Where are you going?

This is one of life’s and sailing’s most pressing questions, and the answer for your life’s direction may very well be found on the water. I would look for it there. For sailing? The chart briefing is a great place to start and an invaluable resource for your journey, especially if you have not sailed in the area before.

The chart briefing is your chance to learn about preferred anchorages, hazards, area-specific Intel, weather anomalies, and recommendations that will set you and your crew up for a successful and safe adventure.

As with the boat briefing, our advice is to have a second crew member attend the chart briefing with the skipper where their entire role is to take good notes that will be a valuable reference for the rest of the journey.

Below is a checklist of items we recommend addressing to make sure you are fully prepared before you set sail:

  • Anchoring: What depths and holding can be expected?
  • Charter Base Contact: Write down the numbers and contact process for reaching the charter company in case of a malfunction or emergency.
  • Docking: If areas where docking is recommended, find out the preferred way to notify the harbor master and any needed details for each marina. Find out if reservations are typically required.
  • Mooring: Are there transient mooring options for rent and where are these located versus private mooring options?
    • Find out what is typical for the area: Mooring balls with a pendant for pickup at the bow or mooring balls with a hook that is grabbed at the stern.
    • Find out the payment amount and location-specific process for payment.
    • Find out if reservations are typically required.
  • Process for Retuning the Boat: If not covered in your boat briefing, make sure you know when your sailboat is due back at the base and the process the charter company prefers for boat returns.
    • Know the phone number or VHF channel to call and when that call should be made.
    • Find out if it is your responsibility to refuel, and if so, where that should be done.
    • Understand if you will be docking the boat or if they prefer to dock. Note: If docking is an option for you but you are not comfortable with that task you should request assistance. All reputable charter companies will be happy to help and provide a harbor or marina pilot when requested.
  • Safety: Are there any safety concerns for the area you are sailing, i.e. do they recommend you lock up your dinghy motor at night?
  • Tidal Changes: In the area you are sailing are there tidal shifts that impact anchoring? If so, make sure you have access to a current tidal chart for the week.
  • Weather: What is the weather forecast for the week and are there any weather anomalies that should be considered for the area? What are the best weather resources for the area?
  • Where to go: What specific areas/islands/bays/marinas are most recommended for charter sailors?
    • For each recommended location, what are the anchoring/mooring options?
    • For each location, what are the anticipated hazards?
    • For each location, what are the on-land amenities for restaurants, hikes, activities, and supplementary provisioning?

In addition to these questions, I like to probe a little more. I am not sure if it is the journalism major in me or the new sailor who has been surprised by a lot of things I felt should have been important to point out. Here are a few to get you started…

  • What is the worst thing that has happened to one of your charter boats?
  • What is the worst weather you have seen in this area and what did boats do in that situation?
  • What is the favorite spot of your past charter guests?
  • What is your favorite thing about sailing here?
  • What is the top complaint live-aboard sailors in this area have about charter sailors?
  • What is the best advice you have for charter sailors here?

It is important to note that some charter companies do a better job than others at the chart briefing. We have had companies that provided an organized PowerPoint and associated documentation with latitude/longitude specifics for each area. We love these companies! Other charter companies that we love a bit less have simply tried to skip it and we had to insist that they provide us with at least some information as it was our first time sailing in that location.

Make sure you get what you need before you leave the marina, and don’t be shy asking questions. This is your trip and the more information you can have before you leave, the better equipped you will be to navigate to incredible places and avoid potential pitfalls.