Tom Davies and his family relate their experiences of chartering a vessel abroad for the very first time. How did they do it, what was it like and what were the highlights of their week-long Dalmatian cruising adventure?

I confess, Croatia has been on my wish list for years. An experienced motorboat owner with 10 years’ experience cruising the Solent and South West of England, I’ve always looked on enviously whenever my nautically inclined friends sought to regale me with their sun-filled salty tales of cruising the Mediterranean – that is, until my family and I finally decided to take the plunge this year ourselves and opted to charter a vessel of our own.

Tabita, our new home from home and adventure platform for the week.

Tabita, our new home from home and adventure platform for the week.

Croatia’s long indented Adriatic coastline is studded with beautiful bays, anchorages and marinas, as well as over a thousand islands. We might have struggled to even scratch the surface in a single week, but I was determined to give it a darned good go! With the region’s bustling cities, sleepy fishing villages, beautiful weather and delicious food, you might say it’s not surprising my wife and I were attracted to the idea of motorboating around Croatia. But in some respects, I’d always thought a trip like this was beyond my means, impossible to plan and organise – because even though I was a boat owner, I had never chartered before. So where was one supposed to begin?

The Adriatic town of Rogoznica, central Dalmatia region of Croatia © iStockphoto/xbrchx

The Adriatic town of Rogoznica, central Dalmatia region of Croatia © iStockphoto/xbrchx

Top tips

If you’re thinking about chartering a motorboat in Croatia, here are a few key tips to consider:

  • Start planning early. The peak season for motorboating in Croatia is July and August, so it’s essential to book your charter early.
  • Be aware of the weather conditions. The weather in Croatia can change quickly, so you must be prepared for anything.
  • Respect the local marine life and environment. Croatia is home to a variety of marine life, so it’s vital to be respectful of the environment.
  • Don’t drink and boat. You must be sober when you’re operating a motorboat.
  • Don’t anchor in areas that are designated for swimming or fishing. This is to avoid disturbing other boaters and swimmers.
  • Don’t disturb the peace and quiet of the local communities. Croatia is a popular tourist destination, but it’s also home to many local communities. Be respectful of their peace and quiet.
  • Book restaurant and beach club reservations in advance to avoid missing out!

Tabita - Chartered motorboat

Tabita was wide with solid hand rails, making moving around easy and safe.

Tabita was wide with solid hand rails, making moving around easy and safe.

Broker to the rescue

I started the inevitable searching online, making a shortlist, etc. and in due course started communications with the yacht charter company HELM. From that point forward, to my relief, the whole process became a stress-free affair. I’m happy to report too that the booking experience was seamless and easy, and furthermore, as I had hoped, I quickly found myself becoming excited over the prospect of our dreams at last becoming a reality. Credit where credit’s due, my appointed HELM broker, Marcus, was a pleasure to deal with, answering any questions I had and also helping me to make a day-by-day plan of what I hoped would be the perfect trip for my family and me. This, of course, ranged from selecting the right boat through to plotting our voyage and its associated itinerary.

The beautiful waterfront of Split © iStockphoto/xbrchx

The beautiful waterfront of Split © iStockphoto/xbrchx

My wife and the twins helped make the great decision to focus our week’s holiday afloat on exploring the central Dalmatian coast. Based upon our research at least, it appeared to offer all the right ingredients in terms of culture, history, outstanding beauty, wildlife sightings, destinations, etc., all of which we hoped would allow us to enjoy a truly special and unforgettable family experience together.

A swift choice

As I said, when it comes to chartering motorboats, there truly are loads of options in Croatia, from Merry Fishers to Antares, Marex, Nimbus and Beneteau Swift Trawlers – but thanks to their guiding hand, HELM helped us select what we considered to be a boat well matched to our bareboat charter criteria. As a company, they also work with some excellent skippers who can bring much to the table in the way of local knowledge. So, just as an option, for anyone looking to have an even more relaxed holiday without the need to worry at all about the navigation and mooring aspects of a voyage in foreign waters, the likes of HELM can offer this too. For our adventure, we settled on a Beneteau Swift Trawler 48 – a make and model respected for its determined seagoing abilities, functional layout and comfortable multi-berth accommodation.

 Pakleni or Paklinski, islands with all their amazing bays and incredible shades of blue and emerald colours.

Pakleni or Paklinski, islands with all their amazing bays and incredible shades of blue and emerald colours.

Home for the week

In terms of a cruising base, after consulting Marcus, we settled for the charming Marina Frapa in Rogoznica, just up the coast from the well-known coastal destination of Split.

Tabita

Marina Frapa, we discovered, is one of the best-equipped marinas in this part of the Mediterranean. In addition, the marina has the ‘Golden Sail’ award, as well as other awards and recognitions too. Frapa is a partner of the international Blue Flag programme and the Green Sail ecological movement too. The marina is snuggly set in a sheltered natural harbour that has one of the prettiest approaches you’re likely to find from the sea along Croatia’s majestic and outstandingly beautiful coastline. We really enjoyed spending our first and last nights here in this relaxed setting. With its fine and well-managed facilities, it proved a great place to top and tail our family experience. The underwater ‘Dragon Bar’ we frequented here was amazing and certainly well worth checking out if you happen to visit Frapa yourself.
As for the handover carried out on the part of the local agent, this was a well-handled and unrushed affair that gave us the opportunity to ask plenty of questions, familiarise ourselves with the boat and its gear, and have various features demonstrated and explained. At the end of the process, we felt happy that we were ready to go, albeit steadily until we felt completely au fait with the 48 and her systems. Our two young ‘deckhands’ were certainly keen and showed no sign of potential mutiny … yet!

