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Antigua was the gateway to the old Caribbean in the days of the sugar and rum trade, and it retains some of that old-world charm even today. Nestled in the Leeward Islands, straddling the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Antigua's constant trade winds and pleasant weather made this island a gorgeous cruising ground all year round.
Modern Antigua is a paradise for sun-seekers and sailors. With a reported 365 beaches - one for every day of the year - you'll find a near-limitless variety for your sailing vacation.
With a circumference of fifty-four miles, you can circumnavigate the Caribbean island on a week-long charter. For more time or variety, you can reach the nearby island of Barbuda on a longer sail. The islands are dotted with lagoons, bays, coves, reefs, beaches and resorts.
Antigua is the primary island, with the seat of government and most of the population. All charter bases are there, and there are many resorts, restaurants and places to stay.
Barbuda was a population resort destination off the beaten path with a small population. A quiet but excellent place to visit.
Antigua has two major locations for yacht charters - Falmouth/English Harbour to the south, and Jolly Harbour on the west coast. Nelson's Dockyard is host to most of the charter fleet, with easy provisioning and transit from the airport.
Sailing in Antigua is considered slightly challenging, as there are reefs to negotiate on the North Sound and north coast, and you may be exposed to the Atlantic Ocean for some transits. On the whole, it is not difficult sailing, though less experienced skippers should avoid the more challenging reefs and watch the weather carefully.
V. C. Bird International Airport is the only airport on the island with international and interisland service. It's about five miles northeast of the capital and principle population centre, St. John's.
You can reach Antigua from North America on flights from Miami, New York, Atlanta, Charlotte, Montreal, and Toronto. Transfers can be made through San Juan, Puerto Rico. Check for seasonal availability; not all cities are serviced in the low season.
Regular flights from London give access to Europe. Regional and Caribbean airlines fly to nearby Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Bart's, Sint Maarten, Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, and Montserrat. If your Caribbean holiday includes more than one island, commuting to Antigua is easy from most of the Caribbean.
No matter which charter base you're headed to, the best way to get from the airport to your charter is with a taxi from the airport. Expect a 45-minute ride which costs $35-$40 for up to four people with luggage.
Antigua is not a large island, and the entire island nation is your playground for your charter. With a 54 mile circumnavigation, you can visit top spots around the island in a single week. You can even reach Barbuda in that time, though it may be better to have longer than a week.
All charter operations on Antigua are out of two locations - Jolly Harbour or English Harbour/Falmouth. The effect of starting at either is small since they aren't that far apart from the cruising area from both locations the same for your Antigua yacht charter.
Most charter boats operate out of Nelson's Dockyards or a marina around English Harbour. The area is dense with boats, boating and holiday services, shops, restaurants, and shopping. If you arrive early or wish to stay past your charter, there are places to stay, and you can provision nearby if you don't want the charter company to shop for you.
Nelson's Dockyard isn't connected to English Harbour by water, but it's a quick trip around from the docks to the larger harbour. If you don't start your charter in English Harbour, try to be there for the famous Sunday night BBQ at Shirley Heights. The Dockyard is an interesting historical spot with restored buildings and a museum, and there's often a market with local crafts and foods.
On the west side of the island, Jolly Harbour Marina is a short hop from the capital city. It doesn't have the same variety of services as English Harbour, but there are restaurants and shops nearby.
Where it comes to chartering or renting boats in Antigua, below is a list of the typical boats that you can hire on Borrow A Boat with a description of the boat type.
When searching a geographical area on Borrow A Boat, you can filter by the boat types below. There is also the option to further filter your searches by price, the number of guests, cabins or bathrooms, what year the boat or sailing yacht was launched, the boat length and the boat manufacturer.
Sailing Yacht (Sailboat): From €120/£100/$135 a day up to whatever you can afford, monohull sailing yachts are fun to sail at all points of the wind and an affordable way to get around if your island hopping or finding your own secluded coves or sandy beaches along with longer cruises. Sizes range from those for a couple or small family to a full-sized luxury charter yacht.
Catamaran: Luxury catamarans are stable and spacious, with quick sailing performance, and and have been gaining in popularity in recent years. Better for larger groups, they have lots of room for water toys, and are big enough for a little privacy. A catamaran charter is easy and comfortable for novices not used to heeling and are loved by families for their extra space when compared to a monohull. Typically far more luxurious than a sailboat, the larger catamarans have en suite toilets and showers in the staterooms and ample entertaining space in the saloon and on deck.
Power Catamaran: These types of boats are relatively new but have also been gaining in popularity as the two hulls keep the boat more stable when compared to a monohull. The wider beam also means more deck space and as they don't have sails or a mast, they have a lot more space on deck than a sailing catamaran rental or monohull. For a luxury catamaran charter, consider taking a crewed catamaran charter sailing holiday with an experienced skipper.
Luxury Yacht: Luxury yacht charters are available for either a sailing yacht (sailboat), catamaran or motorboat and will have a crew and host/hostess on hand to cater for whatever your needs are along with a skipper who will have a detailed knowledge of your cruising area. On a crewed luxury yacht charter you get to create your own personal itinerary and will have far greater range than on other boats, which allows for lots of variety in how you travel and what you do.
