How to Sail the British Virgin Islands Without Breaking the Bank
So you’ve been in awe of your friend’s sailing photos from the British Virgin Islands but either don’t know how much it will set you back or are already convinced it’s too expensive? Well, read on because sailing to the BVI’s may be more reasonable than you might think!
There is no single answer as to how much a sailing trip will cost as there are numerous variables that will alter the potential price. When estimating the expenses of a BVI sailing trip, there are several things to consider. We’ll work thru each of them below.
WHEN TO GO
This may be one of the easiest variables to alter the potential cost of your sailing trip. Most sailing charter companies will offer three to four travel “seasons”, each with a different price. We choose BVI Yacht Charters for our trip (check them out here) and they offer four seasons: Peak (Dec 16 - Jan 1; Feb 1 - Mar 31), Mid (Jan 2 - Jan 31; Apr 1 - Apr 30), Low (May 1 - Jul 9; Nov 6 - Dec 15), and Off Season (Jul 10 - Nov 5).
Often each season is around 10% more or less than the season next to it. You will find airfare to the BVI will be higher around the holidays and during the BVI’s peak sailing season of December thru April when the trade winds are the most consistent. You can often find lower airfare if you can fly Tuesday thru Thursday as opposed to the weekends.
Obviously the cost of airfare will depend on where you are flying from and your proximity to a major airport with connections to the BVIs. The main airport in the BVI is Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (airport code EIS) which is in Road Town on the main island of Tortola. As noted above, airfare will also vary depending on what time of year it is. Try searching on some of our favorite sites like Google Travel or Kayak to get a ballpark. Also try playing with different arrival and departure dates (easiest by selecting the +/- 3 days when choosing your travel dates).
As of the writing of this article, flights in mid-April can found for around $700 from either Los Angeles or New York to Road Town on Kayak.com.
CHOOSE YOUR BOAT WISELY
Choosing a boat is the biggest factor to the overall cost of your sailing trip. There is a great deal of cost variability which is related to the type of boat, the size of the boat and how luxurious of a boat you want to spend your vacation on. There are two types of sailboats: traditional monohulls vs double-hull catamarans. Generally speaking, for a boat of similar age and features, a monohull will usually be around 10% cheaper than a catamaran. On the other hand, catamarans are often more stable and more spacious both inside and on deck. We opted for the extra space and smoother ride of a catamaran but making this decision can lead to a 10% difference right off the top.
Next, you have to decide how many people you want on your charter holiday and how close of proximity you want to spend the next one to two weeks with them. Most boats, either monohulls or catamarans range from 36 to 50 feet in length. Now would probably be an important time to point out that you’ll be spending your charter in very close proximity to your fellow sailors so choose your crew wisely! Generally larger boats have more cabins and a higher likelihood you’ll have your own private bathroom.
Finally, once you’ve decided on either a monohull or splurging for a more spacious catamaran, the last detail is to pick how new and luxurious you want your boat to be. There are generally four age brackets to choose from: brand new boats, boats 2-5 years old, boats that are 5-10 years old and those greater than 10 years old. Most boats built within this last 5 years will have all the bells and whistles such as the all-important air conditioning.
On our charter, we opted to make some concessions to save money and, unless you just have to have the best, I’d recommend you do the same. After all, the awe-inspiring parts of this trip will be the islands, sea life and reefs so why not save some money on your floating home while exploring it all? For our trip with 8 adults, we opted for an 8 year old, 40 foot catamaran. Each cabin had it’s own bathroom but that’s where the fancy perks ended, no air conditioning, fancy stereo system or high end kitchen. And we loved it.
As of the writing of this article, a catamaran with 4 cabins and 2 heads with air condition (see boat here), charted in mid-April for 7 nights, would cost $7,200 (or $1,800 per couple assuming 4 couples). Broken down per night, that’s only about $250 per couple, per night! It should also be noted that boat supply has decreased dramatically since Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017 which has driven the price of boat charters up a litte.
BAREBOATING OR CREWED
Is there a captain amongst your travel entourage? If so, terrific! If not, fear not, there are plenty of well qualified captains to hire in the BVI. Generally hiring a boat captain includes a daily fee, giving them the use of one of the cabins and feeding them along with your group. Depending on what company you elect to use, most charter captains will run $175 to $200 per night. You may be able to negotiate the price a little, especially if you are sailing for an extended period of time.
The cost of food for your trip will depending on how often you plan to each out vs. how much cooking you prefer to do for yourself. While the groceries in the BVI are more expensive than at home, they will be much cheaper than eating out. When dining out in the BVI, plan for $30-50 per person, per meal. Alternatively, all the boats in the BVI will have a kitchen and usually and fridge and/or coolers. Thus, to save to some money, why not cook for yourself on the boat? We opted for this route and were able to save quite a bit of money. Once in the BVI, you can elect to have your boat provisioned by a local grocer (like RiteWay) or go to the store yourself and stock up. Depending on how fancy you’d like your on-boat meals, figure around $15-25 per person, per day for food.
Based on $20 per person, per day for store-bought groceries, count on about $320 per a couple for an 8 day trip. Throw in couple dinners on land, and your food budget will probably be around $500 for the trip, not including alcohol.
Now that the big three of your flight, boat and food have been accounted for, there are several smaller, miscellaneous expenses that have to be tallied. We’ll run through them briefly here.
Fuel - Depending on whether you plan to sail excusslivery or motor a little here and there, fuel can add up quickly. Diesel can run around $5 per gallon. For our trip, we had several days with little wind and spent around $200 on fuel to motor.
Water - On most boats, you’ll need to stop a few times to grab ice and fill up the water tanks you use for showers and plumbing. Water will cost about 20 cents per gallon. Our whole boat spent around $200 on water.
Ice - Typically bags of ice run $3-4 each, we went thru about 4 bags per day or about $150 for the trip.
Permits - Cruising permits cost $15 per person for the trip for each member of the sailing party.
Mooring expenses - When out to sail, each night you can choose to anchor the boat, or moor it to either a dock or mooring ball. Anchoring is typically free but can be difficult at times due to coral reefs and changing winds. Mooring balls are first come, first serve and usually around $30 per night. Ports offer varying opportunities to spend the night tied to a dock, however this can be quite expensive. On the plus side, docks often have electricity should your boat only have shore-side air conditioning.
Boat Insurance - Depending on the charter company, boat insurance is around $30 per day with a maximum cap for the trip.
All other expenses - In addition to these expenses, several small fees such as VISAR search and rescue donation, dinghy insurance, taxis, airport tax, etc. will add about $100 per couple to the overall trip expense.
Based on this, assuming 8 total people in your cruising party, each couple should figure around $350 for miscellaneous expenses.
Here is a summation of the above expenses for two adults, assuming an 8 person trip on a 4 cabin catamaran without the cost of a boat captain:
Boat charter: $1,800
Miscellaneous expenses: $350
Total cost, per couple, for a 7 night catamaran trip in the BVI is around $4,000. When you think about it, this is an amazing value. It works out to about $250 per couple, per day for your entire trip. That includes flight, floating hotel, food and all activities. And you’ll have the time time of your life. Heck, it may very well cost you that much or more to spend a week in Disneyland! So next time you’re dreaming over someone’s Instagram pictures of the British Virgin Islands, stop dreaming and start planning your own trip!