Yacht Charter British Virgin Islands
If you’ve never chartered before, the British Virgin Islands may be the best place to start. With easy navigation, crystal clear waters, dozens of harbours to visit, and hundreds of boats in every configuration, there’s no better place to get your feet wet.
But don’t skip it if you’ve done a dozen yacht charters, either. There’s a reason it’s such a magnificent spot to charter. For destinations, there’s everything from secluded out of the way anchorages to hopping party spots. If your holiday is about an easy vacation sailing somewhere warm and beautiful without the hassles of long passages and rough seas, the BVIs fit the bill.
Hiring a Yacht in the BVIs
The one word to describe chartering a yacht in the British Virgin Islands is easy. Since chartering and tourism are big industries in the islands, you’ll find everything you need for a successful Caribbean holiday. Most charters originate in Tortola, a convenient place to start your trip. The best shopping and provisioning are right in town and close to the boat.
Plenty of boats of all varieties are available for your Caribbean yacht charter, from sailing monohulls and catamarans to power cats, cabin cruisers, and luxury yachts. If you’re not experienced, or you want to sit back and relax instead of navigating and cooking, skilled captains and crews are available.
The British Virgin Islands are not large, but has over fifty islands and cays, sixteen of which are inhabited. The islands spread over 150 square kilometres of water, so most islands are a short sail in between. You can set sail after a leisurely breakfast and sail to a new island with time for an afternoon at the beach.
Getting to the BVIs
Below are a list of thebest airports to fly to for access to the BVIs:
Beef Island Airport: Direct flights to Tortola are available to Beef Island Airport (airport code: EIS) from most locations. However, it's a smaller airport with a single runway so flights are limited and may be more expensive.
San Juan Airport: Most flights are available to the larger San Juan airport airport , with a change to a commuter airline to the BVIs. When you arrive, you can take a cab in to town to your charter base or hotel.
Cyril E. King Airport: The other popular option is to fly into Cyril E.King airport in St Thomas (airport code: STT) then take a ferry to Tortola. The advantages are lower cost and a wider choice of incoming flights. But it takes more time, and you will need to take a cab to the ferry dock. Make sure when you catch the ferry that you take the boat to Tortola, not West End, unless you are picking your boat up in Soper's Hole. The ferries do not run after dark, so if you have a late flight to St. Thomas you will need to stay over.
Best Areas to Charter a Yacht in the BVIs
Tortola is the main chartering centre in the BVIs. Chartering in the British Virgins isn’t about lengthy sailing trips, you’re already in the destination. The sailing is fantastic, with reliable breezes and clean water, but the distances are not long. In a week you can visit most of the top spots and pick a route that suits your preferences. Besides the main population centres on Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke, there are dozens of smaller islands and cays to visit on your BVI charter.
Tortola is the largest population centre in the islands, and where most BVI yacht charters start. In Road Town you’ll find Wickham’s Cay 1 and Wickham’s Cay 2, popular marinas to start a yacht charter. A couple of kilometres outside town you’ll find the Nanny Cay and Sea Cow Bay charter bases and marinas. If you’re leaving from any of these places, provisioning is best in Road Town if you haven’t contracted with the charter operator to have the boat stocked.
East End Bay is another popular yacht charter base, with Hodge’s Creek Marina for taking on fuel and water, and shopping and provisions nearby.
At the other end of the island, you’ll find Soper’s Hole in West End, a popular site for visiting yachts with waterfront shops, bars, and moorings. On the north side of the island, you can visit Cane Garden Bay with beachfront bars and restaurants right off the white sand.
Jost Van Dyke
Three miles from Tortola, Jost Van Dyke is another favourite destination. On the south side of the island, you can drop an anchor for the day in White Bay and head into the sparkling white sandy beach with beach bars like the Soggy Dollar and Ivan’s Stress-Free Bar. Just to the east it White Bay, Great Harbour is home a variety of beach bars and eating places, including the world famous Foxy’s – the place to be on New Year’s Eve.
To the east, you can spend a night end in Garner Bay and head ashore for dinner. Or keep going to Diamond Cay on the east end of the island. It’s a quieter place to moor, snorkel, and swim, with a restaurant on shore near the beach. A short walk takes you to the Bubbly Pool, a small bit of natural beauty and a fun spot to spend the high tide.
The third largest of the British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda has some of the best-known sights in the islands and lots of space to moor and anchor in North Sound. Around the sound are several resorts and restaurants to visit, though as of this writing not all of them have re-opened since the recent hurricane damage to the area. There are plenty of spots to snorkel and swim in North Sound, and more white sandy beaches.
At the south end of the island, The Baths are maybe the best-known sight in the BVIs. Temporary day moorings for charter yachts and dinghies are available, but you cannot spend the night. Sail around from North Sound or take a taxi through Spanish Town to see the rock formations and snorkel in the rock formations.
In Spanish Town you’ll find restaurants and shops along the waterfront. You can stay on moorings off town or in the marina, the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour.
