Potential problems when Chartering a Motor Boat in the Solent

A little word of warning if you are thinking of chartering a boat.

There are some well organised and diligent charter operators in the Solent, sadly far more people operate under the radar seeing chartering as a way to earn a few quid to cover their boating expenses. The benefit to you is usually a cost saving compared to a legitimate company so on the face of it why not? All you want is a bit of a Jolly with some friends and it’s not as though you’re heading off across the Atlantic. What’s the worst that’s going to happen?

Privately you can have as many people as you want on board. The boat doesn’t have to meet any special standards or pass any inspections and the person at the helm needs no formal qualification or training. By law a commercial Charter boat has to be coded to MCA (Marine and Coastguard Agency) standards. Coding ensures the boat is safe and dictates the maximum safe number of people on board. Safety equipment is checked and a stability test is carried out relative to the maximum number of passengers and crew. Life rafts, fire detection & fighting equipment, construction, safety devices and so on are all looked at. Coding a boat properly can cost well in excess of £10,000 so it’s easy to see why some people don’t bother.

Be particularly suspicious of boats offering to carry more than 12 passengers. This is the maximum permissible under the codes used by the vast majority of legitimate UK charter companies.

To operate within the law your charter skipper needs to hold a commercial masters licence as well as a number of ancillary qualifications covering things such as medical first aid, sea survival / life raft usage emergency radio procedures, emergency flare use and the skipper needs to pass a periodic medical examination to ensure they are fit to carry out their duties and look after their passengers.

Being on the water is not like being on dry land. Things can go wrong very quickly and if the boat or skipper are not up to scratch lives can be lost. The key is to avoid getting into difficulty in the first place and much of a commercial skipper’s training revolves around this. Similarly having a safe, well maintained boat also helps avoid dangerous situations or prevents a relatively minor problem escalating.

Question the company when making a booking. Ask to see copies of the boat’s MCA coding documentation and the skipper’s licence. You should be given a thorough safety briefing when joining the boat and allocated personal safety equipment such as a life jacket. The last thing you want is endanger yourself or your guests.

For us it’s easy to spot the bad guys. Over crowded boats, navigational errors, lack of current safety equipment and so on. For you as the customer it is a bit harder but at least you are now aware of the basic requirements.