Buying an ex-charter catamaran can be a great option to buy a catamaran at a really good price. One must however go into the deal with open eyes. It is essential to know what items to pay special attention to when buying a used catamaran out of a charter fleet.
So, what should you know when buying an ex-charter catamaran?
Not All Yacht Charter Companies Are the Same
Before looking at whether buying a catamaran out of a charter fleet makes sense. The first important thing to remember is that not all charter operators are the same.
The quality of charter operators varies wildly from company to company and region to region. As a result, not all ex-charter boats can be painted with the same brush. The quality of the charter operator is a huge governing factor of the condition of the boat at the end of the charter management contract.
There is a wide difference in business models between charter companies.
On one side of the scale, there is the business model where the charter company takes on the risk of all expenses and pays the owner a reduced guaranteed monthly payment each month.
On the other side of the scale, the charter company makes no guarantees on income. Charges the owner a monthly management fee, and a commission on all charter revenue. The owner is charged on a cost-plus basis for all expenses related to maintaining and operating the boat.
There are also various blends of the business models. It isn’t important which model the charter company uses. Contra to what you may hear about how different charter companies have structured their businesses, there are good and bad operators in the industry irrespective of their management arrangements with their owners.
Why Charter Catamarans Are Cheaper Than Catamarans That Have Not Been Chartered
Spending time in a charter fleet for a catamaran is not the only reason that charter catamarans are cheaper to buy on average than boats that have always been in private operation. There are multiple factors that play in the reduced pricing of ex-charter catamarans. Not all of these factors are a bad thing for the prospective buyer.
Length of Time In Charter
I cannot stress enough how much the length of time in charter affects the boat. There is a world of difference between a catamaran that has been chartered for a single five-year contract term, and a catamaran that started its life with a well-respected operator, then after the initial five-year contract moved to a second-tier program for two additional years of charter, before finally being retired from a third-tier operator after a total of ten years of charter service.
After five years, yachts will show some wear and tear. Conversely, after ten years without a refit, not only will it look tired, but it will be at the end of its economic charter life.
With the average charter catamaran seeing 20 weeks of use per year, a typical 4 cabin cat will see over 1,600 people, each spending a week each aboard the boat over a ten-year period. Many guests will take excellent care of a boat that is not theirs.
Many people who charter boats will have spent $10,000 + for the week and think that the charter company is making a killing. They see no reason to take extra care of the yacht. They believe the yacht belongs to a large corporation. Most do not realize they are renting some individual’s own boat.
Bareboat charter boats are often abused; it is a simple fact of life. Some of the abuse is unintentional. Water pumps are left to run for hours after tanks run dry. Engines slammed from full forward to full reverse when a new skipper tries to dock. An accidental jibe here and there.
One or two of these events are fine over the lifespan of a boat. But when the mishandling and abuse are frequent, this results in wear on components that adds up. And will result in increased maintenance costs at some point in the future.
The main source of abuse charter boats suffer from are customers plain and simply treating the boats for what they are, Rentals. When in locations where there are many charter boats. We constantly watch charter guests treating boats without any respect at all.
This treatment would certainly not be as prevalent if they themselves owned the boat in question. Things such as guests allowing kids to run wild over all surfaces of the boat with no care for the boat, not to mention children’s personal safety, crazy dance parties on bimini hardtops, and walking, dripping wet with seawater into the interior of the boat.
As an example, one of the most frequent forms of abuse we see is with water toys. Hard paddle boards or Kayaks are secured to the front inner lifelines. A charter guest will go to drop the kayak in the water. Rather than getting help and carrying the kayak to the aft transom and gently lowering it into the water. The guest will drag the kayak to the top of the transom stairs. Slamming the kayak into open hatches as they go. When they get to the top of the stairs they will then walk to the back of the kayak and give it a kick so that it bangs down the stairs! chipping gel coat as it goes.
Another source of abuse you will watch daily. Is running the engines at full throttle for hours on end. Not full power, full-throttle travel!
All this abuse isn’t normally detected at the end of the charter inspection. Transmission problems take hundreds or even thousands of hours to manifest themselves. Damage caused by hard accidental jibes isn’t detected and can’t be seen with the naked eye. That is unless the jibe resulted in popped gooseneck rivets or an immediate failure of the rigging components. Yet the fact remains, the transmission has been exposed to wear that it wasn’t designed to experience, and the rig may be compromised.