Superyacht: A superyacht or sometimes called mega yacht are boats at least 24 metres (79 feet) in length up to 180 metres (590 feet) and can either be sailing yachts (sailboats) or motorboats. These types of boats are most frequently found in the Med of the Caribbean and because of their size they will have a large chartering area and can typically pick you up from whatever location you require rather than you being required to get to a set marina to start your charter. They are fully crewed with professional staff who will cater for your every need along with a skipper who will have extensive knowledge of your chosen cruising areas.
Motorboat: This covers a wide variety of boats from a motor yacht with cabins to a private boat trip for a fishing trip but these are comfortable seagoing boats with a kick of speed should you want to cover a bigger distance on the day.
RIB: Very many day boats for fishing and day cruising, RIBs are a lot of fun for a day afloat. They can be very quick and are great should you be in a town on holiday and fancy seeing the coast or finding secluded sandy beaches to get away from it all.
When it comes to boat hire or yacht charter in Antigua, you typically have two choices - bareboat yacht hire or skippered yacht charter.
When using Borrow A Boat, you can filter all boat searches to be with or without skipper depending on what you are looking for and below we cover some of the main points to consider for your boat hire.
Skippered Charter: A skippered yacht charter gives you the advantage of being able to get afloat without having to invest in getting sailing qualifications beforehand. For a monohull sailing yacht you will pay €120/£100/$135 plus a day extra for a crewed charter, plus provide their food and give a tip at the end.
When you get to a luxury yacht or superyacht charter with the crew, these prices will increase and costs also depend on where you plan to sail to along with the size and type of boat rental on your sailing holiday.
In some cases, skippers will also be the yacht or boat owners (typically day trips) which means they will know all the best-secluded beaches to show you the best that the area has to offer with their local knowledge.
For a day sailing trip, you will often be able to use a skipper as well, and prices will vary depending on the type of boat.
Bareboat Yacht Charter: For skilled sailors, a bareboat charter is cheaper and gives more privacy for you and your charter guests. Many sailors prefer to be helming the boat while choosing their own course and provided you have the knowledge and relevant qualifications you can skipper these boats (typically up to 54 feet/16.5 metres in length) yourself.
If you are on a skippered yacht charter, you do not need a license to sail a yacht out of Antigua. This is also the case where you are renting a small motorboat without a cabin for a day trip around the local islands or beaches.
You do not need a license if you are on a bareboat yacht charter either, but you will be expected to show competence and experience to handle the yacht you are chartering. Here are some examples of sailing qualifications which will help show this.
International Certificate of Competence: This is issued on request by your European sailing authority, and you should automatically qualify with certain national sailing qualifications.
RYA Qualifications: If you have the following qualifications you will be able to take a bareboat charter out of Antigua, these include Day Skipper (sail or motor endorsement), Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster.
American Sailing Association (ASA): The ASA 104 Bareboat certificate is commonly accepted.
US Sailing: The International Proficiency Certificate is widely accepted and The Bareboat Cruising Certificate is also accepted in many cases.
Most charter companies will expect you to provide a sailing resume that outlines your experience handling boats similar to the one you wish to charter. They will often have a form to fill out for this.
Like most of the Caribbean, the peak sailing season is the northern hemisphere winter. Average temperatures from November through June are comfortable and there is no risk of hurricanes. The driest months start in January and run through April, though the holiday peak over Christmas and the New Year is the most expensive rental period.
Summer is warmer but considerably less expensive with deep discounts offered. There is more chance of rain, and there is a small chance a tropical storm will disrupt your plans. Some charter operators close for summer months, so there are fewer boats available, but there is also less demand.
Average winter temperatures from November through June are about 28°C (82°F) during the day and 22°C (71°) in the evening. The trade winds dominate the sailing breezes, and they are predominantly from the East or Northeast up to 18-20 knots. There is occasionally northern swell which may impact anchorages on the north side, so check the weather or inquire at the charter base when you arrive.
Summer is warmer and wetter and the weather less stable, with more frequent rain. The summer wind is more variable though still easterly to the southwest with a range of 10-15 knots.
The range of boat pricing in Antigua differs by both the boat and the time of your charter. For example, a recent model three cabin monohull which sleeps up to eight will cost €2,300/£2050/$2740 per week during the high season but maybe as little as €1,420/£1265/$1,690 outside of peak times and as high as €4,200/£3750/$5000 over the winter holidays.
Catamarans start closer to €4,000/£3,560/$4,800 per week for off-season rentals but can be over €10,000/£8,900/$11,900 per week during the high holidays. But a more typical in-season rate for a catamaran that sleeps 10-12 may be €6,500/£5790/$7,750 weekly.
A one-week itinerary in Antigua often includes a circumnavigation around the island with stops at several popular harbours and anchorages. Moorings are not common in most destinations, so you will often anchor. The charter base locations are interesting destinations, and some charters out base of one will stop at the other. While we can't talk about all 365 beaches and every cove, nook, and island, here's a sampling of some of the premier spots.
