Yes, you, too, can sail on a private yacht in the Caribbean

Renting a private vessel in the Caribbean and cruising through a warm, salty-breezed parallel universe isn't as out of reach as you may think

As the old saying goes -- money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull right up alongside it. Sailing the Caribbean.

For many, it’s just an item on the bucket list. Something reserved for those privileged few who actually own yachts in the Caribbean, know someone connected in the BVIs or who even have the foggiest idea about how to operate a 46-foot (14-meter) catamaran, right?

Think again.

Enter the world of Caribbean yacht charters and the keys to a nautical kingdom are tossed to the common among us. Not just yachties and experienced sailors, but landlubbers eager to chalk up an unforgettable, fully crewed, tropical vacation on the open water.

“A lot of first-timers are pleasantly surprised by how doable it is -- chartering a yacht and making their dream sailing trip a reality,” says Dennis Dori of Charter Sailing Unlimited, a U.S.-based charter yacht brokerage company with ties to hundreds of vessels for hire all over the Antilles.

“And there’s truly no better or easier place in the world to do it than in the Caribbean.”

Here are some Chartering 101 basics and pinch-me-I’m-dreaming, charter-friendly destinations that’ll make your next Caribbean trip your best one yet.

How? Three chartering tips

The gist of charter sailing is simpler than tying a bowline. Here are your first three questions, and answers, on the subject:

Do I have to know how to sail -- or make dinner when a storm's blowing?

Yes, if you’re chartering a “bareboat,” meaning a fully equipped sailing yacht without a captain or crew.

No, if you opt for an all-inclusive crewed yacht charter package that comes with a skipper, crew and chef.

Both options are readily available throughout the Caribbean and you probably already know which one is for you.

While bareboat charters are more common (and cheaper), the crewed option is a great way to gain some guided sailing experience or just kick back on a private yacht and enjoy a worry-free vacation. A “skippered bareboat” is an alternative for non-sailors who need a captain but don’t want to spring for a whole crew.

How much is this gonna cost?

How many crazy rich people do you see down there? Probably not as many as you think.

Prices range widely, depending on the vessel, passenger and crew size, and when you go (high season in the Caribbean runs from mid-December through late April).

Typical all-inclusive rates for a week on a fully crewed sailing yacht run from US$1,800-2,500 per person (for a standard-sized group of four to six people), plus incidentals and 10-15 percent gratuity. Couples can lower their costs by opting for a “cabin cruise” -- chartering a single berth on a boat shared with other guests.

Let’s do this. Who do I call?

An experienced broker accredited with a recognized chartering organization such as the Charter Yacht Brokers Association or American Yacht Charter Association can tailor a charter sailing vacation to your needs without adding to the cost.

The Moorings and Sunsail operate the two largest charter yacht fleets in North America, with several bases throughout the Caribbean.

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