Are you an actively sailing liveaboard cruiser? Are you struggling with the constant money drain that comes with being a boat owner? Would you like to have the potential to make an income cruising AND watch your savings increase rather than depreciate?
If you own your own boat, have a good amount of sailing experience/qualifications and have enough room to take an extra guest (or more) you can create an income source from charging paying guests to experience the cruising lifestyle.
Will people pay to experience your life as a cruiser? YES.
Are people very interested in knowing the in’s and out’s of Bluewater cruising life? YES. Do people want to learn more about sailing, maintaining a boat, provisioning and how to keep a boat operating? YES.
Before I get ahead of myself, if you haven’t heard the term ‘Bluewater cruiser,’ it means someone that is sailing in oceans; so sailing along the coast, island hopping, crossing oceans and/or sailing around the world. It’s not lake sailing or leaving from a marina to return to the same marina. A Bluewater cruiser is someone that lives on their boat and is traveling a small or large part of the world.
Now let me clarify right from the start that this potential income stream is not the normal boat chartering offering.
I’m not talking about putting your boat up for charter so that you can take people on a sailing vacation. What I’m talking about is inviting guests to join you/your family on your boat to experience boat life – the good, bad and even the ugly.
But what’s involved?! Is it worth it? How much money can you make?
My husband Simon, daughter, Sienna (age 9) and I have been offering weeklong live aboard sailing experiences since May of this year. Thus far we’ve had 12 experiences and 25 people join us on Britican. Some of our experiences included a long passage of up to two nights non-stop sailing (Check out Jon & Jennifer’s Experience). Other experiences offered our guests the opportunity to race in a regatta for a week (Watch our video about the Oyster Antigua Regatta). And the bulk of our guests have enjoyed island hoping and witnessing beautiful tropical views, while learning what it takes to become a successful Bluewater cruiser (A good example is the Baker Family experience).
If you think about it, offering experiences to people provides them with a ‘try-the-lifestyle-before-you-buy-it’ opportunity. Additionally, it helps guests to learn what they know, what they don’t know and what they didn’t know they needed to know.
It’s a massive confidence builder too!
For people to get to where they want to go it’s important for them to know where they’re going. Providing actual real-life experience provides guests with the sights, smells, feelings, and so forth to help power the dream to fruition.
Enough about that. Hopefully you see the massive benefit that underpins a bluewater cruising experience. Let’s move onto the big picture as to what’s involved in setting things up to offer such experiences…
GENERAL SETUP FOR BLUEWATER CRUISING EXPERIENCES
Requirements for charging guests to experience your life include the followng:
Your boat – what has to happen to your boat before you can take paying guests?
In order to legally take paying guests aboard your boat you’ll need to get the boat coded. It’s the same process that all boats go through to become a charter boat. There are different levels of coding for different size boats/different intentions but the principle’s are the same. The objective is to ensure the boat is set-up and maintained to a certain high level of standards.
With this step of the process, it’s important to know what it will take to fulfill the requirements necessary to pass the initial inspection. To get approved for charter, there is a huge list of things that need to be fulfilled.
Having the proper safety equipment is just a small section.
When the surveyor comes to look over the boat he or she will look at over 100’s of items telling you where the boat meets the criteria and where it falls short.
For us to become compliant on the safety side of things (alone) it cost us $4,000 USD. That cost included testing our safety raft, life jackets, flares, fire extinguishers and then getting new equipment that was outdated or failed inspection. As a side note, the tests on the safety equipment needs to be performed every year so that’s an ongoing cost.
The paperwork that the surveyor fills in will give you an idea of what’s required to pass inspection but it’s ultimately up to the surveyor to pass a boat or not. Some surveyors are sticklers for some items, like pristine stopcocks (through-hull fittings), and others might focus on other concerns.
It’s not a black and white process by any means.
Furthermore, there are certain metrics that need to be met for a boat to be deemed worthy as a commercial vessel. For example, there needs to be enough drains in the cockpit to empty at a certain rate so if the boat is swamped by a wave it’s likely to be okay. And there is a stability test as to how far over the boat will go before it potentially flips. (I know – it sounds scary!) So…there are various formulas that are applied and measurements that will allow a boat to become coded or not.
