Originally published in SAILING Magazine   April 2015


Make the most of charter briefing

2015 April 1




Paying attention, asking questions sets the stage for a smooth and successful charter



While you are in the cockpit you will be shown the sheets and halyards. Make sure you walk up to the mast and remove the sail cover to have a look at the reefing system. Often on charter boats the reef lines are not run correctly, so be sure to actually start to reef, to make sure all lines are in their proper place. The reefing system is typically not looked at when a boat is turned over from one charterer to the next. 

This is also a good time to ask about the sailplan for your boat. Your first mate should draw up a chart showing at what wind speeds you reef the jib, the main, go to the second reef, go to bare poles, etc. This chart is especially important if your boat is equipped with double and triple reef points. At some point, check that the mainsail has all its battens and that they are all in one piece before you leave the dock. This is another item that is difficult for a charter company to check in between charters but it can be very annoying to deal with for a week or more. 


Where to go 

Even if you did your homework and made a detailed itinerary before your trip, pay close attention to the routing advice provided by the person giving the chart briefing. He or she can share tips no guidebook can tell you like can’t-miss restaurants and hidden beaches and how to get to them. Share your plans and make sure to get any special local knowledge needed to enter harbors and be flexible enough to change your itinerary if needed. 

This is also the time to make sure you understand how the chartplotter works and where a chartbook or paper charts of the area are located.


When you are shown the anchor, ask to lower it to the bottom during your briefing. This has saved me on several occasions; once when it was discovered that the 15 feet of chain was attached to the rope rode with a large knot that would not go through the hawse pipe. Another time, when we lowered the anchor during a charter briefing it was discovered that the chain had rusted together in a big seized-up clump in a pool of saltwater, since the scuppers were clogged with flakes of rust chips. 

When you lower the anchor into the water, check that the bitter end is attached to the boat. Now is a good time to measure out the rode on the dock, and mark with cable ties if necessary. Also make sure to ask about the location of the anchor windlass breaker.

Down below 

Every boat is laid out differently so make sure to ask about the location of anything you think you might need. 

Start with the water tanks. Locate the water tank switch and check the capacity of the tanks. Double check that the tanks are topped off before you leave. 

Find out about proper operation of the stove, starting with the location of the stove solenoid and the propane tank. It is a good practice to bleed the propane lines after every use by turning off the propane at the tank with the burner on, waiting until the flame is out, turning off the solenoid, then turning off the knob on the stove last. 

Don’t forget to ask about the location of light switches. This is often forgotten and there is nothing worse than returning to the boat after dark for the first time and fumbling around desperately searching for a light switch. 

It’s amazing how many times I have been briefed incorrectly on fridge operations. The best directions always come from the boat maintenance people. Buttonhole one on the dock or ask them when they are repairing your doorknobs, GPS, head, etc. prior to your departure. Sometimes you can leave the fridge running all the time; sometimes it needs to be run on a one-hour timer. Once, we had water all over the floor of our catamaran before we got a maintenance man onboard who told us that, contrary to our charter briefing, the fridge was supposed to be on at all times to prevent ice melt. 

The head is the one piece of nautical equipment that all crewmembers will use. Make sure all crewmembers understand exactly how to use the toilet because it’s no fun for anyone when you spend your vacation trying to unclog a head.

Before you leave 

Now is the time to point out any damage you see on the boat. Just as you would on a rental car, keep a record of any scratches, dings or damage. Point out damaged equipment on the boat and leave a copy with the charter master before you set out. On a recent charter in Florida, several of the knobs for our grill were missing, and this was pointed out by the charter master. I did not mention the missing knob on the VHF radio, thinking that the charter master knew about it too. But, after the charter I was asked where the missing radio knob was. I realized I shouldn’t have assumed that the charter master knew about it.

Make a squawk sheet 

A squawk sheet is a list of all the things that don’t work, you break or that get lost during your charter. Maintenance issues can fester without proper notification to the charter company. We met another crew in the BVI who had chartered our boat the year before. The leaky toilet base that had plagued them last year was now distressing our crew. When we reported the problem to the charter base they told us that they had never heard of the problem before. 

Keep your squawk sheet on the navigation table, along with your detailed directions from the charter briefing, so all crewmembers can make note of problems before they are forgotten. At the end of your charter, give this list to the charter company and offer to pay for the things you lost or broke. You know you are using a good charter company when they thank you profusely for the list and carefully send the list to the appropriate people for repairs. A good charter company knows that your squawk sheet saves them time, and improves the customer satisfaction of the next people to charter your boat.

Capt. Joan Gilmore leads Sail Away Sailing School, LLC and is an ASA Instructor Evaluator.