Chartering Your Own Adventure
The scenic and protected waterways surrounding the San Juan Islands are the most popular charter boat areas in the western United States. Boaters from all over the world fly in to enjoy NW cruising, and a high percentage regularly return to enjoy the astonishing combination of mild weather, idyllic landscapes, wilderness anchorages, and charming waterfront villages. Experienced skippers, appropriately qualified to operate a specific class of vessel, can select from power and sailboats in sizes ranging from small family cruisers to larger yachts with several staterooms. Inexperienced boaters will usually hire a skipper to operate the vessel, and some ultra-luxurious larger vessels are offered only as a fully crewed experience.
While chartering is the most practical means for boaters living outside of the Pacific NW to enjoy our cruising grounds, there are a number of excellent reasons why local boaters might also prefer to charter. Due to hectic schedules or a variety of competing recreational interests, some boaters only use a boat for one or two weeks per year. In such cases, the cost to charter a boat for a family is typically less than the cost to insure, moor, amortize, and maintain an unused boat for even 2-3 months. A local family might find that a center console sportfish boat fits their needs perfectly 50-weeks per year, but a small yacht with more accommodations would be temporarily more appropriate for a San Juan or Gulf Island vacation cruise.
Chartering can be a prudent step for anyone considering a dramatic change in boating styles. Would a long time sailor really be happy switching to a powerboat? Will a boater used to cruising at 20 knots in an express cruiser still enjoy boating at trawler speeds? Would downsizing to a 32-footer be practical? A week on a charter boat could settle these and many similar questions, and be much cheaper than buying the “wrong” boat.
All one really needs to charter a boat in the Pacific NW is an adequate budget and a sense of adventure. Inexperienced boaters can hire a professional skipper. Most charter companies offer training when needed to upgrade a customer’s skills. Some arrangements assign a paid skipper to a boat for 2-3 days of a week long charter, with the intent that the paid skipper will turn the boat over to the charter customer once the customer demonstrates a proficiency with the boat.
Most of the charter companies in the Pacific NW are headquartered in Anacortes or Bellingham, substantially reducing the amount of travel time required to reach the San Juan Islands. Members of the Pacific NW Charter Association include (in alphabetical order):
- ABC Yacht Charters, Anacortes 800-426-2313 www.abcyachtcharters.com
- Anacortes Yacht Charters, Anacortes 800-233-3004 www.ayc.com
- Bellhaven Charters, Bellingham 877-310-9471 www.bellhaven.net
- Bellingham Yachts, Bellingham 360-671-0990 www.bellinghamyachts.com
- Northwest Explorations, Bellingham 800-826-1430 www.nwexplorations.com
- Par Yacht Charters, Bellingham 360-752-5754 www.paryachtcharters.com
- Sailnorthwest Charters, Bellingham 707-245-7490 www.sailnw.com
- San Juan Yachting & Sailing, Bellingham 360-671-4300 www.sanjuanyachting.com
- Windworks Sailing Center, Inc, Seattle 206-784-9386 www.windworkssailing.com