Located a little over twenty miles north of the main island of Antigua, Barbuda is a quiet, out of the way spot resplendent with natural beauty. Though you can reach it in a day sail, most only visit on longer charters since it takes more time when leaving from the southern coast.
For years Barbuda had about 1,600 residents around the principal town of Codrington, but they evacuated the island in 2017 after Hurricane Irma damaged 95% of the island's buildings. The island has been rebuilding, with many people moving back and businesses reopening.
The natural beauty of the island was largely unaffected, and the various beaches, caves, and the famous Magnificent Frigatebird sanctuary are all still there. If you plan to visit Barbuda, check with your charter company for up to the minute details on services and tours.
Home of the historic Nelsons Dockyard, English Harbour is one of the two charter bases on Antigua. If you start from there, you may wish to spend a little time in the area. You'll find interesting museums, nice beaches near a town, and the old fort at Shirley Heights. Though the views from the heights are always beautiful, on Sundays live steel bands and a barbecue make for a fun night to watch the stunning sunset over the harbour.
Down at the dockyard, you'll find several restaurants within an easy walk, museums, shops, a market, tours, and boat services. You can also stay in the area before or after your charter.
English Harbour Town and Falmouth both front on Falmouth Harbour, and it's a premier destination for yachts and sailors. You may see some famous yachts and megayachts tied to the docks and sailing in and out, and Antigua Race Week is lively and spectacular. English and Falmouth Harbours are a short walk from each other, but not connected directly by the water. Take a short sail around English Point to get from one to the other.
Falmouth is larger with more space to anchor if you plan to enjoy the shore facilities, and Falmouth Harbour Marina has slips available.
On the west side of the island, Jolly Harbour is a planned development from reclaimed coastal marshlands, and home to Antigua's other charter base. Onshore you'll find restaurants and shops, and you can stay in the area before or after your charter. It's a pleasant stop on your way around the island if you want to tuck into a slip or pick up a mooring for the night and have dinner ashore. You can also refresh your stores with food, drinks and ice.
Just outside English Harbour, you can drop the hook at Freeman's Bay and come ashore to enjoy the golden sand of Galleon Beach or take a walk on one of the trails which pass the beach. A reef with excellent snorkelling and scuba diving is near shore. It's a pleasant spot to spend the last night of your charter, close to the base yet still filled with peaceful beauty.
One of the popular destinations on the eastern side of the island, Green Island is a private island at the mouth of Nonsuch Bay. There's nothing on it, but it's got a lovely secluded beach and you can walk around the island. It's has a nice reef, and snorkelling you may see turtles, rays, and a wide variety of tropical fish.
Nonsuch Bay is a more protected spot to anchor for than night than right at the island, and there are resorts open to the public for dining, drinks or a snack.
On the northwest corner of Antigua, Dickenson Bay is lined with a white sand beach and onshore spots for dining, drinking, swimming, and a beach bar. Nearby, a mile-long coral reef offers great snorkelling, and the area is very popular for windsurfing and other water sports.
Adjacent bays on the south side of Antigua, these two bays are off gorgeous beaches and more walking and hiking trails onshore. Shoreside you'll find some beachside restaurants. Both bays are a short sail from English Harbour and the charter base.
A small bay on the west side of the island, Deep Bay has a hundred-year-old wreck accessible for scuba diving and snorkelling.
On the west side of the island and just around the corner from Jolly Harbour, Five Island Harbour is a good-sized harbour with access to beaches, good anchoring, and snorkelling. It's a beautiful spot, and the beaches nearby are some of the most spoiled, as there's not much onshore for some of it.
Yes, it is legal to charter and hire yachts and boats in Antigua.
The most popular yacht charters are monohull sailboats and sailing catamarans. You can also find power cats, and larger luxury power and motor yachts, and a variety of small day sailing boats and dinghies.
The main points to consider are what is your budget, have you got the necessary sailing experience and qualifications to manage the boat if it's not going to have a skipper, whom you are taking sailing, where exactly you wish to go and what will the weather be like on the proposed dates of your trip.
The winter months from late November through March is the best season for sailing. The weather is the most comfortably, there's a lower chance for rain, and no chance of a hurricane.
You will typically pay 50% up front on booking the yacht hire and the balance on arrival. You will either pay a security deposit with your credit card on departure or can get insurance covering damage in advance. In some cases (such as the recent Covid situation) charter companies may be more flexible, but this depends on the individual charter companies themselves.
If you are at sea and in danger, call MAYDAY on VHF Ch16 or ring the coast guard on your phone if you have reception. If you have a mechanical fault and can make it to or are on a mooring, you will be able to phone a help line number given by the boat charter company.
You should consider do you have the experience to handle the yacht charter or boat hire before you book and where do you want to go along with what the weather will be like. Bring warm weather and cool weather clothing if it looks like the weather can be cool as well as warm and remember at sea it can be cool on most evenings.
Antigua does not require a visa for most visitors from most countries. If your country of citizenship is on this list, then you do not need a visa. Note that the government generally requires onward travel plans or a return ticket when you arrive.
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