Even catamarans from the most reputable operators come with an unknown history, this weighs heavily on their prices.
Another item common in boats that have been in charter for an extended period is unknown engine hours. It is well known with both Volvo and Yanmar analog engine gauges that after a period, the hour meters fail. Usually, either the tachometers are replaced, or separate Hobbs meters are installed.
Unless well documented, how long after the gauges failed were they replaced? Has the power wire deliberately been removed from the Hobbs meter to keep hours down? How much wear is on the pumps, and what level of metal fatigue through cycles and hard use has the rig experienced?
All of this should weigh heavily on any informed potential buyer.
Charter Catamaran Configurations and Equipment
Four cabin versions of catamarans are known as ‘Charter Versions’. For good reason as four cabin boats are the easiest to market.
They will hold four couples who can split the cost of a charter making a $10,000 week-long charter on a catamaran affordable. Especially in an exotic location such as Bora-Bora where chartering a catamaran with friends will work out to be much cheaper than the same week spent in a hotel on the island.
On a four-cabin catamaran, there is no real unfairness amongst guests as to who gets the ‘best rooms’. As unlike three-cabin ‘Owner’s Version’ boats, where one entire hull is dedicated to the owners, all guests end up with a very similar-sized cabin. That is unless it is a smaller catamaran under 40 feet in length.
At first glance, a private buyer, may not see a four-cabin boat as attractive as a three-cabin ‘Owners Version’, which is marketed by the catamaran manufacturers as a luxury upgrade. An owner’s version has a nice open feeling, with a desk, a couch, and a big ensuite bathroom.
What is missed is the loss of storage space that comes with removing a cabin to accommodate the nice big bathroom. Sure, there is extra hanging space and more drawers in the ‘owners cabin’. But, this extra space often does not compensate for the massive under-bunk storage, which is now lost by removing the 4th bunk.
For a couple planning on long-distance cruising to some of the more remote locations around the world. It may become necessary to give up one of your remaining cabins for storage space. Carrying things such as toilet paper for six months and boat spares for an extended voyage quickly eat through available storage space. Regular bulky provisions such as pasta and other dry goods will not fit in even the largest catamaran galley or salon storage. Not to mention the extra space needed for carrying months’ worth of wine and beer.
Throw kids into the mix and an owner’s version becomes unworkable for extended cruising. Simply from a storage point of view. Around the Caribbean or the Med this isn’t an issue but any further afield and you will find that you will become uncomfortable with less than 3-6 months’ worth of provisions on board.
It should be pointed out that where 3 cabin ‘Owner’s Versions’ have been chartered these boats do generally see less use (and fewer people on board when occupied), as a result they incure less wear and tear than their 4 cabin counterparts.
Four heads is the biggest bummer about a charter catamaran. It’s two too many heads. You will spend your life servicing heads, especially the ones that are seldom used. Do not despair there is a solution and an advantage to the extra head space. Here are some great options for what to do with the two extra heads once you’ve removed or disabled the sanitary systems.
- Turn one head into a laundry. Complete with shelves for folding and cupboards to store detergents.
- Turn one head into a wet locker to hang up foul weather and dive gear. Or simply to hang up the washing that didn’t dry when it started to rain.
- Turn one head into extra fridge/ freezer space using sliding fridge and freezer draws you can access through the sidewall
- Turn one head into a pantry
- Or any combination of the above.
The extra head and cabin space will very likely turn into a huge advantage not offered on a 3-cabin owner’s version boat. Unless as an owner, you are willing to give up one or both spare cabins.
Optional and Extra Equipment
As a rule, charter catamarans are normally ordered with basic equipment packages. Electronics packages will generally include a chart plotter but will not include upgrades such as radar.
Charter catamarans are also generally not equipped with items such as watermakers or washing machines. These upgrades are not required on one or two-week charters where there is a good shore infrastructure supporting the boating industry.
Electrical systems will be basic and will seldom include upgrades such as big inverters, high output alternators, extensive solar arrays, etc.
