Few locations embody the essence of a tropical getaway quite like the Caribbean. The area’s crystal clear blue water, laid-back island vibes, and white sand beaches are pretty hard to beat.
All-inclusive resorts and vacation home rentals are (justifiably) popular places to call home as you visit this idyllic spot on the globe.
Turns out that’s not the only way to see this gorgeous vacation destination.
A British Virgin Islands yacht charter is a fantastic and unique way to explore the Caribbean. In fact, BVI crewed sailing vacations are arguably some of the best vacations we’ve ever been on. They’re bucket list experiences that we’ve repeated several times.
For starters, the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands make ideal sailing destinations. The four main islands in the BVIs – Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke – are surrounded by some 50 smaller islands and cays. These islands, which are part of the leeward islands, encompass a plethora of beautiful places to explore. They generally have great sailing conditions in which to do it. And they’re relatively easy to get to from many U.S. airports.
The trips also include wonderful service from the crew and are a perfect mix of relaxation and adventure.
Ready to sail away on your next vacation? Here’s your 7-step guide to planning a BVI sailing vacation of your own.
1. Gather basic information about a sailing trip in the BVIs.
If you’re totally new to the idea of a crewed yacht charter, you might be wondering what it entails.
Chartering a crewed boat means renting a sailboat or yacht that comes with a captain, sometimes referred to as a skipper. Often, a private chef, who acts as a first mate as well, is also on board.
The crew on board sails the boat to various islands within the BVIs or USVIs. If it’s a fully crewed boat, the crew on board prepares meals as well.
Chartered sailing trips are available on catamarans, single-hull sailboats, and power yachts. You’ll choose which boat is best for you based on availability, budget, preferred amenities, and the number of people on the trip.
2. Choose your sailing dates.
Like much of the Caribbean, the BVI and USVI enjoy nice weather year-round. Even in high temperatures, trade winds often help create pleasant conditions. Charter companies generally book trips throughout the year.
The hottest part of the year is June through September when average high temperatures are 88 to 89 degrees. Water temperatures during these months range from 82 to 84 degrees.
These warm months correspond with hurricane season as well. While much of the island remains open, some businesses choose to use this time to close. Some charter companies close BVI sailings from August through mid-October, during peak hurricane season. Others offer sailings with policies regarding refunds in the event of a hurricane.
The flip side of being on the lookout for a storm means you’ll experience low crowds and longer days. June through October is particularly considered the low season.
When cold weather settles in for much of the U.S., the high season starts in the BVIs. December through March is considered the busiest season with larger crowds and higher prices.
For those who have flexibility in their schedule, shoulder season is often a favorite time to sail. April through June as well as the month of November boasts smaller crowds and lower prices. There’s also little chance of much rain.
The length of your trip is dependent on your schedule, the charter company’s availability, and the company’s policies. For example, some companies have minimum stays of four or five nights while others allow for trips as short as a single night.
3. Contact sailing charter companies for pricing information.
I know what you’re thinking. “Luxury yacht charter” doesn’t exactly scream budget vacation.
So, what’s the cost of a BVI sailing trip?
It depends. The average price of a yacht charter is affected by the length of your trip, the type of yacht or sailboat, the time of year, and the charter company you choose.
Boats available for charter range from sailing catamarans or monohulls about 36 feet in length to much longer sailing vessels or power yachts. Options for crewing range from booking a bareboat yacht charter, in which case guests hire a skipper privately, to fully company-vetted crewed sailings.
Prices on smaller fully crewed vessels tend to start at around $350 – 400 per person per day and go up from there. The number of bathrooms (called “heads” now that you’re a sailor), size and number of lounge areas, and things like whether the vessel has air conditioning all affect price. The time of year also impacts the cost of your trip, with low season corresponding with, you guessed it, a lower cost.
As BVI yacht charters have become more popular, the number of companies providing them has increased. So, taking the time to compare prices is definitely worth it. Don’t forget to price out some smaller companies as well. That’s been our secret sauce for getting great deals when we’ve done this trip.
4. Plan to get to the BVIs.
The most popular way to travel to the BVIs from U.S. destinations is through St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most charter companies recommend arriving at least a day early to provide a buffer in the event of travel delays. Overnighting in St. John is our choice because we find there are nicer lodging options.
From St. Thomas, you’ll catch a ferry to Tortola to board your chartered boat. Ferries that connect the islands are inexpensive and convenient ways to get around. Most charter companies utilize the Road Town port, but you’ll want to check with your charter company for specific instructions. The ferry trip from St. Thomas to the Road Town port takes approximately one hour.
Guests can also fly into Tortola and arrive at the airport located on Beef Island. Flights arrive from St. Thomas, San Juan, Antigua, and Dominica. However, this option tends to be more expensive and potentially less convenient.
5. Choose your onboard menu selections and provisions.
I have a theory that truly experiencing a culture is best done through your taste buds. And that’s no different in the BVIs.
So, now comes the fun part – choosing meals, snacks, and drinks you’ll have onboard.
Often fully crewed and serviced trips include two meals per day. A third meal of the day will be enjoyed on the island you’re visiting that day. Prior to your trip, your crew will provide menu options and you’ll choose which meals you’ll have prepared.
