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5 Tips For Choosing Between Power and Sail When Bareboat Chartering

by Zuzana Prochazka

If you’re planning a bareboat charter vacation with your family and friends, first consider what kind of boat will make most sense for your group, destination, and budget.

Consider the Cruising Grounds and Weather
Powerboats and sailboats do different things well, so each lends itself to a different kind of cruising. Sunny, tropical destinations with trade winds will be ideal for a sailing cruise. In the U.S. Pacific Northwest, however, the winds are light and fluky, and fog with drizzle is frequent, so a powerboat may be a better choice. Destinations with multiple anchorages close together can be reached by sailboats that travel at six to seven knots, while cruising grounds with far-flung destinations and anchorages may be better covered in a powerboat that can cruise at 20 knots.

Another consideration is draft. In areas with shallow water, sailboats can be limited by their draft and may not be able to get into every anchorage and hidey-hole, while powerboats often draw much less and have better access to skinny water. Finally, if you’ll be going dock-to-dock with nightly tie-ups in marinas with shore power, a powerboat may be just the ticket, whereas remote anchorages will be easier in a sailboat with a propane stove (and generally is less power hungry and more self-sustaining).

A photo of charterboats resting at anchor.

Catamaran sailboats offer great stability and comfort for folks who may either be uncomfortable with sailing, or prone to seasickness.

Consider Your Crew
The age, knowledge, interests, and skill level of your crew will be key in choosing a vessel type. Older people and young children may have more trouble climbing up onto a sailboat from a dinghy than onto the swim platform of a powerboat. Also, if you have people who need to stay out of the elements (for example, individuals with sun sensitivities) the larger, more covered living space of a powerboat will be easier for everyone. Maybe one or more of your crew is prone to seasickness. If so, it’s likely they will feel worse on a heeling sailboat than on a rocking powerboat. Finally, if your crew doesn’t know how to sail or shows no interest in managing sails and winches, a powerboat may be more their speed.

Consider Other Forms of Entertainment

A photo of a small center-console boat.

Center-console powerboats, such as this one pictured in the tropics, can be an ideal way to cover more ground, or have fun with water skiing, wake boarding, or tubing.

Sailing is inherently fun for many, but sometimes entertaining others can be more challenging on a boat under sail. If your group wants to go fishing, for example, few anglers will be satisfied with the speed and deck space a sailboat provides. Also, small- and mid-sized powerboats that plane can be used for wake boarding or tubing, so they offer alternate sources of entertainment, especially for kids.

Consider Which is More Plentiful
Bareboat chartering began as a sailing culture, so charter bases offering sailboats are more prevalent everywhere in the world. That said, there are many destinations that offer powerboat choices, such as Marine Max in the British Virgin Islands; Anacortes Yacht Charter in the San Juan Islands; and various sportfishing charters in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Small, center-console fishing boats are available for day and weekend charters just about everywhere there’s a body of water to use them on.

A photo of a catamaran sailboat and a monohull sailboat.

Choosing between a monohull sailboat and a sailing catamaran can make the difference between a fun vacation and a miserable one for many charterers.

Consider the Cost
There are many variables that influence the cost of a bareboat charter including the destination; the size and age of the boat; and the amount and variety of amenities aboard. Pure supply and demand dictates that comparable sailboats tend to be slightly less expensive because there are so many available. Also, sailboats tend to use less fuel, the cost of which is generally not included in your charter fee.

If you’re set on sailing, some of the issues above can be addressed by considering a sailing catamaran rather than a monohull. Cats are more stable; have more room; are kinder to folks with mal de mer; can be boarded from the water more easily; and generally have a shallower draft for skinny-water cruising. They are, however, more expensive to charter than monohull sailboats. Success lies in considering all the variables so you can maximize the fun elements of the vacation for everyone aboard.

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