What you’ll want to do is find out how much it will cost you for the inspection and to get the necessary work done/equipment serviced/supplied to pass an inspection. If you know that there are other boats like yours doing holiday charters perhaps it would be a good idea to speak to the owner/Captain and see if you can get copy of their coding paperwork.
If there are boats like yours that are in charter fleets that’s a good sign!
We were fortunate in the fact that a previous owner of our boat chartered the boat so Britican had already passed a previous coding inspection.
You – what do you need to do to take paying guests?
There are various ways to get your boat coded. Two big routes are the British system or the American. We went down the British route as our boat home port is London, UK.
For us, doing the British coding system, we were required to have our captain (my husband, Simon) qualified to a RYC Yacht Master status. And he needed a First Mate (me) to support him. My RYC Day Skipper qualification was deemed to be adequate.
In addition to sailing qualifications you also need to have an up-to-date First Aid Certification and a Food Hygiene Certificate.
Before I move on, let me take a slight detour. You and your partner will need to have set qualifications as listed above but more importantly you need to know what you’re doing if you’re going to show people an experience.
I know of many newcomers that set up a Charter business from the start yet they themselves don’t have the skillset, experience and overall confidence to suitably run a boat.
Setting up a Bluewater cursing experience means that you have to have experience. You have to be living the life and not learning the life. Does that make sense?
Becoming a Bluewater cruiser is an insanely overwhelming voyage. There’s so much to learn and experience. Adding a business on top learning the ropes would be nuts. Of course…feel free to prove me wrong 😉
How do you protect your boat and you?
It’s not something you have to do but in order to protect yourself and your boat, but setting up a limited liability company makes good sense. In the UK it cost under $600 to set one up. Depending on where you set up your company will be what kind of tax scheme you’ll fall under. And there’s yearly costs for accounts to be done.
COSTINGS FOR BLUEWATER CRUISING EXPERIENCES
So what are the big cost centers associated to setting up a chartering offering?
The costings for the survey, registration and annual fee’s
Just to give you an idea, the surveyor cost us $2,000 and to register with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency the cost was around $1000. And there was also the cost of having the boat taken out to be inspected on the hard – around $850. All in all the over cost of the survey part, not including what we had to do to get the boat compliant, came to almost $4,000.
What’s important to note is that there are annual fee’s too.
Every other year you need another inspection from a surveyor and that mean pulling the boat out of the water and going through the whole inspection process again. Furthermore, the Maritime Coastguard Agency requests annual fees. Ours are around $250.00 USD
And as mentioned above, the safety equipment needs to be taking off the boat, inspected and anything faulty needs to be replaced every year.
Insurance – what kind of insurance do you need to take paying guests?
For us to get third party liability from our insurance we had to pay and extra $100/month or $1200 for the year. Not all insurance providers will provide insurance for taking paying guests. And many providers have various stipulations – for example, you might have to have a certain amount of sailing experience under your belt.
As a side, if you’re going to operate in hurricane prone areas keep in mind that getting hurricane coverage, whether you have guests or not, can be very costly. Our provider charges 40% above and beyond our normal premium and has near impossible stipulations to comply. Do your homework on insurance costings because they are not insignificant.
Country specific taxes/fees/cruising permits for Commercial Vessels
There are sometimes fee’s/taxes/cruising permit’s for entering certain countries as a commercial vessel. In some cases that fee can be in the $1,000’s.
There is also the tax side of running an business. You can set up a company wherever you want. There are tax free options in various Caribbean countries.
When showing paying guests an experience you’ll be moving around more than the typical cruiser would. Instead of staying in on place for a few days to weeks/months, you’ll need to show your guests different anchorages and moorings.
When on the go you’re more apt to break things. Furthermore, you will be running your systems more and thus the servicing side of things will be required in less time thus increasing costs. It’s just the nature of the beast.
When taking guests you need to consider an increase in food requirements. If you’re operating in the Caribbean, food costs a fortune.
GETTING PAYING GUESTS TO COME ON YOUR BOAT
Above are some of the guests that we’ve had join us over the last several months. But how did we get them? Setting up a Bluewater cruising experience is one thing. Getting people to book an experience is a whole other thing.
