How to charter a sailboat cheaper through owner’s time

With a little trust and communication, there is a cheaper way to charter a sailboat than just going through one of the major charter boat companies. It can be cheaper to buy “owner’s time” – the weeks of the year that the owner of a boat gets to enjoy their boat in charter.

Most sailboat rentals (i.e. charters) are set up in the BVI so individuals rent from charter companies. You go down for a week and you rent a boat from CYOA, Sunsail or TMM.

However, all the boats that those companies have are actually owned by individuals, not the charter company. Individuals buy the boats and put them with a charter company. The charter company takes care of the boat and rents it out. The owner gets a monthly payout and gets a certain number of reserved weeks a year. The payout may be fixed or it may depend on how many times the boat was rented out that month.

Often, if owners can’t use all their reserved weeks, their “owners’ time”, they resell them. Often for much cheaper than the regular fee, especially if it’s last minute. Owners often also act like their own agents, and push to get their boat rented out to increase their payout.

How good of a deal can you get?

You could get up to 50% off on a last minute charter. However, in most cases you’ll probably get closer to 20% off.

Where do you find owner’s time?

Some places to look:

  1. SailOnline. Owners list what they have available along with an email address and phone number. There’s no way to vouch for people or interact with them on the website, so you’ll have to do all of the vetting and communication. And they are not all experts in renting their time either. I went back and forth with one person over email probably about 20 times. Only to discover on the 20th email that he could not verify the dates I had asked for for another 6 months! Note that “World’s Leading Charter Company” means Moorings as Moorings does not allow people to use the Moorings’ name when advertising their owner’s time. They do allow owners’ time to be sold.
  2. Forums. Online forums for sailing often have sections for things like this, like the classifieds on Traveltalkonline.
  3. Owners’ website. Owners sometimes also make websites of their own, like Sail Orion. (In full disclosure, we’ve just chartered Sail Orion through her owner for a trip in November. We’ll let you know how it goes!)

How can you tell if it’s genuine?

There is some level of trust that has to happen to rent directly from an owner. In most cases, you will send your payment to the owner, so you need to make sure you establish trust.

You can:

  • Keep track of all correspondence, including the amount that you agreed to and all payments.
  • Make sure you get a booking number for the charter company and verify that. The actual booking should be in your name.
  • You can call the charter company and verify that said person is an owner.
  • When I booked Sail Orion, I had to fill out the sailing resume on the TMM website. The owner of the boat then emailed me the resume, so I knew he had to be working with TMM! :)
  • Verify the person as much as you can. You don’t need to run a background report but if you have any doubts, do a search on the internet, ask for references, etc..
  • Send only half the money up front. The other half of the money should be due 45-90 days before you sail.
  • Ask for references.

Any other experiences with owners’ time?