This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

If you are one of this blog’s readers, is highly probable that you like sailing, and it is even more probable that you think a sailing holiday is the one that best suits you, is in tune with your spirit and regenerates your body.

For me, that’s the way it is.

However, not everyone is so lucky to own a boat, nor feels like to move to the next level i.e. from boating enthusiast to ship owner. Let’s say the truth: owning a boat entails a substantial physical, mental and economic effort and there may be many reasons for not aspiring to this privileged position. Or, at some time in their life, people simply give up.

Yet this is not a good reason to stop sailing and give up sailing holidays. There are alternatives and they are not necessarily to be considered second-best opportunities.

As you can infer from the title, today we are not talking about the lucky chance to be invited to take part to a cruise by a friend (maybe we could talk about it in an another blog post, making some consideration on the “bon ton” and the unwritten rules to follow in these occasions). We are talking about “boat rental”, be just a cabin or the whole boat. Whether will it be you the one steering or an expert.

First of all, clear definitions are important. It is not by accident that some lines above I wrote boat rental between quotation marks. Using someone else’s vessel is called charter or rental depending on the conditions.

The legislation is clear: we talk about charter when in the existing contract, one of the two parties (ship owner) undertakes, against remuneration, to put a pleasure boat at the disposal of the other party (charter) for a certain period of time for recreational purpose in marine or inland waters, under the conditions laid down in the contract.

Otherwise, when neither the ship owner, nor his delegate take part to the sailing, we’re talking about rental. In this case, one of the two parties (lessor) undertakes, in exchange for compensation, to cede the enjoyment of the pleasure boat to the other party (boat master), for a certain period of time.

The boat master has command of the boat and assumes all responsibilities and risks associated with its use. The new Code mentions the commercial activities of vessels, with a national minimal regulation (previously totally delegated to local harbour master’s offices). Based on this regulation, a licence is required to rent a boat and instructions codified by the Ministry of Transport must be provided for the boats rented.

Finally, the Boating Code has introduced the occasional chartering of pleasure boats, usually between private owners. The reform of the Code, which entered into force on 13th February 2018, has stated that this possibility is restricted to Italian-flagged vessels. Under that scheme, only Italian owners or Italian owning-companies can take advantage of this possibility – provided that boat chartering and rental are not in the company’s object – with a time limit of 42 days a year. A boat licence is required to drive the boat. Third parties can be entrusted with boat driving, provided they have a boat licence. The professional title is required in case of recreational boats.

If the crew is employed by the ship owner, a filing needs to be made with the Italian National Institute for Social Security and with the National Institute for Insurance against Labor Accidents.

The legislative framework is quite clear at least as far as boats are concerned, however somewhat less as regards the professional title requested to the rental customer (in case of boat rental). The word skipper, universally and wrongly used, does not actually refer to any professional title – at least in Italy. In fact, getting a boat licence is just the first step. The captain of a boat for rental is, as a matter of fact, a rental customer of recreational boats for rental service within maritime and inland waters [conduttore per le imbarcazioni da diporto adibite al noleggio per le acque marittime ed interne as stated in Art. 10 of Italian Law N. 647/1996]. This professional title is regulated under the relevant standard. Specific theoretical and practical requirements must be fulfilled by the candidates. They also have to pass an exam at the harbour master’s office.

There are also unclear situations e.g. when private-owned boats or boats managed by sport clubs and driven by a partner who accepts to work “for free” offer cruise courses or regattas to revenue passengers. Why these are blurred positions that probably deserve to be looked into further is quite clear to me.

Now that – hopefully – the legislative and contractual framework is clear, let’s move to some practical issues such as some tips to charter (or rent) a boat successfully and without any troubles.

First of all: where to charter a boat? How to choose the right boat?

No matter how obvious it may sound, the first point to think about is the place where your journey starts. The less experienced travellers may fall into the error of confusing the itinerary with the place of departure. It must be assumed that you may not find a boat to charter in one of the Aeolian Islands or in one of the Cinque Terre villages you are going to visit. So, the recommended place of departure for a boat holiday to the Aeolian Islands is no doubt Portorosa, near Milazzo, the same as La Spezia for a boat holiday to Cinque Terre and Salerno for a holiday to Amalfi Coast. Also remind that the same destination can be reached from different ports, thus increasing the number of possible boats available for charter. Of course the choice of the port of departure shall be subject to objective considerations concerning the distance from the main destination of the holiday (i.e. how many miles there are from departure to destination), time available and charter offers.

Skipper or not skipper? To sail, is required a boat licence qualified to drive boats within 12 miles based on the itinerary of the cruise. Charter companies offer skippered boats where a professional skipper is responsible both for sailing, mooring and in general for the safety of the ship and the integrity of the passengers on board. Many prefer to rent a skippered boat even if they have a boat licence themselves. Why? Because a skipper may turn your cruise into a unique experience. Don’t hesitate to ask him to take part in complicated on board manoeuvres, share with you his experience at sea or know more about the history of your navigation area. Of course your confidence in sailing the boat (refuelling, food-stocks, mooring, etc.) plays a role in taking this decision. It’s also important to keep in mind that hiring a skipper is an extra cost in the budget (and an extra berth occupied), but in many cases worthwhile.

I would like to say a few words about the deposit as not everyone knows that this is due to charter a boat. It shall be paid to the ship owner on delivery of the boat and refunded without deductions provided the boat is returned undamaged and in time. It is the same as when hiring a car, however, it can amount to a few thousand euros as the applicable rates refer to the value of the boat.

Don’t forget to carefully consider how many cabins or, more generally, how many berths are needed. Usually a boat is rented for a family or a group of friends. Having to be in close contact with one another, choose your cruise-mates carefully and think about their accommodation. How many single cabins, double beds, bunk beds are needed? Check and make sure everything corresponds to the passengers’ needs. The dinette can host extra beds, one of these, why not, for the skipper.

Of course, being accommodated in the dinette is slightly less comfortable than in a cabin. And even privacy is poorer. This will be taken into consideration during berth assignment and maybe also cost sharing. When you rent a boat, see if the dinette can host one or more beds.

So what are the main points for choosing the right boat for you? Contractual terms and standards are important, as well as the port of departure and boat accommodation. However, reliability comes first.

In no case you would like to interrupt your cruise for a broken down or damaged boat. Nor the passengers’ safety can be put at risk by an unreliable boat or poor maintenance. You need to open your eyes and make in-depth assessments. Recently-built boats are of course more expensive but they are surely more reliable. There are many parameters to be taken into consideration such as outfitting, ship owners, service and maintenance offered to customers. Bear these factors in mind also to decide weather the asking price is fair and reasonable.

Finally, my personal tip is: don’t plan everything. You should, of course, make a list of the places you want to visit, but, once on board, consult the weather, the wind, your feelings and expectations and decide on the spot!

So, let’s cast off the moorings, fair wind to everybody and see you at sea!

Renzo Crovo