Controlling and Navigating Your Bareboat Charter: Essential Tips for First-Timers

There is nothing quite like skimming atop the ocean waves with the sun at your back and the refreshing breeze on your face. It is no exaggeration to say that it has changed people’s lives as they become besotted with all things nautical and make sacrifices in other areas to pursue their dreams and passions. We understand this feeling all too well. 

Being in complete control of the vessel and deciding where it goes and when brings excitement and adventure. However, there are also other serious considerations, such as additional complexity and danger. This is especially true for inexperienced seafarers, so the team at Isabella Yachts in Phuket has put a selection of tips, suggestions, and essential aspects of any bareboat charter. 

Sailing courses and instruction

Requirements will vary depending on the location of your charter, but it is responsible to take a sailing course before embarking on any journey where you will be in control of the vessel. Charter companies should be able to offer refresher sessions, and your enjoyment of the experience will be all the more significant if you feel confident and capable of handling the yacht. You might expect to learn the following:

  • Sailing terminology and theory
  • Standard equipment and technology
  • Crew and land communication
  • Knots and distances 
  • Traffic rules and docking 
  • Safety and overboard recovery

Choose a yacht you can handle

A successful charter can only be accomplished if you choose the right yacht. Your charter company will assist in gauging your experience levels and help you select a suitable vessel. Factors to consider include:

  • The size of your group
  • Your sailing experience 
  • Preferred onboard amenities
  • Intended route and activities 

Coordinating with your charter company ensures the yacht meets your requirements and is befitting of your skills and experience. At Isabella Yachts, we provide all the assistance and resources required to provide clients with the perfect match every time. 

Other considerations and essential preparation

  • Plan your route and itinerary.
  • Research the weather conditions on your route.
  • Spend time familiarising yourself with the vessel.
  • Pack carefully: Remember there is limited storage onboard. Do not forget practical items like hats, towels, footwear, and layers of clothing suitable for the changing temperatures and conditions of the maritime environment. 
  • Bring required medications, toiletries, and sunscreen.
  • Remember your documents.


Plan the provisions you will carry carefully. Stock up on water and emergency foodstuffs to cover your needs in a worst-case scenario. Note the location of places to re-stock along your route.

Establish communication protocols

Before you set sail, establish communication protocols and times with your charter company. Ensure the VHF radio is functioning correctly and you have a backup means of communication, like a satellite phone, which can be a lifesaver in emergencies. Finally, always share your intended route and itinerary with someone on land before leaving. 

Basic controls 

Depending on the type of yacht you charter, manoeuvring involves turning a wheel as you would with a motor vehicle or using a tiller. This long lever is attached to the rudder in the water and controls the vessel’s direction. Tillers and rudders are most commonly found on smaller power boats and sailing vessels, and this combination is the simplest way to control the direction of any waterborne vessel.

Other elements of sailing, such as the position of the sails, affect the direction of travel, but this is not the place for an in-depth analysis of the mechanics of sailing. Suffice it to say that if you are inexperienced in handling vessels on open water, a sailing yacht is not something you should consider the first time around. 

Navigation equipment

Most well-equipped vessels will have a GPS chart plotter, especially if they are frequently chartered on a bareboat basis. Chart plotters accurately show the yacht’s position, course, and speed. Essentially a marine satnav, these devices make navigation a cinch and take the pressure off anybody plotting a course, especially if that person is also handling the vessel. 

Knots and nautical miles per hour

First developed in the 16th Century, the term ‘knot’ (kn) referred to actual knots tied in a rope at regular intervals. This rope was let out behind the vessel, and its speed could be determined. As ingenious as it was practical and effective, you will still hear experienced sailors talk about their speed in knots, although more modern measurements now exist. The following speeds are all equal:

  • 1 knot 
  • 1 nautical mile per hour
  • 1.852 km/h 

Based on the time it takes to cover an exact percentage of the Earth’s circumference, these alternative measurements are still the standard, as they are universally recognised and aid global navigation.

Judging distance, time, and speed

Sophisticated onboard technology should estimate how long it will take to reach your destination. However, it is seldom wise to rely solely on devices, and it always helps to understand the old ways. Provided you know the distance (you should have nautical maps as a backup for your technological systems) and the maximum speed of your vessel, the following equations should come in useful:

  • Distance = speed x time
  • Time = distance/speed
  • Speed = distance/time

Navigation tips

First and foremost, safety should be your main priority when navigating your vessel anywhere. Listen carefully to any advice from your charter company about shallow areas and submerged sandbanks, rocks, and coral. Local fishermen and other recreational sailing enthusiasts are also a mine of useful information if you are heading into unfamiliar waters. Again, your onboard equipment should be immensely useful in keeping you away from hazards, with physical maps and charts as backups. Some things to remember include:

  • Line-of-sight navigation is most easily done by lining up prominent features such as islands or headlands.
  • Submerged coral is dangerous to your vessel, incredibly fragile, and already under threat in many ways. Avoid dropping your anchor anywhere near precious ecosystems and behave responsibly and respectfully towards the environment that gives you so much enjoyment and adventure. 

Isabella Yachts Phuket

Create memories that will never fade when you organise a yacht charter and immerse yourself in the sense of adventure, freedom, and beauty that only the open seas can provide. If you want to learn more about Isabella Yachts Phuket and our vessels and services, please contact us today. Our courteous, experienced charter specialists will give you all the information, advice, and guidance you need to embark on the journey of a lifetime. 

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