6. Plan (or don’t plan) your sailing itinerary.
If itinerary planning sounds like too much work, one of the great things about a chartered trip is that you can skip it altogether. An experienced skipper will know all the best spots to go while island hopping.
Here are some things you’ll want to make sure your captain includes in your itinerary.
The natural beauty of the islands
First, you can’t miss the natural wonders found on the islands. The Baths at Virgin Gorda undoubtedly top the list in this category. Grottoes and tidal pools were formed in the area, which is now a national park. Visitors dinghy close to shore and then wade or swim a short distance to explore. It is truly a gorgeous, unique experience.
The tropical oasis of Anegada is another great spot to see natural wonders like miles of white sand beaches and amazing coral reefs. Navigating the reefs is difficult, helping to ensure the exclusivity of the island. Once there, be sure to sample the island’s signature dish, barbequed lobster, and search for the resident flamingos that roam free.
Snorkel, scuba, and other water sports
Snorkeling or scuba diving to check out marine life is another not-to-be-missed activity. Plenty of lagoons and cays make perfect backdrops. A spot called the Indians, located off of Peter Island, is one of our favorites. We also love the nearby Caves at Norman Island. And for scuba diving, the wreck of the RS Rhone near Salt Island is fantastic.
If water sports are something you love on your vacation, places like Nanny Cay offer kayaking, surfboarding, or SUP. (The marina at Nanny Cay is also a good spot to grab supplies or do laundry if needed.).
Bar hopping island-style
Last, but certainly not least, you have to check out the infamous beach bars in the BVIs which can only be reached by boat. Willy T’s is one such place. This iconic spot sits on a barge in Great Harbor, off of Peter Island. Jumping from the second-story deck into the water here has become sort of a right of passage.
Foxy’s, another great choice, is located on the island of Jost Van Dyke. They’ve been serving food, drinks, and fun for five decades.
Also in Jost Van Dyke, the Soggy Dollar, is another of our favorites. It’s aptly named because getting there requires mooring at White Bay and swimming a short distance to shore. But, don’t worry. Their Painkiller cocktails will make you forget all about the effort to get there.
7. Check out other frequently asked questions about a BVI yacht charter.
How many passengers can BVI yacht charters accommodate?
One of the most common configurations for a chartered trip is a 4-cabin monohull or catamaran. Passengers typically occupy 3 of the cabins while the crew occupies the other. Some sailboats also have other small areas or convertible galleys where an additional person can sleep. This configuration means many boats most comfortably sleep 6 guests, with 2 people occupying each private cabin and the crew occupying the other. Additional bedding on a galley couch or elsewhere allows for more on some boats, with 12 being the maximum number allowed on chartered boats (although these very large vessels are rare.) Conversely, some smaller boats may sleep less than 6 guests and 2 crew.
What’s the difference between a monohull and a catamaran?
As the term “mono” suggests, monohulls have one section or hull. Catamarans on the other hand have two sections or hulls with a structure of the boat connecting the two.
Both use sails as well as motors when needed to move, although there are a few differences other than the obvious.
Catamarans don’t tilt or “heel” as much as monohulls The balancing hulls serve to provide a bit more stability. This can be a nice feature for anyone who is prone to sickness. Catamarans often travel faster and have a bit more room as well.
Don’t rule out a monohull quite yet though. A monohull sailboat is a great option for those who want an adventurous vacation. They can typically sail in tighter spaces, perform better upwind, and tend to be cheaper to rent.
Are children allowed on BVI yacht charters?
Yes! BVI yacht charters make great family vacations and children are allowed. We’ve done this trip with just adults as well as with children and have enjoyed both types of trips. Just keep in mind that sailboats and yachts are fraught with safety hazards for very young children. If you’re at the baby gate and diaper stage of parenting, you will likely want to hold off for a few years on this vacation. Completely babyproofing is not possible on sailboats and yachts. This trip is great for little ones before they become mobile or when they’re old enough to be safe staying overnight on a boat.
What’s it like to stay overnight on the boat?
Staying overnight on a chartered sailboat or yacht is a bit like glamping. Certainly, your experience will vary based on the boat’s characteristics and amenities but generally, you will have a small cabin, or berth, with a comfortable bed. Space is tight on boats so you’ll want to pack light. You are likely to notice some swaying or moving at night as your boat will be moored to a mooring ball, although movement is usually gentle. Heads, the bathroom area on a boat, are small as well and usually encompass the shower area. Some boats have en suite bathrooms while others have just one on the boat or one per hull.
Is seasickness common on BVI sailing trips?
Seasickness can occur while sailing for sure. In fact, as someone who has gotten seasick during a BVI sailing trip, the fact that I then went on subsequent trips is a testament to how great these vacations really are. In our sailing group, levels of seasickness ranged from none at all to moderate. We’ve never sailed with anyone who wouldn’t do the trip again though because of seasickness. Nonetheless, having over-the-counter or prescribed medication on hand for your trip is a good idea.
Will I have wifi during my trip?
Sailing in the BVIs often doesn’t mean you’ll be cut off from cellular service or wifi. Cell service varies between carriers. We had service most of the time, only losing it for a short time when we were on longer sails. Some boats are equipped with other wifi options. You’ll want to ask your charter company what options they have available.