Saba Sailing and Boating

Sailors may not be aware of this Caribbean jewel, but it's not far from other hotspots

Photo credit: © SNadda Photography

Saba Sailing

Sailors visiting the dual-nation island of St. Martin and St. Maarten may want to stop by nearby Saba.

Travelers arriving on Saba by boat need to enter at Fort Bay. This port of entry is located at the southwestern side of the island. Saba's former port was located in the area between Well's Bay and Ladder Bay. Although travelers can no longer enter the country here, in case of difficult conditions sailors might be be granted permission to anchor offshore in this area.

It should be noted that when the winds are particularly strong, each of these ports can provide some protection. Should the winds be coming from the northeast, head to the port at Fort Bay. Southeastern winds will lose much of their power when travelers are anchored in Well's Bay or Ladder Bay on the northwestern side of the island.

Minimal docking fees are charged, as the entire area around Saba has been named part of the Saba Marine Park. Several regulations protect the reefs, which are the biggest attraction on Saba, at least nominally. Sailors should expect to pay $3(USD) per person, per week to dock on Saba.

To clear into Saba, travelers should follow these instructions:

  • Contact the harbormaster in Fort Bay on channels 16 or 11.

  • Once the harbormaster has been contacted, sailors will usually pick a mooring off of Fort Bay and clear ashore.

  • If weather is particularly bad, sailors may be able to travel to the anchorages at Well's Bay or Ladder Bay, where moorings marked yellow with a blue stripe are set aside for visiting yachts. Sailors will then need to reach Fort Bay, usually by dinghy.

  • The harbormaster is located in the government building near the pier in Fort Bay. Hours of operation are 8:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

It's worth noting that it's possible to check in and out at the same time – even if you're planning to stay on Saba for a few days. This means you'll only have to visit the harbormaster's office once. Travelers can also leave all of the clearance formalities to the harbormaster at a rate of $10(USD) to $30(USD), depending on the yacht's size.

Travelers should take the same precautions when visiting Saba as they'd take visiting any other Caribbean island. Watching for coral reefs is a must because of Saba's famed underwater formations. However, trade winds and rains, as well as the time of year, are always sailing considerations.

A Word of Caution: Since 1987, the waters around Saba have been a marine park. It is illegal for travelers to spearfish or take coral, and sailors may only anchor in sandy areas where coral cannot be damaged.

Chartering a Yacht

Travelers who don't have their own yacht can still sail themselves to Saba. Whether you're interested in sailing under your own guidance, with the help of an experienced professional, or just going along for the ride, there is plenty to learn about chartering.

When considering a charter, it's best to begin by learning about the different types of charters available:

  • Bareboat: Experienced sailors can charter a boat which they navigate themselves. They are both captain and crew of the ship, and must know what they're doing.

  • Skippered Bareboat: This is a bareboat charter with the addition of a skipper. Skippers are hired separately, and are sometimes required by charter companies when less experienced sailors want to sail bareboat.

  • Crewed Charter: With a full captain and crew, travelers on crewed charters find themselves on a high seas vacation, complete with an onboard cook.

Charters can be found through many routes, but it's popular to charter through a charter broker. Charter brokers can be especially helpful at matching vacationers with a crewed charter, though they can also help with bareboat charters.

Charter brokers are often part of two trade associations: the American Yacht Charter Association (AYCA) and Charter Yacht Broker's Association (CYBA). Travelers may choose to search on their own for brokers from these two organizations, but a number are listed here:

In the Caribbean:

Charter Broker Telephone Number
Crewed Charters (U.S. Virgin Islands) 800-874-2584
Nicholson Yachts Worldwide (Antigua) 800-662-6066
Paradise Connections (U.S. Virgin Islands) 877-567-9350
Regency Yacht Vacations (U.S. Virgin Islands) 800-524-7676;
284-495-1970 (BVIs)
Stewart Yacht Charters (U.S. Virgin Islands) 800-432-6118
Yates Yachts (U.S. Virgin Islands) 866-994-7245

In Florida:

Charter Broker Telephone Number
Broward Yacht Sales Charter Division 954-763-8201
Charter Specialists 800-479-9054
Fraser Yachts Worldwide 954-463-0640
June Montagne Yacht Charters 954-217-2992
Marine Group of Palm Beach, Inc. 561-627-9500
Nicely-Dunn Yacht Charters 800-874-0724
Paradise Yacht Charters 954-462-0091
Rikki Davis, Inc. 954-761-3237
RNR Yacht Charters 800-525-2526
Tom Collins Yachts Worldwide 800-637-5407
Whitney Yacht Charters, Inc. 800-223-1426
Yachtstore, Ltd. 888-376-5198

Another way to charter a boat is through a charter company. The two most popular large yacht charter companies in the Caribbean are The Moorings and Sunsail, though there are many different others. They can be described as large, small, first-tier, or second-tier.

Large companies often have more yacht options and are often easiest for first-time charterers. However, many smaller companies choose to stay small in an effort to provide top-notch customer service. The benefit of a larger company with a larger fleet is that they will almost always be able to offer an alternate yacht should any problems occur with your designated charter.

First- and second-tier companies are not related to size. While first-tier companies will have the newest equipment with the most extras, second-tier companies can offer lower rates on older yachts purchased directly from the fleets of first-tier companies.

Charter considerations include everything from size to cost. When planning a charter vacation, make sure you're getting exactly what you want.

Many experienced charterers choose a three-cabin, two-bath monohull ship, but these are generally not suggested for first-time charterers or families. Monohulls provide a more authentic sailing experience, but they also feature thin, plywood walls that allow almost all sounds through.

Catamarans are suggested for both families and first-time sailors. These ships are considered to have more comfortable cabins, and are known to experience much less roll in port, meaning that travelers prone to seasickness will have fewer problems with catamarans.

It's suggested that travelers consider booking a yacht with one more cabin than they intend to use. This is to ease the time spent aboard, as travelers spending long periods of time onboard the ship may wish to have a bit more space.

Costs are another consideration when chartering a boat. While two couples chartering a typical monohull ship and splitting the costs may end up with a lower cost per night than an average resort, the outcome may not always be this economical. Skippers charge between $80(USD) and $120(USD) per day, and are paid on top of the bareboat charter cost.

Crewed charters cost more than a bareboat charter, and the crew's tip is not included in the original cost. An appropriate gratuity is about 10 to 15 percent of the entire charter cost. Tips make up approximately 30 to 50 percent of the crew's income, so travelers should be sure to include this in their budget.

Food is another important cost that cannot be overlooked. When choosing a charter through a company, the company may offer to stock the ship for you. This convenience may outweigh any additional costs, but it is certainly not the cheapest way to stock the ship. Remember that when bringing along a skipper or a full crew, you'll be responsible for providing their food as well.

Crewed charters often come with some nice extras that can help to save you money over a bareboat. While most crewed charters come with items like snorkels and windsurfs, travelers will often have to pay additional for these items in bareboat charters. Bareboat charterers may also want to request items like a power windlass to help with anchoring, canvas sun shields for the cockpit, and even GPS and other electronic extras, though these may come at an additional fee.

The time of year that you set sail matters for more than just the weather. Charter costs, as well as island costs, go up during the high season. The sailing high season lasts from January through March, which overlaps with the high season for tourism in general throughout the Caribbean.

Other incidental costs can include deposits and cancellation fees. Always read the fine print before signing for a charter to make sure that you understand the costs and terms of the agreement.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Saba, and sailing through the Caribbean can be a one-of-a-kind experience.


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