Charter Sailing: Crossing an Ocean on Charter

Not your typical charter sailing vacation.

Most people charter a boat for a week somewhere exotic or cultural to enjoy a vacation where they might be able to raise sails if the wind is right and they have the time to go slow. It’s a great way to spend time, but if you want to really sail and maybe cross an ocean in the process, consider chartering with a handful of specialized outfits that cover the Atlantic as part of the 150-plus boats on the annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC).  

charter sailing
Women-only boats are becoming more popular. Linda Lindenau's Peristera crew crossed the Atlantic in 2023 on a chartered Oceanis 473.

In November 2023 more than 900 participants from 40 countries sailed the Atlantic from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (in Spain’s Canary Islands) to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Some of those participants sailed on chartered boats with professional crews which you can do too without needing your own boat. 

Age is not a deterrent to participate. In 2023, the ages ranged from 11 months to 89 years. Most people were 45-65, but more younger faces are showing up on the docks as well. With most charter outfits, experience is usually of little concern. A good attitude (and money) will win one of the coveted spots. Prices vary as do the reputations of the companies or individual skippers, so do your homework and remember, you’ll need airfare money, too.

Some outfits are geared toward training and education and may include tutorials on weather forecasting or celestial navigation on the crossing. Others don’t emphasize much other than teamwork and standing watch. Most crossings take about three weeks, so you must bring your “A game” to thrive in a cramped environment with a passel of strangers. Also, you’ll need to dedicate four to six weeks to the adventure. Some charters require you to come early and help with the preparations, and a three-week crossing isn’t guaranteed.

ARC dock scene
If you want to really sail and maybe cross an ocean in the process, consider charter sailing with a handful of specialized outfits that cover the Atlantic as part of the 150-plus boats on the annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.

You can probably find a group to your liking. Women-only boats are becoming popular. Six women and their female captain crossed in 2023 on a chartered Oceanis 473 named Persitera, in 23 days and six hours. The ages aboard ranged from 20-66 years, and they had truly bonded in their time on the water. Unlike some of the charter boats I visited in St. Lucia, this group had become friends and were happy to stick together going forward. Their experience levels varied at the start, but they were all in it for the same goal.  

“What you need is desire more than experience to do this,” said their skipper, Linda. “The rest can be taught, so women should get out there and make a go of it.”

Emily of Cowes was another charter boat that sailed with six students and two crew and crossed in 17 days and 17 hours. It was the skipper’s third ARC, so he knew the ropes. The boat was a sound Slovenian-built Elan 450, but still lots of equipment broke along the way as it always does on the relentless sea. Nevertheless, they made good time and learned a lot. 

You must do your homework before you sign up for a passagemaking charter. Research the captain’s credentials and experience. Ask to talk to previous charterers and have a list of detailed questions for the company. If they don’t want to answer them, move on to the next one. 

Consider what kind of boat you’d feel safe and comfortable on. Many large Oysters operated as charters in 2023. It was undoubtedly a posh experience. Or maybe you’d like to test out a multihull offshore. More cats are showing up on the start line each year. Some operate as charters. 

Find details on the boat and its equipment because sparse boats make meager homes for three weeks on end. If you’re used to a level of comfort, you may be unpleasantly surprised by a pipe berth on a boat with no watermaker and severe rationing. Basically, give yourself every chance of success so you can learn much and enjoy your time on the water. 

Make yourself a worthy candidate, too. Lead with your skills like mechanical or cooking. Don’t get stuck in one mode aboard, but be sure to highlight your strengths because the best boats are in high demand.

The ARC has run for 38 consecutive years which means more than 35,000 people have sailed the 2700-mile passage. Some people come for the sociable community, others for the ARC’s preparation guidance, and still others for the experience of looking out for the better part of three weeks and seeing nothing but water and sails. If that’s you, check out the website at and inquire how to participate.

by Zuzanna Prochazka

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