If you go down the normal chartering route where it’s more of a vacation rather than an experience you can approach Charter Brokerages to see if they’ll represent you. From what I’ve heard the brokers are very picky and will only take boats that have the highest level of standards and service. And even if the brokers do represent you it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get any level of bookings. Furthermore they take up to a 20% fee in some areas.
We’ve been fortunate in the fact that we’ve created all our bookings from our own database.
Aside from brokers that may or may not sell your service you can do it yourself. To do so you’ll have to have a website, social media accounts, and a marketing plan to get people to know about your offer. This is no small feat.
If you already have a blog, email database, YouTube channel or any social media following you can start advertising your offering through those outlets. When we sent out our first email we were blown away by the response we got. It didn’t take long for us to fill up our calendar and as they say, hit the ground running.
THE SERVICE THAT YOU PROVIDE YOUR GUESTS
When it comes to booking guests there’s quite a few things that are involved.
You’ll need a payment system, a legal contract to protect you and the guests, a calendar of availability, information to send your guests prior to arrival including packing lists (what to bring/not bring), an outline of expectations and perhaps some learning objectives.
Once the guests are on board, then there’s the safety briefing, medical questionnaire, and the Operating Manual and Safety Guide for the boat (a requirement for getting coded). We also have checklists for a variety of tasks that our guests will be required to perform that include engine checks, using the sails, pre-journey and post-journey jobs and so forth.
How you run your charter, or experience, is up to you…
…but the key thing is to discuss with your guests, prior to arrival, what they want to learn/experience/see when they’re with you and then determine how you’re going to fulfill expectations.
To highlight your experiences you can write articles, get guest feedback, create videos and so forth. You want to create a way to attract the right type of people and set expectations as to how you can best be of service – that way everyone ends up happy 🙂
RANDOM, BUT IMPORTANT NOTES
And what about income? How much are we actually making? How are we scheduling things? Has our life changed?
So…we are currently charging $6,000 USD for couples and $4,500 USD for singles to join us for a week long experience. If people ask for longer we just divide by seven and take the day rate and tack on that day rate for however many more days the guest(s) want.
For regattas, we charged $3,000/person per week and take four people. And for singles that book we offer to find another person to join the single so that the cost is reduced to $3,000 each which has worked well.
Have we made a positive income?
Yes, but we’ll only just break even this year. The cost to set up everything was high AND we were in desperate need for some upgrades to the boat. Furthermore, we’ve had some significant breakages. And, let me tell you…food is one of our biggest expenses! People like to eat (and so do we) but it’s not cheap. I think that we’ll have to increase our prices to enable us to make profit but at this point we’re happy to have found an enjoyable way to keep sailing.
Considering we’re a family boat and it’s important to have our own space too, we’ve decided to book no more than two experiences per month with at least five days between each experience.
We did three in a row once and it darn near killed us. Hehehehehehe.
Has our life changed? No…we’ve always taken guests – family, friends, and even people who simply wrote us and asked if they could come out as crew. My family and I are used to having people around. Furthermore, we absolutely love to share our lives with others.
It’s a massive privilege to spend a week with a person, couple or family and really get to know them. We get to know our guests better than their own family knows them. We have light chats, deep chats and everything in-between. In every experience my family and I grow and I hope our guests do too.
What about our nine year old daughter, Sienna?! How is she coping (or shall I say ‘thriving’) with our guests.
Well…Sienna is meeting people from all over the world bringing life lessons, educational lessons and friendships. All our guests have fallen in love with her (it’s hard not too!). Do we have bad days? Yes. Sometimes we don’t find other kids boats during our week-long voyages and she spends too much time on a screen. Sometimes we can’t finish homeschooling because we’re on a schedule.
But overall, it works. Most of the time we get to an anchorage and one of the local boat kid boats comes up and grabs Sienna for a few hours or a sleep over. Sometimes out guests bring kids! And when we’re not doing our experiences Sienna is in a harbor playing with all her friends and catching up on any homeschooling we missed.
WHAT HAVE I MISSED?
So…this is my first article about the big picture around making money by providing liveaboard Bluewater cruising experiences to people. Let me know what you thought. Let me know any questions you have below…And why not come out with us for a week to see how we’re doing it? Get more information on our Britican Experience.
To get an idea as to what the experiences we offer are like, make sure to read/watch A Day In The Life Of Taking Paying Guests.