The Yachtie’s Guide to Etiquette
Ensuring your safety and enjoyment.
Yachtie: A person who sails or owns a yacht.
Etiquette: The customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group.
A yacht vacation is the ultimate relaxing holiday. With sun, sea and 5-star service, it doesn’t get any better. You will experience new rules and etiquette as the nautical way of life as you step on deck. Just follow a few simple guidelines to make your trip as pleasant as possible for everyone.
No matter how large the vessel, the kitchen is called the “galley”, and the bathroom is called the “head”. While no one wants to be bound to “rules” on their vacation, we all appreciate some common courtesy.
When you first arrive, the polite way is to ask permission to board. A friendly “Good morning! May I come aboard?” will go a long way. This rule is as old as the sea itself and still holds today. You wouldn’t enter someone’s home uninvited, so why would you do that at sea?
There’s one thing all yachts have in common: a basket for footwear by the passerelle or gangway or at the main salon entrance when you get on deck. Here street shoes can be deposited until it’s time to go ashore again. High heels can scratch and damage the Teak decking, whereas street shoes can deposit dirt, dust and mud that ruin a yacht’s plush carpets. Aboard the boat, you can go barefoot, wear clean socks, wear a pair of slippers or sometimes clean, specific light-soled shoes. Check with your Charter Broker regarding the yacht’s footwear policy. You can still pack your stilettos or favourite street shoes for when you go ashore; you can’t step onboard wearing them.
It is preferable to take suitable soft-shell luggage easily stored as storage space is limited. Hard-shell luggage could cause damage and is difficult to store.
Your Charter Broker will work with the Captain to create a dream itinerary before your charter. Of course, once onboard, you may decide to follow a different route. If you would like to change course, discuss your wishes with the Captain. The Captain will consider your request, considering the local conditions and prevailing weather. The Captain has the final say as his first responsibility is your safety.
Please follow the strict chain of command on a yacht. Although the crew will always aim to please you, it’s proper etiquette to direct any requests you may have while onboard (apart from drinks orders) to the Captain. If you’re unhappy with something, tell the Captain. A request about the yacht’s interior, such as swapping cabins, laundry instructions or menu changes, should be directed to the Chief Stew. The captain will discuss the day’s itinerary each morning at breakfast. So please use this opportunity to raise any issues to be resolved immediately. Should the Captain not be able to assist, please contact your Charter Broker.
The crew generally consist of a Captain, a stewardess/hostess, a chef and a deckhand. The bigger the yacht, the more pairs of hands will be on deck. The charter guests may request a crew relationship beforehand; this may be informal or discreet (where they remain in the background until asked to perform a service). Treat the crew as you would most valued employees. The crew – from the chef through to the stewardesses – have a hectic schedule. Each one is trained to ensure your holiday exceeds your expectations. Acting dismissive or rude towards the crew may influence the quality and enthusiasm of the service you will receive.
The crew quarters are tiny and separate from the guest spaces, with their own entrance. This is the crew’s private space, and their privacy should be respected. Due to the busy 24-hour schedule of yacht crew, there will almost always be someone asleep in the cabins, and the crew might not be in uniform or set to entertain guests. You’re welcome to request a quick tour of the crew accommodations if you’re interested, but this area is generally off-limits.
Do not try to be polite by helping the crew clear plates or make beds, as they may feel the service they provide is inadequate. They are proud of their jobs, so sit back and enjoy their service. Be kind to the crew and allow them time for housekeeping. You might want to party all night but bear in mind that they have to get up to prepare breakfast at 6:00. They are always busy, so afford them the respect they deserve no matter how friendly they are.
Complete the Preference Sheet provided by your Charter Broker well before the charter to notify the chef of any special dietary requirements or favourite foods and beverages you want to enjoy onboard. The galley (of course, you knew that is the kitchen!) on a yacht is a commercial workspace like a restaurant kitchen, and entry is generally “by invitation only”. The chef is usually hard at work preparing your next delectable feast or cooking for the crew. Give the chef as much advance notice as possible if you plan to skip a meal to eat ashore. Don’t help yourself to anything in the galley without first asking the chef. Most yachts have mini-refrigerators in the guest areas, stocked with your favourite drinks and snacks throughout your stay.
On smaller yachts, like catamarans, the guests and crew generally enjoy a more casual relationship, whereas, on larger yachts, the separation between guests and crew is more formal. Unless there is a special celebration, the crew does not eat with the charter guests. If you want to have the Captain join you for a drink or dinner, don’t hesitate to ask, but don’t be offended if he declines. Operating a yacht is time-consuming and captains will often work at night and rest at unusual hours. If you wish to have a private space, whether the top deck or saloon, ask the Chief Stew, and the crew will honour that. The crew have signed confidentiality agreements, and social media blackouts are in place. So, what happens on the yacht, stays on the yacht.
One of the great joys of going on holiday is seeing new places, and your yacht allows you even more freedom to decide what you want to see. However, don’t expect your crew to accompany you on sightseeing trips. While you enjoy sightseeing or shopping, the interior crew will use that time to ensure you return to a freshly spruced up yacht for you to enjoy on your return. If you spend the day on the beach picking up shells, please give them to a deckhand to rinse before going aboard.
Most charter yachts are equipped with a wide range of tenders and water toys that can provide you with hours of fun in the sun. When anchored, you may find the toys already launched and waiting in the water before waking up. But before you jump onto that Jet Ski and take off, be sure to check with the crew. Local regulations may require a boating safety session before you can use the tenders and toys. It’s essential to be aware that different ports around the world have different rules governing watercraft. Jet Skis are not allowed in some places or licenses are required in others. The water toys vary on the different charter yachts, so if you require a particular toy, please inform your Charter Broker in advance to make the necessary arrangements. For those who wish to obtain a U.S. personal watercraft license in advance, please visit www.boat-ed.com.