This is the most off the beaten path spot in the British Virgin Islands and considered one of the most beautiful spots in the Caribbean. Almost fifteen miles past Virgin Gorda, Anegada is in the far corner of the islands and the only coral island in the British Virgin Islands. It’s a flat, low-lying island surrounded by stunning coral and white sand beaches.
On shore, besides world-class beaches, you’ll find walking trails with rare birds and iguanas and natural springs, and excellent restaurants and bars. Anegada is famous for its lobster and conch fisheries and the dining is outstanding.
South of Tortola lie the “little sisters” - a string of islands along the southern edge of the BVIs. The most south and west is Norman Island, famed as an inspiration for “Treasure Island”. It’s rumoured that several pirates buried treasure of a time on the island, which is riddled with caves and hiding places.
The Bight in Norman Island is the most popular harbour, with moorings, space to anchor, a beach bar and restaurant, and the (in)famous Willy T – a floating bar.
Around the west end of the island are caves popular for snorkelling and diving and easy to reach by dinghy. Norman Island is close to The Indians, one of the top snorkelling spots in the Caribbean.
Most of the Little Sisters have moorings to pick up or spots to anchor. Some have resorts or restaurants on shore to visit, or beaches.
Just east of Norman Island, Peter Island has six anchorages around its coast. Three have moorings and are suitable for overnight moorings – Little Harbour, Great Harbour, and Sprat Bay. Sprat Bay has limited moorings, but has a dock with water, fuel, ice and trash disposal. There are plenty of great spots to swim and snorkel.
This uninhabited island between Peter Island and Cooper Island doesn’t have overnight moorings, but has day moorings where you can park. It’s near the national park with the wreck of the RMS Rhone and is a popular staging spot for diving and snorkelling near the wreck.
Cooper island has an excellent mooring field on the west side of the island and easy access ashore. Crystal clear water and sea grass beds attract rays and turtles to this popular snorkelling spot.
If you fly directly to Tortola, the airport is on Beef Island. It’s connected with a bridge, but it is separate from Tortola. Come to Trellis Bay for the famous Full Moon Party, a monthly beach bacchanalia with live music, BBQ and lots of fun.
Only two kilometres from Trellis Bay, Scrub Island and a marina on the west end in the middle of a luxury resort. The shallows around the island make for a great snorkel or dive.
Best Towns to Charter a Yacht in the BVIs
The best town to chart a yacht in the British Virgin Islands is Road Town. Tortola has lovely destinations on the island, but no town has a better selection of rental boats and shops to get your food, liquor, and other supplies before you leave. While all the inhabited islands have some food shopping, the best variety and prices are in Road Town.
Wickham’s Cay (1 & 2) are marinas in the middle of Road Town, and Nanny Cay and Sea Cow Bay are a short cab ride from town. East End Bay is has a good selection of yachts to charter and is close to Road Town.
Types of Yachts to Hire in the BVIs
You’ll find any boat to suit your fancy in the British Virgin Islands. The choice is up to you, and depends on your budget, the size of your party, and what sort of amenities you want.
Luxury catamarans are stable and spacious, quick to sail, and very popular. Better for larger groups, they have lots of room for water toys, and are big enough for a little privacy. The sailing is easy and comfortable for novices not used to heeling. The BVI catamaran charter is setting the new standard for luxury and comfort in the Caribbean.
If you’ve got a smaller group, you like a little better upwind sailing performance, or you’re used to more traditional sailboat, plenty of monohulls are available for your sailing holiday. Sizes range from those for a couple or small family to full sized luxury yachts.
The power cats in the BVIs have the comfort and space of the sailing catamarans, if a sailing yacht isn’t your thing you can still take a crowd. If a power yacht is your dream vacation and you need some space, these are for you.
For the power boater, you can find power cruisers for hire with all the comforts for your charter boat. From a small motor yacht to luxury yachts, there are many options.
Water toys – small sailboats, jet skis, and motorboats
Throughout the BVIs you’ll find concessions for renting small boats, jet skis, and sailboats. If an afternoon on a runabout or a dinghy race is part of your holiday plan, you can find them on several of the larger islands.
Skippered or Bareboat Yacht Hire in the BVIs
Getting a skippered charter in the BVIs is easy and takes a lot of stress from your holiday. If you’re a beginning sailor, or not a sailor at all, you can take a dream yacht charter. There is a per diem charge for a skipper and any additional crew, and you will need to provide food and a berth on the boat. You can hire captains to teach sailing and build your skills while you enjoy the cruise.
For skilled sailors, a bareboat charter is cheaper and gives more privacy for you and the other guests. Many people prefer to be at the helm sailing the boat and choosing the course, and if you have the knowledge, you can skipper these boats yourself.
Do You Need a Licence to Hire a Yacht in the BVIs
There is no legal requirement for any license to charter a boat in the British Virgin Islands.
However, most luxury yacht charters require proof of competency and skill before letting you hire an expensive boat. You will be asked to provide a sailing resume and a history of your yacht charters. Also, you will need to give details about boats you have sailed and owned, and you may be required to do a check out assessment with a captain.
