation begins in earnest. Depart when you like, just after sunrise, or just after brunch. Drop the mooring lines and motor out of the marina. Wave goodbye, you’ll be back in a week.

What you do next is really up to you. Motor in the morning, moor up for a lunchtime swim, wait for the afternoon wind to pick up and go for an exciting sail in open water. Hire scuba equipment or paddle boards from your operator, and crack them out when the water’s flat. Spend more time on land visiting sights – retreating to your floating home when it gets too crowded on the shore. Be playful: swing off the bowsprit on the halyard like Tarzan, or just swing at anchor for an afternoon, enjoying your little pocket of peace.

Bareboat sailing is incredibly freeing, but there are some limitations. You’ll be told about no-go areas in advance. You’re also not permitted to sail at night – so you’ll need to be moored up for the evening one hour before sunset. There are strict rules about where you can anchor, which you’ll need to follow so you don’t accidentally put your anchor through a beloved coral reef system, or park up in a shipping lane. Remember to pay your mooring fees – which help support and protect the destination.
Bareboat sailing gets you back to nature, in touch with the elements, and can be a very responsible way to travel. As you glide close to the coast in national parks, you’re much more likely to see wildlife than if you were on a bigger cruise. In fact, your charter company will often ask you to report dolphin or monk seal sightings at the end of your charter to help local charities monitor their populations. Consider doing the following to keep cruising responsibly: don’t always cook on board. Instead give a few local restaurants your custom, especially if you’re off the usual tourist trail. You were probably getting bored of pesto pasta, anyway and you’ll get to try some local cuisine.

Be diligent about your waste. Have a strict ‘nothing overboard’ policy and stick to reusable water bottles and low-plastic products when you can. Most boats store all water waste – black water and grey water – in tanks, and once those tanks are full, you pump them directly into the sea, so make sure you use environmentally-friendly detergents. Alternatively, you can have your waste pumped out in some marinas – at a cost.

What to bring for a bareboat sailing vacation

If you’re ‘captain’ you’ll need to remember to bring your log book and certificates. If you’re ‘crew’ then you’ll need very little. Sailing gloves are useful but not essential, but non-marking deck shoes are important – they protect your toes from the deck, and the deck from dirty footprints. Take another pair of shoes for exploring on land. Sun protection is vital when you’re on the water. Water reflects UV rays, increasing your exposure and risk of burning. Wear a hat, sunglasses and biodegradable, coral-friendly sun cream. When you’re cruising along in a stiff breeze, it can be hard to tell how hot it really is – and on this note, you might get chilly out to sea, so bring layers. Since you don’t have any evening obligations, you don’t need formal evening attire unless you want to dine out. You might want to bring a pack of cards for the evening, and buy a local tipple for your after-dinner digestif. Pack everything in a soft bag, as it can be difficult to store hard-case suitcases on board.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Yacht Rent] [Intro: vaun0815] [Planning: Cowbell Solo] [What does a bareboat sailing vacation entail?: Keith Yahl]