How to Behave with a Skipper and what are his Duties

After so many years of experience in the nautical marketplace, we perfectly know what clients could be worried about. One main concern, especially for those who have never rented a boat and don’t have a license, is how to behave with the skipper and what are his responsibilities. How to get along with this stranger that will be part of your crew and plays a fundamental role to the success of your charter? What if tensions between the crew and the guests arise? These concerns are what first may come to mind, especially if you’ve never rented a boat and you don’t know what his duties and rights are.

Another question could be related to language. Does the skipper speak English? Or is it possible to find a skipper that speak my language? Skipper always speak English and sometimes other languages too. They are used to travel and meet people from all over the world, thus you don’t have to worry about how to communicate with him. Anyway, If you have any special request, you can always ask your agent if it is possible to find a skipper able to speak your language and we’ll try to find the most suitable solution for you.

Thus let’s see what kind of duties they have and how to behave with a skipper, as well as some tips on how to build a good relationship with them and take advantage of their experience.

Who is the skipper and what are his duties onboard?

Skipper driving a boat

A skipper is the master of the boat, thus his responsibility at sea is huge.  His skills are crucial for the success of a yacht charter, and his attitude can have a strong impact on your holidays and make them much more comfortable and relaxing. Some clients prefer to hire a skipper although they have a license, just to have an utter laid-back holiday. Sailing with a professional sailor ensures typically a greater level of security and, on top of that, he will share his knowledge about the area to visit.

Besides being a sailing expert and steering the boat, skippers always have an in-depth knowledge of the areas and their weather patterns. They will be glad to share precious suggestions about what to see, the best beaches and anchorages, restaurants etc.; thereby you will take advantage of the valuable insight of a “local guide” and enjoy places that you would probably miss otherwise.

Needless to say then, that apart from having high navigation skills, they have to stand out for distinctive social skills and for being people-oriented in order to share for one week a limited space with completely unknown people!

Introductions, check-in, and route planning

You will know the skipper during the check-in at the base office or directly onboard. After the introduction, he will join the guests for the technical check-in onboard, accommodate them, and most importantly, to do the safety check-in. He will show the safety equipment, explain how it works, and illustrate the guidelines of the emergency procedures to adopt in case of necessity. For first-timer sailors, a skipper is also useful to ask how to use the different elements inside and outside the boat, such as the toilet, the tanks, the folding sofa or the cooking appliances.

The following step is to talk about the itinerary. The skipper will try to meet the client’s wishes, but he will also analyse the distances, explain the current situation of the weather and the sea, and apply possible changes on the route. He can also recommend places and beaches that you may not have taken into account, the most scenic or equipped ports to berth and their fees, the best places to anchor overnight, and local hotspots. This initial conversation can also represent a good occasion to have the first chat and start knowing each other.

Finally, yet importantly, the skipper has to inform the clients about the charter company’s policy and the estimated return time for the check-out.

A travelling companion and a guide

A granfather with his nephews sailing on a sailboat wearing life jacketss

Regarding the route, clients have the right to decide and plan what they want to see during their yacht charter. The skipper helps clients plan the sailing route; however, he can bring his judgment based on the safety of the people on board and change the itinerary according to the weather conditions. In case of any argument or controversy, the differences of opinion should be solved politely and in a comfortable and friendly atmosphere. 

Keep in mind that the skipper is in charge of the safety of the boat and of the passengers, thus is him that has to impose clear and specific rules that can’t be discussed. He will always have the final say during the navigation as he will be the one who can be held civilly and criminally responsible for the boat and the guests. On the other hand, the skipper is not simply a chauffeur. He has to be patient, polite, friendly, tidy, net and willing to meet clients needs and desires.

How to handle the provisioning onboard: skipper’s meals

Let’s answer another very frequently asked question: How to behave with a skipper at lunchtime and do clients have to buy food for the skipper? Yes, it is mandatory to provide food and enough beverage for the crew. This means that when you go to the store for some supplies, you should take him into account as an additional passenger. The most common habit onboard is to eat all together, but it depends on what you want and if the skipper’s personality fits in with the guests and vice-versa.

Another common doubt is if it is obligatory to take him out for lunch or dinner. In some cases,  guests who get on really well with the skipper ask him out, but this is also completely up to you, and it’s not expected. Consider that he also needs to rest, and maybe he prefers to spend some time alone during his free time. Thus it can also be good for him to be alone at the end of the day and you shouldn’t feel bad if he declines the invitation.

If you prefer to have some privacy,  you can simply do grocery shopping for him and leave his meal in the yacht’s fridge. You can even give him some money to buy and prepare food for himself. He will undoubtedly respect clients needs, and he will do everything to not interfere with your privacy and your right to be alone with your friends or family.

How to manage the common areas and the cabins: where does the skipper sleep?

We strongly recommend providing the skipper with a place and time to rest, thus to give him its own cabin. Skippers have the full liability of the vessel and the passengers, thus they should be well-rested. Moreover, they also appreciate comfort and privacy after working hard the whole day! It is easier if you rent a catamaran, as they usually have a separate cabin for the crew, the so-called front cabins. They are narrow and not extremely comfortable, but at least independent from the common areas.

Complications may arise on monohulls since clients tend to occupy all cabins. In this case, skippers sleep in the salon, however, not all fleet operators allow doing so. The lack of private space can cause unpleasant situations. A typical example can be when guests maybe want to stay up till late hanging out in the salon, so the skipper can’t retire to bed. Also for the passengers could be annoying not have the freedom to enjoy more space and the common areas.

Most of the time skippers sleep with one eye opened, thus it is more likely that they want to lie-down and rest since they are not on holidays and the next day will be another busy day for them! We understand that questions such as how to behave with a skipper or what to expect from him can be legitimate doubts but in the end, it is often a matter of common sense.

Other responsibilities…

ship's wheel


The skipper doesn’t have to cook, wash the dishes or tidy up the interior of the boat, though he takes care of the deck and cleans it whenever it is possible. He has to keep an eye on the water loading and consumption, the sails, and the electrical system. In case of any technical issue, the skipper has to fix it, and if the client can, he can also give him a hand.

The skipper is supposed to perform the manoeuvres single-handedly, but also, in this case, any help is more than welcome. On the contrary, furniture and inventory are under the client’s responsibility. That’s what the security deposit is for!

He will also appreciate if any passenger gets passionate about sailing. It will be a pleasure for him to answer your questions and satisfy your curiosity about the navigation. He will be happy to teach some basic notions and simple manoeuvres!

In conclusion…

The skipper is more than “who drives the boat”. He will be part of your crew, a new travelling companion, and a local guide. And remember he is not your servant and should always be treated with respect. He the one who can make the difference and make your charter an unforgettable experience!

That said, fear winds and following seas!





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