There are several certifications which can show your skills and help a charter company approve you for bareboat charters. This include:
- American Sailing Association - Bareboat Charter Standard
- Royal Yachting Association - Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence or Day Skipper
- U.S. Sailing – Bareboat Cruising
- International Certificate for the Operation of Pleasure Crafts
Note these certifications are not an automatic approval, but will make the process easier.
Chartering a boat you’re not comfortable with will not be fun. And a Caribbean holiday is about fun, not stress. If you have any doubts about your ability to handle the boat, consider a crewed charter so you can have fun, too.
Best Times to Hire a Yacht in the BVIs
The busiest week in the BVIs is around Christmas to the New Year. The weather is nicest in the winter, and many people take their sailing holidays with family and friends during the season.
Prime season is December through April, though fine sailing happens on both ends of the season in November and May and June.
Hurricane season runs from June through October, and the weather is warmer. You can charter off-peak; you will usually have pleasant conditions and rates are lower. But there is a slight risk you may have to cancel your holiday if a storm threatens; the risk is lower in September and October. Many rentals will refund charters if they recall you for seasonal storms, but make sure of the policy before booking.
Sailing Weather in the BVIs
The primary sailing condition is “delightful.” The peak season has the most wind, with steady 15-20 knots making for fast, fun sailing. While you may get a brief tropical shower, most days are sunny and warm with a good breeze. At the edges of the high season, the winds soften as the temperature rises.
A light jacket or wind breaker is the heaviest sailing gear for sailing in breeze on warm, sunny days.
If you are looking for the cheapest rates and the smallest crowds, off-peak seasons from April through October though there is that small risk of a hurricane cancellation. The peak seasons are “peak” for a reason though. Prices are higher and availability lower, but the weather is more comfortable with the best breezes for sailing. But there will be more people and most moorings will be full.
How Much Does it Cost to Hire Yachts in the BVIs
Yacht hire prices in the British Virgin Islands vary with the size and type of the yacht and the time of year of your charter.
During the peak seasons, entry level forty-foot monohulls start at €265 per day and increase with the size of the boat. The most expensive yachts may run up to €4,000 per day for a deluxe bareboat catamaran, but a more typical cost for a fifty-two foot catamaran (sleeps twelve) is closer to €1,500 per day.
Off peak, you may save as much as 30% off the high-season rates.
A skilled captain may cost you from $150 to $250 per day, depending on the skill and experience of the captain and if the captain is also an instructor or cook.
You will be required to put a deposit on your yacht charter when you sign the rental agreement, with the balance due a month or before the charter. The deposit may run from 20% to 50% of the total charter fee, including crew and add-ons. Some charters have an optional cancelation insurance you may purchase when booking to protect your deposit if you have a chance of cancellation.
Check the cancellation policy, many charters cancelled far in advance (over 120 days) will only incur a cancellation fee instead of losing the whole deposit.
Rentals also require a security deposit against damage. This is sometimes offered as a combination of non-refundable liability insurance and a small refundable deposit. The other option is a much larger security deposit, which they refund when you return the boat without damage.
Explore BVIs By Renting A Yacht
The British Virgin Islands offer a wide variety of destinations and experiences to meet almost everyone’s dream sailing vacation. From quiet anchorages with few lights and traffic, to lively beach bars with great food and live music, you’ll find something to suit your mood.
Through the islands, twenty-one national parks on land and underwater protect waters and wildlife for snorkelling, diving, and hiking. The National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands maintains the parks and day buoys for large boats and dinghies. Most charter rentals have a park pass included with the boat, make sure it’s since you don’t want to miss places like the RMS Rhone Marine Park, The Baths, or The Indians.
The beauty of sailing the BVIs is that a change of scenery is just a short sail away. The sailing is beautiful and fun, navigation is easy and line of sight, and the winds are reliable. If you’re ready for beach bars and night life after a couple of days of beaches, hiking and snorkelling you can decide where to go next during breakfast and settle in your new spot by early afternoon.
What to Think of Before You Hire a Yacht in BVIs
The key to any successful sailing charter holiday is planning. Picking the right boat, the right dates, and making sure you have what you need are important for the perfect Caribbean vacation.
- Food and alcohol. You can have the charter company arrange this so you don’t waste a day shopping, but it will be more cost effective to shop for yourself and you will have more control over your menu.
- Clothing. Keep it simple and causal. The BVIs are not a formal place. Dress for dinner on shore is casual, and temperatures are warm and mild.
- What do you want to do from the boat? Arrange for any special equipment you might want, from scuba gear to kayaks and SUPs. Check the standard equipment list for your yacht and make sure it has all you need. Most include snorkel gear and a dinghy, but there are many optional extras.
- Spontaneity is delightful, but a little planning for your itinerary will make sure you see the highlights. Don’t plan too much though, unless jam-packed is how you vacation.
- Flights to and from the BVIs – what’s the best way to get there? You can fly to Tortola, but you can also fly to St. Thomas and take a ferry. So think about what makes sense with your schedule and how much luggage you’re carrying.