To me, this is a major advantage of buying a charter boat. You get to start with a clean slate. You have the opportunity to fit brand new equipment of your choosing that will suit your style of cruising. All these upgrades can be fitted by an owner for around $20,000.
This is a huge advantage over buying a five-year-old boat that was equipped by the factory for a private owner for two to three times this price. Even with the depreciation on a five-year-old boat, you will still be paying a premium on these factory upgrades when purchasing a used fully equipped boat. For more info see Which factory options should you take on a new catamaran.
Not to mention the equipment that is sold with a used factory equipped private boat will now be five or more years old and may very well be at half of its planned useful life. Which will mean you may end up needing to upgrade and replace this equipment at some point if you plan on cruising for 5 or more years.
To me, this is one of the biggest advantages of buying an ex-charter boat. You get to choose the upgrade options for your future cruising.
What should I Look Out For When Buying an Ex-Charter Catamaran?
Certain systems will have been abused. A prospective buyer will need to pay careful attention to any of the following systems if they are flagged during a survey. Chances are high that evidence of damage or failure, at this point, will become an expensive maintenance issue down the line.
Engines and Saildrives
Charter guests abuse engines. There is no question of this. There may be the occasional guest who babies the engines but, the hard truth is the engines are run hard with little thought for their long-term economic operating costs.
Many charterers either through lack of care or lack of skill, will treat the throttles as no more than On/ Off/ On switches. Throttles will be moved from full forward to full reverse without giving a moment’s thought to what stresses they are placing on the internal components.
If you doubt this, spend an afternoon in a mooring field frequented by charter boats. Boats approach a ball somewhere from 3 to 8 knots of speed, often racing each other to scoop up a premium mooring spot. An order will is given by the foredeck to stop, to catch the ball. The power then goes into hard reverse, as the boat moves over the ball at speed. Once the ball has been missed, the power goes from reverse to forward again, and the boat is positioned for another attempt.
The same level of abuse can be seen when charter boats approach fuel docks. This is the reason why, in many locations around the world, the charter company meets their guests outside of the marina on a dingy and have their skippers park the boat on the dock at the end of the charter.
Should you find the perfect boat and the only negative is that the boat needs one or more engines, repowering the boat may not be as big an expense or ordeal as you may first imagine. For more info take a look at my article on ‘Cost to Repower a Boat‘
When buying a used catamaran, do not rule out boats without generators. Many charter boats will come out of charter service with 10,000 or more hours on the generator. In my view, the generator is so near the end of its life that the value the installed generator presents is only the value of the installation itself. The physical generator with such high hours is likely to become a costly item to maintain and will require replacement not too far down the line.
Keels, Bows and Stern
Another area to look out for when buying an ex-charter catamaran is the keels. Charter boats are often run aground. Particularly in regions of the world where there are many reefs and bommies on the approaches to anchorages.
Fortunately, catamaran brands aimed at the charter market, such as Leopard and Fountain-Pajot, have designed all, or part of their mini-keels to be sacrificial. So, when a boat strikes a reef, the sacrificial part of the keel takes the impact. This can be repaired, or if needed, removed and replaced when the boat gets to the boatyard.
What this means to a prospective catamaran buyer is that signs of keel damage identified on a survey may be limited to the sacrificial part of the keel. And may not be too expensive to repair, or a reason to walk away from the deal. If the catamaran is being phased out from a charter company, it is entirely possible to ask to have the sacrificial part of the keel removed and a new section installed as part of the phase-out process.
What requires more careful investigation is whether the damage was entirely confined to the sacrificial part of the keel (if installed). And that any damage to the main vessel structure was repaired correctly. Make sure there are no areas of damp core around the repair.
Bows and sterns of charter catamarans also take a beating from hitting the dock from time to time. Careful inspection should be made to the bows both inside and out to check for improper repairs.
The transom steps of most modern catamarans are difficult, or impossible to see from the helm. As a result, the sterns are often driven into docks while med mooring. The sterns should be carefully inspected for damage, particularly in the area on the bottom transom step, under and around the rub rails. The rub rails often cover the hull deck joints, which is the most likely point of impact for any dock collisions.
Any water entering the engine compartments from a leaking rub-rail (hull deck joint) may potentially end up being a much bigger repair than the salesperson may try to explain away. The boat at a minimum will need to be pulled out of the water, the rub-rail removed and resealed.
