The check in and check out processes are seen by many as an inconvenience but are really a great chance for you to find out about both your boat and the sailing area, and to check you have everything you need. The check in process is also an important protection for you in agreeing the state of your yacht at the start of the holiday. Agreeing any pre-existing damage or missing equipment at the outset can avoid disputes later.
You may find your yacht supplier is as unenthusiastic as you about checking you in. Turnaround day can be a nightmare for base staff with just a few hours between one group of clients leaving, and the next arriving. At the end of that to have to brief clients is hard work, the more so as many staff have to do it in their second (or third) language. The next morning is little better as they’re keen to get everyone away so they can spend the rest of the day with their families. However, that’s their problem, not yours.
For a Bareboat Charter, you should expect to receive:
- A briefing on your yacht and the location and operation of is equipment. Many yachts will have a manual on board covering much of this but it should be explained too. If you’re not clear about something then ask – the reefing system may be unfamiliar, or the engine start/stop process different to what you’re used to. If you’re not clear about how something works you risk damaging the boat, yourselves or those around you.
- A briefing on the sailing area. I wouldn’t expect a detailed route planning session or details of how to enter each port, but you should yet some tips on good (and bad) places to go. However, you should also find charts and pilot books on board – this part of the briefing is not a substitute for using them!
- An inventory sheet listing the equipment that should be on board and detailing any existing damage. This should be signed by you (with anything missing or damaged marked) before you leave the base and you should get a copy. (One way to do this if the charter company doesn’t provide you with a copy is to take a picture of each page with a mobile phone).
I know of one customer that was given just 5 minutes for his yacht and area briefing by one yacht supplier. At the other extreme, I know of another base manager who will regularly spend at least an hour and who you may have to encourage to get off if you ever want to leave! So you may have to do a little management to ensure you get the best out of it. On the other hand, do remember that the supplier’s team aren’t there to teach you how to sail.
For a skippered or crewed charter, you obviously don’t need to know the full workings of the yacht and working out a route with the skipper can be an ongoing activity. If you’re sharing the yacht with others, you will obviously not be expected to sign off the yacht and inventory. But in both cases, you should have the workings of any equipment you will be using (like the toilets) explained to you.
On a skippered charter, you will still be expected to pay a security deposit so I’d follow the tips on inventory checking below.
If you’re on Flotilla, the process is generally similar to that for Bareboat, though the staff will generally indulge any lack of experience more. They may also be more tolerant of damage and loss.
However, do not take this for granted. Some flotilla operators are using yachts chartered in from Bareboat companies and will have to settle for losses or damage to them, so may well seek recompense from you. Even companies that own their own yachts have to pay for replacement equipment and repairs. As one operator once said to me “it would be nice if all customers understood they’re only hiring the yacht, they’ve not bought it”!
On many flotillas you may have the option of a Yacht Damage Waiver, rather than the traditional refundable type security deposit. Note that thanks to cavalier behaviour by past clients, this often excludes loss of dinghies, outboard engines, anchors and anchor chains.
How seriously you take the inventory check and sign off is up to you, but it is there to protect you and to ensure you have all you need for your trip. It’s usually much easier to replace anything that’s missing before you leave the base than when you’re in an isolated bay.
Most operators won’t bother counting spoons, knives and forks on your return – they haven’t got time. But one or two might. And companies are I think tightening up. With money scarce, operators are fighting for business and the hire prices they’re achieving don’t allow much spare for replacements and repairs.
Indeed a cynic (and I am one) might suggest that one or two companies might be subsidising their prices by damage deductions. I speak as someone who has had a claim for £500 for repair of a 1cm scratch on the hull “right through to the matting” – a bit steep I felt, especially as I wiped the offending “scratch” off with a cloth!
So how can you defend yourself? Well the inventory list defines what was there and what wasn’t. But it can be hard, especially with an older yacht to record all the scrapes and marks in written form. I’d suggest you note just more significant damage, but then take pictures of everything. This is best done whilst the base staff are around if possible – if they had any thoughts of trying it on, they might decide there are easier targets!
Please don’t get me wrong – most yacht operators are very fair chaps and are incredibly tolerant of the treatment their yachts get (and I have seen some dreadful abuse by clients making no effort to look after their boat). But as in all walks of life there are one or two who might succumb to the temptation to take advantage, especially when times are hard. It will only take a few minutes of your time to protect yourself and avoid the risk of unnecessary disputes.
Don’t despair if you do have an accident – even the best skippers suffer a spectacular loss of talent from time to time! Do be sensible and don’t try to ignore or cover up damage; it could jeopardise the yacht or yourselves. If in doubt, let the suppliers know as soon as you can and get it checked out. Not only will your honesty be appreciated but they may need to order parts ready to make good the loss or damage before the next clients arrive.
I once chartered a classic Hillyard, a lovely wooden yacht complete with Bakelite winches. Or at least it was until day 2 when entirely due to an error on our part, we ripped one of the winches off the deck and watched various components disappear overboard. I expected to find myself out of pocket to the tune of several hundred pounds but our entire deposit was returned on condition we promised to pay the bill once the full cost was assessed.
In due course a highly apologetic charter operator broke the news that the total bill, including tax was……£30! Substantially less than the cost of an hours labour at my local garage, never mind the cost of the parts. So there are some good guys out there, but I would still err on the safe side and make sure the check in and out is completely properly.