Things to Consider Before Booking a Bareboat Charter

Learn how to use a charter to gain valuable experience on liveaboards.
Catamaran sailing near an island
A charter can help you gain big-boat experience. Zach Stovall

You’ve run small boats forever, but it’s always been your dream to charter your own liveaboard bareboat to drift about some palm-adorned island chain at your whim.

Visions bob through your head—the sun at your back and wind in your hair. Your favorite crew is posted at the rails, retching into turquoise waters from their rum-fueled hangovers. Ah, to be free!

It’s not all Painkillers and party barges, though. Responsibility comes with being the captain. You have to keep your friends safe and happy, and your credit card and lawyer will thank you if you return the boat without pilings imprinted in your hull.


So, if you’ve never run a larger boat before, a charter presents a great opportunity to learn to operate the more complex systems found aboard a cruiser. The following procedures and techniques provide examples of the kinds of big-boat things a charter can teach you.

Cleaning a strainer
Check strainers’ filter baskets for debris that can block water flow. Zach Stovall

Don’t Strain the Strainer

The engines, generator and air conditioner are water-cooled. Each device’s water intake features a strainer, usually in the engine room, to filter out seagrass and other debris—like your crew’s rum-soaked inhibitions. See-through lids make for a quick, occasional check that will prevent untimely shutdowns. Close the valve before opening the strainer to clean out debris, and open the valve again when complete.

Learning how to handle ground tackle
Learning the ropes of operating a windlass and handling ground tackle safely is important. Zach Stovall

Anchors Aweigh

The ability to hoist anchor while holding a beer wasn’t lost on the creator of the windlass. Disengage the chain stop mechanism. Up and down buttons on the corded controller indicate the winching direction. When anchoring, hook the bridle or snubber (if not equipped, use a length of dock line) across the anchor chain, and tension to reduce strain on the windlass. Sip beer. Look heroic.

Watermaker on a liveaboard
A reverse-osmosis watermaker reduces dependency on dockside hookups, but requires daily monitoring and care. Zach Stovall

Water You Making?

Using a reverse-osmosis watermaker to convert seawater into fresh water means less time at the dock. And not having to ration water keeps your crew from becoming overly fragrant. Tiny particles such as dissolved limestone can clog the watermaker’s membrane, so seek local knowledge about where not to use it. Refill between a half- and quarter-tank.

Switching power sources on a charter boat
Switching between shore power and the generator requires the proper procedure. Zach Stovall

Say Watt?

Connecting shore power isn’t shocking. First, take the load off the main panel (engineer-speak for switch off all of the boat’s systems). Kill the breakers on the dock pedestal and connect (or disconnect) the cable. Switch the pedestal’s breakers back on, then slowly reintroduce the boat’s load, staggering the biggest systems first, like the HVAC and inverter.

With Great Power

The generator powers every system while away from the dock. Take the load off the panel, and start the generator. Reintroduce the load gradually (as with shore power). Transfer fuel to the genset’s tank by opening the transfer valve in the engine room and toggling the switch to “on.” Then energize/de-energize it from the main panel.

Filters marked with dates
Filters for engines and generators are marked with the date and engine hours when changed. Zach Stovall

The Scoop on Poop

The system that acutely distinguishes between polite society and certain mutiny is blackwater waste. Forget to empty the tanks regularly and your wakeup may smell more like a lift station than salty sea breeze. Some systems require turning physical valves near the heads before discharging; others are completely electric. Though the practice of some tropical cruisers is to only want to discharge, we recommend seeking a pump-out station or running offshore to purge.

Familiarity with your boat’s systems will keep you out of panic mode and completely in vacation mode—the ultimate hero under pressure. Consult your charter company for instruction on your specific boat, or visit the MarineMax Vacations YouTube channel for systems videos. Oh, and it never hurts to opt for extra insurance.

People swimming off of a charter boat
Chartering a boat offers the opportunity to cover new waters. Zach Stovall

Booking that First Charter

MarineMax Vacations charters power catamarans from bases in island chains around the world. Spacious Aquila boats are available in 36-, 44- and 48-foot lengths, varying from two to four cabins, and with the option to be crewed or bareboat. If the latter, a boating résumé complete with certifications and experience as a captain will help determine proficiency at the throttles. Count the stars. Snorkel secluded reefs. Live in the moment. Visit