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An article written by our staff and featured in The Charter Connection

so what equipment failure can be considered reasonable and what is not.

by Ed
August 2007

No bareboat company has a fleet that never breaks down or never has equipment fail, regardless of how much you pay for your charter.

A recent charterer called us from The Tobago Cays, saying that the bareboat companies should be ‘exposed’ because not all equipment works all the time.

‘Exposed’ might be too strong a word, but in essence I agree with her. We have taken great pains in the past, both in our mailed packages and on-line articles, to address this subject. What is reasonable wear and tear on a bareboat and what should you worry about and be compensated for?

The bottom line is that salt air and water, particularly in the tropics, is a hostile environment for anything mechanical or electrical. Maintaining boat equipment in these conditions is quite different from say maintaining a Recreational Vehicle or motor home – which modern bareboats are sometimes compared to.

Our client had had one engine fail. Any engine failure which causes a significant delay to your charter, is absolutely a legitimate cause for dialogue and possible compensation. The charter company reported to us that the engine was repaired and they were on their way.

A few days later we got another call saying they wanted another boat. They had run out of water, because the water tank gauges had not worked. The other major complaint was that the wind direction indicator was erratic, as was one of the tachometers.

While not as convenient, if you know the water gauge is not working, it is a simple matter to look under the bunk cushion and see how much water is in the clear plastic tank. This was how everyone checked their water levels before electrical tank gauges, which always have been inherently untrustworthy pieces of equipment.

The tachometer would have been more of an issue in a single engine installation. We suggested he could set the cruising rpm on one engine and then gauge the correct rpm on the other. Anyone used to two engines knows that the sound ‘oscillates’ when they are running at different rpms. Adjust the speed till the oscillation stops.

The electronic wind direction gauge is a handy gadget, but is certainly not essential for sailing the boat.

In the competitive world of bareboat charter, companies have continued to add more and more electronic equipment and handy gadgets. Just to show how things have changed, our bareboat fleet was the first in The VI to add depth sounders, in 1975. Moorings and CSY had lead lines, but in spite of this, there were fewer accidents as charterers were more careful (and more experienced?). It was many years before other electronic aids were added to the charter fleets. In many ways, companies would be better off limiting some of this equipment, which they know will be giving them trouble, as it gets older. They do however know what sells a boat and prospective charterers are automatically drawn to gadgets when comparing companies. Jack Van Ost’s requirement that his CSY boats could be cleaned below decks with just a hose, really doesn’t work any more!

It is worth noting that since the incredible boom in chartering, there is a whole new category of sailor that has emerged. These people have done virtually all their sailing on charter, often year after year, primarily in The Virgin Islands or Eastern Caribbean. The big difference between this and the sailor who owns his own boat, is that when there is a problem, he calls the charter company who comes out and fixes it. Boat owners who sail offshore know that preparation before they leave the dock is key and that they can almost always count on something unexpected happening. We used to tell our sailing school students that learning to sail is actually fairly simple, but experience comes from experiencing and overcoming all the things that go wrong. How quickly and calmly can you get the sails up when you get a fish trap in your prop on a lee shore with the wind freshening and no chase boat in sight?

The charterer will naturally say, that he is paying for this service, which is of course true. I do however feel that this does not completely absolve charterers from being responsible sailors or for realizing, like their boat owner counterparts, that equipment does break and non-essential items can be overlooked. More than once I have watched charterers not turn around in The BVI to retrieve a fender dropped overboard, because they didn’t have to pay for it.

If no company can guarantee everything works all the time, how do you choose?

Our clients had chartered several years in a row with Company A without a problem, but decided to try the cheaper Company B. They naturally now feel Company B is inferior due to the problems they experienced.

At the same time, we could quote many charterers who have had excellent charters with Company B and decided to splurge on Company A, only to have some problems. They would obviously tell their friends Company B is the best choice. Past experiences naturally influence opinions.

We have booked literally hundreds of charters with both Company A and Company B, and it is true that the more expensive company has marginally fewer problems, but the difference is not nearly as great as most people would expect, considering the savings.

It is also true that some individual boats in a company’s fleet are prone to problems, which we can see from each charterer’s follow-ups, which incidentally are read by every member of our staff. While we cannot guarantee that you will never experience a problem, we can lessen the chances by giving you a much better overall opinion of how each company performs, as well as help you where we can, to negotiate a fair solution with the company when a legitimate problem occurs.

In no way do we wish to imply that our client’s skipper was not experienced or fits into the categories described. He has chartered many times.

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  Ed Hamilton & Company
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