Or depending on the hull structure, the damp core material will need to be ground out, re-glassed, gel coated, and sealed before the rub-rail (or a new rub-rail) is installed. The repair may even extend into the non-skid or Flexi-Teak covering section of the step. Depending on the difficulty of repair this could easily become a $2,000 to $5,000+ repair and should not be glossed over during the survey.
Charter maintenance crews have one job. Make sure the boats are ready to go out on schedule for the next trip. When things are busy, even the best maintenance teams may not have time to fully figure out niggly little electrical problems that take hours to troubleshoot.
As a result, the crew may make a temporary repair to get the boat out on schedule. For example, bypassing a switch or a relay to keep a key piece of equipment running. Normally, these repairs are made to be quite safe. Once the boat has some time when it’s out of service, the crews in a good charter company, which cares for their vessels, go in and fully diagnose the issue and make a permanent repair. Unfortunately, often in the hustle of keeping the fleet moving, these temporary repairs get forgotten.
What this means for the owner of a catamaran out of a charter fleet is the best-case scenario: That there will be a nonstandard part of the electrical system that may not perform as expected when looking at the owner’s manual. This will make troubleshooting future issues far more difficult.
Worst case scenario, there may be a dangerous flaw in the boat’s electrical system. Propper fusing etc. may be absent.
A short while after we purchased our Lagoon 380 out of a boutique charter fleet in the Caribbean. I noticed that the engine battery switches did not cut electrical power to the engines on either side. The charter company maintenance techs had clearly got tired of responding to calls for flat engine batteries. They solved this problem by connecting both the engine batteries and the house batteries together directly, bypassing all the switches.
Had there been an electrical fire in an engine, we would have been unable to isolate the electrical system. Or if I had gone in to replace an alternator or any other part of the electrical system in the engine, I would have been dealing with live wires when I was expecting the electrics to be off. This was missed on the survey, even though there were an extra set of grossly undersized battery cables running across the boat joining both battery banks.
I called the charter company up after fixing the issue and explained the hazard to them. The maintenance manager explained that this was a STANDARD modification they made to all boats in their fleet!
When buying an ex-charter catamaran make sure the surveyor gives the electrical system a good inspection. Even as a layman future owner. Stick your head in various compartments where you can see parts of the electrical system. Look for any wiring that doesn’t look as if it is part of the original design or just plain looks different from any other wiring in the system.
Charter boat rigging takes a beating. Inspect areas such as gooseneck mast/ boom attachment points carefully. Take a good look at how the rivets are sitting. Your potential future catamaran will have lived through many a hard accidental jibe.
As for the rest of the rigging, it is almost impossible to detect metal fatigue without lab testing. Know that this boat will have been sailed hard. Sails will have been left to flog, adding cycles to the rig. And, reefing speeds will have been accidentally or deliberately exceeded on multiple occasions.
Do not buy the charter companies’ story that the rig is inspected every year. An inspection will only reveal components that had failed at the time of inspection.
My advice to anyone considering buying an ex-charter catamaran, accept in your budgeting that the rig will need to be replaced. Budget accordingly. At the very least, plan to replace the cycling components of the rig, such as the stays.
Chances are high, your rigger will be able to reuse most of the fittings from the rigging if the boat is less than 10-years-old. The replacement will not be as expensive as you think, as you will really only be paying for wiring, swaging, and the rigger’s time. Most likely, the mast will not even need to come off.
The peace of mind a new rig will give you will be enormous. Prospective insurance companies will also see the new rig as a positive when it comes to looking for insurance for your new boat.
Avoid The Traps When Buying a Charter Boat
It is worth reminding any prospective purchaser looking to buy a catamaran from a charter fleet. That the vast majority of boats in charter service are privately owned and that charter management company is working on the owners behalf.
If there are multiple boats of the same model and year the purchase price the buyer may strike will vary between boats depending on each owner. What may not vary will be the items that are agreed to during the phase out inspection.
Phase Out Inspection
Yacht Charter management companies that contract with owners on a fixed monthly income payment system for the use of the owner’s boat will generally include a section in the yacht charter use contract that they will return the vessel to the owner at the end of the charter period in a ‘reasonable condition for a vessel of ____ years old’.
