Sailing the Virgin Islands and choosing a charter boat

If you want the thought of easy sailing the Virgin Islands, affordable travel costs, and a low irritant factor, you can’t beat the Virgin Islands for a great winter or fall charter.  Whether you’re headed to the Spanish, British, or U.S. Virgin Islands, here are some tips on chartering in a tropical paradise close to home, where the time change is minimal and English is the chosen language. With so many companies to choose between, it can be difficult for new charterers to decide which best suits their needs. It’s easy to spend a day or more looking into the numerous offerings of various companies in search of the best deals.

Choosing Your Charter Boat for the Virgin Islands

One can spend endless hours searching and reading reviews, but honestly, choosing an owner or a yacht broker is the better choice.  Yacht brokers and owners have extensive knowledge about chartering in specific locations, which they can discuss with you.  The British Virgins, for example, is home to most of the charter outfits but can get crowded. In the U.S. Virgins, St. John offers unparalleled snorkeling and a selection of beautiful anchorages and mooring fields that rival anything in the region. St. Thomas, too has its share of anchorages along with excellent shopping and restaurants. At the same time, you can choose the Spanish Virgin Islands, where the unspoiled natural beauty of Culebrita Island and the great diving off Vieques will make you forget society.

sailing the virgin islands, chartering aquanimity in the virgin islands, british virgin islands sailing Chartering in the Virgin Islands with an excellent, catering crew!

Picking the Perfect Virgin Islands Location

Once you know which location you prefer, you'll need to decide on the length of time.  Charter companies offer minimum days of four to as many as two weeks or more, but most companies will limit the charter experience.  However, guests of Aquanimity experience the best of both worlds with no limitation on chartering dates.  Aquanimity will even accept a six-month charter, as it has in the past.

When to visit the Virgin Islands

Most people visit the Virgin Islands when it's hot cocoa weather at home. However, a shoulder or off-season Virgin Islands cruise also has many benefits. Hurricane season is technically June 1 to November 30, which, logically enough, is also the area’s low season. Typically, a six-month season will produce 11 to 14 named storms, half of which may develop into hurricanes. Some might reach Category 5 status, so timing is everything. Late August and early October can be sketchy, and September is especially risky in the Caribbean. However, a Thanksgiving cruise can be spectacular.

In terms of precipitation, while a short-lived tropical storm or shower can drench you at any time of the year, the least rainy months are February and March, and the rainy “season” per se is between August and the end November.

Provisioning for a charter boat

Provisioning in the Virgin Islands is simple but adventurous, with most islands offering small grocery stores, local produce, and fish markets.  Guests on charter don't do the provisioning unless they'd like to. If you're chartering with us or another company, you'll complete a form beforehand if you have the charter company provisioning.

Private Bareboat Provisioning:

Either way, guests should make a list. Don’t forget about happy hour, which can make your shore dinners much cheaper if you skip paying for appetizers and cocktails onshore.  In the Virgins Islands, it’s easy to shop small and often instead of loading up on a week’s worth of groceries at your point of departure. Your provisions will also fit better in small boat refrigerators and stay fresh. Plan for half a gallon of bottled drinking water per person daily in hot weather. Purchase water in giant jugs and use personal water bottles to save money and limit trash. Consider bringing spices in baggies from home. You’ll waste and spend less.


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The itineraries and staying flexible

Charter companies typically offer seven- and 14-day itineraries online, and you’ll get more advice during your chart briefing on-site. There may be no-go zones. Anegada in the BVI, for example, used to be off-limits to charter boats, at least in poor weather. Today, the passage is well marked, so most companies don’t ask charterers to check in before sailing to that island.

Gauge the group. Nature lovers may want to visit Culebra National Wildlife Refuge in the Spanish Virgins, while party-goers will love the Soggy Dollar Bar and Foxy’s in the BVI. Kids will love the caves of the Baths on Virgin Gorda. Shoppers may enjoy Skinny Legs shops on St. John.

Challenges and costs aside, the various groups of the Virgin Islands are still great chartering destinations for newbies and old salts alike. The distances are short, the charter companies are many, and the navigation is predominantly line-of-sight. The lovely breezes are pretty steady, so the sailing is mainly laid back, and the weather will surely beat the gray skies back home.

And whatever you do, don’t over-plan your itinerary and plan to take each day as it comes. Sailboats are slow; winds don’t blow, and rushing makes a lousy vacation—plan to be flexible and don't be in a hurry.  Enjoy the sailing.