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Coronavirus and the superyacht industry: What you need to know

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With flights cancelled and travel bans implemented across the world, the COVID-19 crisis has thrown the entire travel industry disarray – but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As countries begin to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, small pockets are slowly starting to open their doors to travellers, starting with a lifting of restrictions on airports and – more importantly – marinas and waterways. But what does this mean for your summer charter vacation? Find out when you can charter, where you can charter, and how charter yachts are managing the coronavirus crisis.

When can I charter and where?

From as early as June, countries have slowly started to lift their travel restrictions, which is good news for charterers looking to get out on the water. However, it won't be as simple as hopping on a plane and meeting your yacht as planned. Being able to travel to your destination of choice will depend on the restrictions in place between your country of origin and your country of arrival. In many cases, travel will be restricted for those arriving from countries deemed to be 'high risk' - a list which is continuing to change on a daily basis and varies from country to country. In other cases, where travel is permissible you may still have to provide a negative COVID-19 test on arrival to avoid a mandatory quarantine period. If you're unsure, contact your charter broker or consult government websites for official advice.

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Is it safe to charter a yacht?

Chartering a superyacht is often considered to be one of the safest ways to enjoy a vacation. Ocean Independence says that a yacht charter can be an “excellent alternative” to other luxury holiday options. “Private charter ensures guests can stay safeguarded in smaller, immaculately-clean environments, while minimising the need to frequent public areas where risks naturally increase,” the brokerage firm said in a statement.

“If we can all promote can promote a COVID-free zone by adequately testing the captain the crew and clients, then it's a no brainer - you're going to go for a yacht charter versus a luxury villa this summer”, says Graham Sullivan, charter broker at Worth Avenue Yachts.

SuperYachtsMonaco also pointed out the advantage of a superyacht holiday. “A yacht offers an easily controlled environment in terms of the comings and goings of guests and other personnel. The passerelle is effectively a drawbridge and nobody need step on board the yacht as deliveries are left on the quay and loaded by the permanent crew,” the firm added.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic charter companies are going further than ever before to ensure that yachts are entirely safe. “The yachts in our charter fleet have enhanced their current cleaning and hygiene regimes and are putting new protocols into place to ensure the health and safety of both charter guests and their crews,” said Northrop & Johnson’s Cromwell Littlejohn. These protocols include extending turnaround times between charters to allow for extensive cleaning, regularly testing crew, and isolating rotating crew ashore before they re-join the boat.

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Where is the safest destination to charter a yacht?

Typically the Mediterranean would be buzzing this time of year with Spain, Italy and France as the 'go-tos' for many travellers. While charters have still been able to continue in these regions, what would usually be the peak of the summer season has been flattened somewhat by travel restrictions and second waves of Covid-19. According to the ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control), Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Cyprus, Norway and the UK have some of the lowest rates of cases per 100,000, while Spain and Malta rank among the highest.

Of course, no matter where you are, travellers are advised to still be vigilant and adhere to the rules and restrictions of their destination. These might include two-metre distancing rules, curfews and mandatory face mask requirements when using public transport.

Elsewhere, Fraser chief executive Raphael Sauleau said that the firm is “seeing more and more requests for the Caribbean” as charter clients shift their summer charter plans to the winter months. Sauleau added: “The increase of bookings for the Caribbean is mainly from the US customer base because they don’t necessarily fancy the idea of travelling to Europe for this summer.”

How will chartering a yacht be different after COVID-19?

Once you’re on board, the charter experience will remain largely unchanged. However, trips ashore will be much more limited depending on the restrictions of your destination. A lot of islands, particularly in the Caribbean, have introduced a curfew as well as limited restaurant capacities which puts a halt to evening dining ashore. On the plus side, it will be much easier for captains to seek out peaceful and uncrowded anchorages.

Marta Inglesias, senior charter broker at Camper & Nicholsons said the experience will be different this year but that doesn't have to be a negative. "Different doesn't mean bad, on the contrary, this is going to be the year where the yachts will be used to the maximum, where the crew will have the chance to shine in offering all these extra services and experiences on board, in order to replace the things that cannot be done ashore."

Can I cancel a yacht charter?

Given the difficult circumstances, a number of charter yachts are offering addendums to charter contracts that allow travellers to re-book or cancel without a penalty.

How can I get to a yacht charter?

Air travel might be tricky but it’s not impossible. With more flight paths opening up each week the summer season is beginning to get back on track. But being able to get to your destination will depend on your country of origin and where you intend to charter and the travel restrictions between the two. If you’re struggling to secure flights, there’s always private aviation which is expected to be a popular choice this year, says Camper & Nicholsons senior charter broker Marta Iglesias. “Private aviation is a safe way of ensuring that clients have minimum exposure, from the moment they leave their doorstep until the moment they arrive at the yacht.”

However, it’s important to note that some destinations, whether you fly privately or not, will require a negative COVID-19 test to be able to enter the country, or have to face a 14-day quarantine.

Will I have to quarantine before I step on board?

This will be dependent on your nationality, where you’re travelling from and the restrictions in place in the country of your charter. These can vary from country to country, and in some cases from port to port. Port and travel restrictions are changing daily so it’s best to contact your charter broker with any questions.

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Will chartering a yacht be more expensive after COVID-19?

In short, no. While charter yachts will be incurring costs for additional cleaning, personal protective equipment (PPE), onboard testing and isolating crew ashore, these will not be reflected in the charter fees, says Camper & Nicholsons senior charter broker Marta Iglesias. “Charter fees will not go up because of this”.

Captain Tom Filby, of 72 metre charter yacht Axioma, believes that the onus is on the owner. “There are additional costs associated with COVID-19 for protecting the boat, the crew and the passengers… All these things have additional costs to the owner but we don't anticipate this being passed on down the line to the charterer.”

At the same time, prospective charterers shouldn’t expect rates to decrease either, says Iglesias. “I think some clients out there have the false expectation that the rates are going to drop but this isn't going to be the case. Rates will not drop because the need to keep the boat at a top-level is going to be even higher than ever.”

Will a charter crew be tested for COVID-19?

Some yachts have implemented rigorous testing for crew to make sure the environment onboard is as safe as possible. On charter yacht Axioma for example, managed by YPI, crews rotating on and off the ship will have to undergo an enforced isolation period ashore whether it is required or not by the local authorities, as well as a double testing process as part of a new COVID safety plan. This also includes onboard antibody tests, thermal imaging cameras, deeper sanitisation between charters. “We're trying to go to the extreme of what we can do to accommodate everyone on board as much as possible”, said captain Tom Filby.

Source: Boat International