What this really means is that certain items that see wear and tear above a companies normal standard will be repaired or replaced to meet the standard. An owner or where the owner is selling the purchaser of the vessel can expect to have items such as minor Gel coat scuffs, or delaminating mirrors repaired or replaced.
It is not unusual for a charter company that performs phase-out inspections to address 30-50 items on a phase-out inspection. Generally, these items are minor in nature. Costing no more than a hundred dollars or so to replace.
A prospective buyer cannot expect new sails, sail drives, rigging, or any major items to be covered in the phase-out. Unless a system is clearly damaged and beyond the expected normal standard for a vessel of similar age. Negotiations to correct items during the phase-out inspection will be between the owner/ prospective buyer and the charter management company.
Phase out inspections do not take place on vessels where the owner was responsible for the running costs of the vessel during the period the yacht was in charter. Any negotiations to correct defects will be at the owners discretion.
Inhouse Charter Company Brokers
Big reputable charter program operators will make no bones about the fact that the charter operator is connected to or owns the used charter boat brokerage. The companies will share a name, and most likely even offices. Moorings Brokerage is a good example of a company that is upfront about the fact that they have a direct connection with The Moorings Yacht Charter organization.
A prospective buyer should be under no illusions that there is a shared allegiance to the Yacht Owner, The Moorings/ Sunsail, and the buyer themselves. This is fine, the buyer is free to retain a buyer’s broker to represent them in the deal, at no extra cost, as the seller will be paying the buyer’s broker’s share of the selling commission.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are charter companies that own brokerages under different names. Those are by design made to appear as if there is no connection with the charter organization they represent. These brokerages will pretend to be working as a buyers agent. Working with the buyer’s interests at heart.
With these arm’s length brokerages, often nothing could be further from the truth. Do your homework on the broker as much as the boat. Better yet, find your own buyer’s broker.
Unless you are buying your boat from a charter company in a very large city, chances are high that the charter company and the surveyor (or even your buyer’s broker if you choose a local company) have a personal or cozy working relationship.
I am not suggesting that all surveyors can be bought or manipulated to make a deal work in the selling broker’s favor. I am saying it becomes more likely when you are buying a boat from the only charter company on a small island, which has a limited marine infrastructure. Sometimes, the ‘independent’ surveyor you retain (who is suggested for you to hire) will have a close working relationship with the charter company selling the boat.
In many small islands, there simply is not enough survey work to go around. Surveyors need to earn the bulk or a portion of their income performing regular marine trades. Including working as maintenance techs or charter boat captains. Or in the case of one South Pacific island, managing the marina where the largest tenants are the island’s two charter companies.
This puts the surveyor in a very difficult position to perform fully in the buyers best interests.
Crewed Charter Boats
As with charter companies, there is a vast difference in how paid crews treat boats in charter. As a general rule, I would say that it is safe to assume that a crewed boat will be found in better condition at the end of a charter management contract than a boat that was bareboat chartered its entire charter life.
I would, however, not go as so far as to say that all crewed boats are in better condition than bareboat chartered boats. We have witnessed many a paid crew abusing their boats far more than any paying charter guest might.
It is important to remember that most charter guests are encouraged to pay 15-20% of the total cost of the charter to the crew in the form of a tip. This tip can provide significant motivation for a paid skipper to do things with the boat that the boat’s owner would not find acceptable.
Please note when I say crewed boat I’m only referring to pleasure boat crews found on ‘charter catamarans’ and not professional crews in the super yachting industry who hold themselves to an exceptionally high standard.
Conclusion – Should You Buy an Ex-Charter Catamaran?
If the buyer goes in well educated, under no illusions that the boat will have been mistreated or neglected in various ways. And is prepared to budget for items that will be worn or a source of future potential failure. Then buying an ex-charter catamaran is a great way to buy a boat that may have otherwise been outside of the buyer’s budget.
Another strategy is to purchase a boat that was previously chartered and has been with a private owner for four or five years. During this time, the owner will have had to deal with almost all of the failures which resulted from the boat having seen service as a charter boat.
I hope you found this article informative. If you have any questions or comments please leave a comment in section below.