Marine News from the Great Lakes

Chartering During a Pandemic

Published: Friday, September 4, 2020

I just had my brain swabbed, or at least that’s how it felt. I had a COVID-19 test done in order to be able to travel to the Bahamas to charter in the Exumas with Dream Yacht Charter (DYC). The good news is that I tested negative. The bad news is that my form, which I have to submit to get my Bahamian health visa, looks like I did it myself in a Word doc. I’ve uploaded my measly paperwork and am waiting to see if it’s accepted.

Chartering during a pandemic is new waters and they’re murky. As governments search for ways to contain the virus, rules are inconsistent, testing facilities are few, and commonsense enforcement is hard to come by. Everyone, it seems, is blindly forging ahead and it leaves the traveler perplexed.

I’m chartering partly because it’s my job, partly because I’m about to lose my mind in my house, and partly because life goes on and, with proper precautions, we need to live it. My greatest fear at the moment is not being approved for entry. I really have no fear of getting on a boat and enjoying the sunny isles of the Exuma chain even if it’s the early part of hurricane season (but I’m watching the weather closely).

As of press time, the availability of bareboat and crewed charters this fall and winter is promising. More islands are opening so as the Great Lakes shut down postseason, warmer climes promise a much-needed escape. Although no charter was done in the Med, Caribbean, or South Pacific during March, April and May, by June, some places loosened up. The situation changes daily and international air travel is still a guessing game, but here are some updates that may ease your mind and coax your imagination toward swaying palm trees and azul waters.

Since they’re on my mind, I’ll start with the Bahamas. On July 22, the Bahamas closed their borders to commercial flights and vessels from the US. Private flights and charters are still permitted from the US. They require the completion of the above-mentioned online health visa application, a temperature taking upon arrival at the airport, masks, and a negative COVID test taken no earlier than 10 days prior to entry into the country.

The British Virgin Islands closed, as did most other Caribbean islands, in serious lockdown in March. The BVI reopened for residents in June but general tourism will have to wait until September. That won’t help boaters much since many charter companies close during that month and sometimes halfway into October to anticipate named storms.

Grenada opens mid-August for tourists from Canada, UK, and some EU countries but not the US due to our rising case numbers and poor track record on wearing masks. Meanwhile, Moorings is opening their St. Lucia and St. Martin bases August 1 and October 1 respectively. (St. Lucia currently requires a COVID-19 test within seven days.) Sunsail is steering US customers to the Bahamas and Tahiti rather than the Med and given that no EU country will have us at this time, that’s kind of a moot point. (Tahiti makes things particularly difficult since you must have a negative COVID-19 test within three days of arrival and then retest four days after entry, so I’d leave the bucket list cruise in French Polynesia for another year.)

The US Virgin Islands including St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix weren’t closed for long. In fact, they opened for tourism on June 1 with no tests needed. CYOA and Virgin Island Yacht Charters are offering boats in St. Thomas. With a negative COVID test, Americans can also travel to the Spanish Virgins starting in Puerto Rico.

Croatia and Greece opened this summer with DYC, Navigare, and Moorings specifically serving customers who could drive to the bases. Hopefully by late spring 2021, Americans will be able to partake by flying in.

If going out of the country seems like a bridge too far, consider an autumn charter in the US. DYC’s Annapolis base is open in the Chesapeake and Anacortes Yacht Charters says that San Juan County is also open, so an October charter may still be possible so long as you don’t venture into Canada.

You don’t have to sail to charter. Moorings, Marine Max Vacations, and DYC offer powercats too. In fact, you’ll be able to do a crewed charter on the brand new Aquila 54 powercat with Marine Max in the BVI starting January 2021.

As this is a snapshot in time, I can say that charter companies are reporting an uptick in interest and schedules are filling up for the Caribbean. Also, if you want to sail to Dubrovnik in Croatia or Mykonos in Greece in the summer of 2021, you should consider locking in a date quickly because, in addition to the normal summer demand, there will be this year’s re-bookings to accommodate and that will cut into available boat inventory.

This could all change by our publication date so be sure to check entry requirements before making plans and travel insurance may be a good option. If all this sounds way too sketchy, you can still prolong your boating season by trailering your boat south or west. Lake Powell can be lovely in November. Also, if a greater adventure is on your mind, this may be the perfect time to do the Great Loop and never really leave US shores.

However possible, I personally plan to stay on the water as much as I can in 2020 and beyond.

About the Author

Zuzana is a freelance writer and photographer with regular contributions to over 18 sailing and power boating publications. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana is the founder of a flotilla charter company called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations around the world.

Zuzana serves as an international presenter on charter destinations, safety issues, and technical topics, and she's the Chair of the New Product Awards committee for innovative boats and new gear. She is a member of the American Society of Authors and Journalists and a board member of Boating Writers International.

This article first appeared in the Fall Issue (Sep/Oct) 2020 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Beyond the Lakes, Caribbean Islands, Charters, COVID-19, Travel

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