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learning to drive a yacht

learning to drive a yacht

Never taken the helm before, but always dreamed of trying? No problem. Some companies will teach you how to become your own charter’s skipper in a week.

Back in the 1980s, the concept of instructional cruises became a serious business idea–and began to catch the attention of the entrepreneurs who owned fleets of bareboats, which are do-it-yourself charter yachts. These businessmen, each of whom had perhaps a dozen or so bareboats available for charter in the Virgin Islands, realized that in addition to their existing clientele of boaters from all over the world, they could appeal to many vacationers who had no boating experience at all. They simply had to teach them the basics of how to cruise.

Think of the concept the way you think of driver’s education. The more that car companies help to fund driving schools, the more drivers there will be and the more cars the companies can ultimately sell.

So it is with instructional yacht charters, which are cruising experiences in which you have a captain onboard teaching you to sail or operate a powerboat. They’re not exactly vacations, per se, though they do combine the vacation element with the instructional goals.

learning to sailSome schools are extremely orderly, with only students allowed onboard, while in other cases, your family can go along for the week and relax while you take lessons at the helm. Many schools will allow couples, families, or groups of friends to learn all at once, thus enhancing your fun and helping you to prepare for bareboating with the same group in the future. At least one bareboat/instructional company, called Sunsail, has land-based resorts where part of the family can enjoy a “regular” vacation while other members of the family take bareboating classes onboard yachts at the resort’s marina.

Instructional charters can be as enjoyable as any other bareboat charter, provided you’re interested in learning as much as you are in sightseeing. You’ll have homework, for instance. It’s nothing like cramming for final exams, but it will cut into your time ashore at night in restaurants and tiki bars. Some of the lessons are done in workbooks while the boat is at anchor, while other lessons are hands-on at the helm, on the boat’s deck, and in the engine room. You aren’t likely to cover as much cruising area as a regular bareboater would, but make no mistake: You will be under way, and you will be acting as the skipper or first mate more often than not.

The whole goal is to help you feel comfortably in control of a yacht so that you can become a repeat client for bareboat companies worldwide.

beautiful beachAs many as 10,000 students are graduating annually from boating schools worldwide. Most of those schools still focus on sailing, though more and more are moving into powerboat instruction, too, as the demand for engine-only bareboats increases. In a lot of cases, if you complete an instructional charter with a bareboat company, you will be entitled to discounts on your bareboat vacations in the future. It’s an added incentive to get you to learn to cruise on your own in the first place.

Nowadays, you can book an instructional charter anywhere from the Chesapeake Bay to Australia to the Caribbean, thus adding scenery to your experience. You can even book women’s-only instructional charters in which you live aboard a yacht for a week and learn from other women at the helm along the way.

Which schools are the best? And which offer good discounts for future bareboat cruise vacations? There are a lot of options, for sure, and some are definitely better than others.

You can learn the right questions to ask from the get-go by reading Dream Cruises: The Insider’s Guide to Private Yacht Charter Vacations, from which this information is adapted.