Your safety and enjoyment on board is the prime responsibility of the Captain and crew, and they, therefore, view it as a serious matter. The Captain and crew will give you a complete briefing on safety procedures before leaving port. Pay close attention as these rules are in place for your comfort and ultimate safety. Inform a crew member if you’re planning to go for a swim or leave the yacht. Generally, the crew will keep an eye on guests, but if you don’t see anyone around when you’re about to launch off the swim platform, please find someone and inform them of your intentions. The captain and crew want to provide you with the best vacation possible and, within reason, cater to your every wish – but they are also ultimately responsible for your safety and the yacht’s safety. If weather conditions or other safety constraints prevent sailing to a selected area, please don’t argue with the captain. If you have children, make sure they wear lifejackets and are with a supervising adult while the yacht is moving. Also, as an adult, wear a lifejacket if you get seasick while the yacht is in motion.
It is advisable to discuss all financial matters associated with your charter vacation with your Charter Broker before your trip. During your charter, your Captain is responsible for keeping track of all expenses. Should the APA (Advance Provisioning Allowance) run out before the end of the charter, the Captain will approach you to top it up. You may request the Captain to view the financials at any time. Your personal taste and preferences will determine the expenses incurred during a charter. At the end of the charter, the Captain will produce full accounts of all costs, and you will be refunded any surplus.
Note that the fuel costs are also included in the APA. Check your yacht’s fuel consumption with your Charter Broker. For example, a motor yacht with a maximum speed of 30 knots per hour and fuel consumption of 800 litres per hour will perhaps have a more efficient cruising speed at 20 knots per hour, which reduces her fuel consumption to 400 litres per hour. That means you can now travel for three hours, covering 60 nautical miles and only use 1200 litres of diesel. Therefore think twice before asking the Captain to travel to a destination at maximum speed. You might like to take notes of the time and speed travelled during your charter to compare it to the Captain’s notes.
The Little Ones
A yacht vacation is a perfect opportunity to enjoy some family fun, as charter yachts are equipped with the latest toys and games for children. Young children must be under the supervision of an adult at all times. If you’re chartering with children, bear in mind that professional crews are not babysitters. The crew’s average day stretches from long before you wake up to long after you have gone to bed, with many daily tasks to complete. The crew may offer to entertain your children for a set period of time during the charter, but don’t abuse the privilege. Most yacht charter contracts require that a nanny is brought on board for children under a certain age if the adults want to enjoy some time to relax. The crew will happily teach your children water sports and play a few games on board, such as treasure hunts, but won’t be able to assume responsibility for your children if you go ashore for the evening and want to leave the children behind.
Pets are not allowed. If, however, your dog is very small and well trained, your Charter Broker might be able to negotiate an exception.
Smoking is mostly prohibited inside of yachts and only permitted in designated areas, usually outside. A considerate guest will smoke on the downwind side of the yacht.
Be conscious and cautious about marine toilet systems (“heads”) as they are not always flushed or operated in the same way as household toilets. Follow the crew’s instructions on how to use them correctly. Otherwise, you may waste a day at a port in order to fix a broken sewage system. Don’t flush any “baby wipes” or foreign objects. Many yachts also do not allow toilet paper to be flushed. Don’t be concerned as this is normal. Place the used toilet paper in a provided bin lined with a plastic bag, which will be emptied by the crew as soon as you leave the heads. The attentive stewardess will always ensure a hygienic and clean head.
Seasickness or motion sickness is one of the most miserable experiences one can endure, but don’t let this condition stop you. There are numerous remedies available, so please consult your medical doctor beforehand. Refrain from alcohol consumption during cruising and wait until the yacht is back on the mooring before a drink. Most yachts now have stabilisers (both whiles cruising and at anchor) that stop the yacht from rocking. Underway Stabilisers dramatically improve ride comfort while cruising, and Zero Speed Stabilisers are designed to eliminate roll while at rest or anchored significantly. If you are prone to seasickness, please ask your Charter Broker to select a charter yacht with stabilisers.
Please keep the noise levels down if your boat anchors in a quiet bay, sound is amplified on water. Do not throw any litter overboard, and do not discard drinks in the water. When it is time for a meal, treat it similarly to how you usually dine on land. Throw on some light layers over your bathing suit before sitting down for your lunch or dinner. When in harbours, be courteous to neighbouring yachts when socialising on the deck early in the morning or late at night.
There is a zero-tolerance aboard yachts for illegal activities like drug use. The penalty for this kind of behaviour may cause the yacht to be impounded, or the license to be withdrawn. The Captain and crew will therefore report any illegal conduct. This also applies to weapons on board and medical marijuana.
It’s customary for guests to leave the Captain and the crew a gratuity of between ten and twenty per cent of the charter fee, based on your satisfaction with the service rendered. Customarily the gratuity is in cash or wired in advance to the Captain to be divided equally among crew members. Although not always obvious, be assured that all are working very hard to care for your every need.
Remember that you’re on vacation. Try to relax and stay flexible, especially about your itinerary. If weather conditions necessitate a deviation from your original destination, discover the pleasures of a totally unexpected alternative locale. The crew want you to be as comfortable as possible, and you’ll only fully appreciate how amazing the experience is until you totally relax.
Yachting is generally an informal activity, without too much protocol, but keeping these common courtesies in mind should provide an amazing, unforgettable yachting experience.