Holidaying was easy on this spacious Trawler 48.

Holidaying was easy on this spacious Trawler 48.

Split – rich history

With the seas and weather in our favour, it didn’t take long to settle into our waterborne home and get a feel for how the vessel handled. With every mile gained, and with Frapa slipping from view astern of us, I felt increasingly at ease behind the helm, and before long we were settling into a comfortable pace, with my fellow shipmates familiarising themselves too with the workings of the boat and its equipment. Taking the sights in along the way, in due course, our first stop took us 25nm down the coast to Split, the second-largest city in Croatia and the biggest on the Dalmatian coast.

© iStockphoto/freemixer

Split is a beautiful city and we found it a great place to get into the swing of things. We spent a day exploring the city, visiting the Diocletian’s Palace and the historical and imposing Split Cathedral. The winding streets of the town were the perfect way to explore our first haven. As you might know, Split is widely known for its impressive waterfront and stunning beaches. It’s also a hive of activity offering a plethora of bars, cafes, restaurants, shops and cathedrals. There was something here for everyone, even the children!

© iStockphoto/Dmitry Vinogradov

Inside the Diocletian’s Palace in the old town of Split, Croatia. UNESCO World Heritage site. © iStockphoto/Dmitry Vinogradov

One of my favourite things about Split is its rich history. For instance, did you know Split was founded 2,400 years ago and is home to some of the best-preserved examples of Roman architecture? It has even been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage city!

Hvar old town. iStock-Janoka82

Hvar old town.

Hvar – island in the sun

After Split, we headed an hour and a half south to the island of Hvar. Hvar is a popular tourist destination, known for its beautiful beaches, lively nightlife and delicious food. We spent a couple of days here, swimming, sunbathing and exploring the island.

While languishing here, my trusty crew and I took a trip to the Pakleni Islands, a group of small islets off the coast of Hvar. This proved to be yet another highlight of the trip. These rocky islands allowed us to discover new bays, snorkel in crystal-clear waters and find some great beach clubs. It was here too that we enjoyed a memorable meal at Laganini Beach Club – a truly excellent lunch spot and a great place to laze the afternoon away with a cold glass of something in your hand while the children splash about in the shallow waters off the beach.

The fresh fish on Hvar was a real highlight. © iStock-gaspr13

The fresh fish on Hvar was a real highlight.

The Pakleni Islands archipelago is about 10km long and consists of over 14 islands or islets – but there are three absolute gems in my opinion. We visited the largest and most popular, Sveti Klement, the second largest, Marinkovac, and the tiny Jerolim, which is the closest to Hvar. These are definitely worth visiting if you are in Hvar or are wondering where to stop next. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also reach the Pakleni Islands by kayak from Hvar.

Dalmatian Vineyard iStock-Scharfsinn86

I have to say that the food on Hvar was a real highlight for us. The fresh fish caught that morning was incredible, and we can’t wait to go back for more! In our view, Croatian food is some of the best in the world, so be sure to try some of the local specialities, such as grilled lamb, black squid ink risotto and seafood. And don’t forget, you need to wash it all down with some delicious Croatian wine, courtesy of the many vineyards that bless the fertile Dalmatian coastal region.

The lush green coastline of the Dalmatian coast with view of Biokovo mountain range in the distance.

The lush green coastline of the Dalmatian coast with view of Biokovo mountain range in the distance.

But for your expediency and edification, our family’s favourite restaurants in Hvar included Gariful, Riva 7 – undoubtedly our favourite stop for seafood. The catch of the day here is a must-have and the restaurant features a glass floor with an aquarium underneath! Likewise, Fig Hvar, Ivana Frane Biundovića 3, with its fun atmosphere and locally grown produce, is an absolutely superb place to take in a lazy lunch. But remember this top tip: Hvar is one of the most popular places in the Adriatic Sea, so make reservations for your favourite restaurants and beach clubs in advance!

Palmizana

Palmizana

iStock-Maria Vonotna

High Vis

After an amazing time exploring everything Hvar has to offer, we headed off on a very gentle and leisurely 12nm voyage to Vis. Located in the north-eastern part of Vis Island, the town of Vis is ideally nestled at the bottom of a naturally protected bay. If you have a passion for tradition, culture and, of course, the finest cuisine that the Adriatic can muster, I’m more than confident that you will find Vis to be an absolute joy. The place exudes a timeless air coupled to an irresistible Mediterranean charm all of its own, thanks to its historical beauty and its ability to capture the true essence of the region.

Bridge over canal in Rogoznica port, Dalmatia. iStock © pkazmierczak

Dalmatia is a narrow belt of the east shore of the Adriatic Sea, stretching from island of Rab in the north to the Bay of Kotor in the south.

Marcus, our broker, had recommended we dine at Roki’s, a family-owned restaurant in a hilltop vineyard in the middle of the island that specialises in local peka – a traditional meat or fish dish with vegetables and potatoes. Slow roasted on hot coals ‘under the bell’ in a clay pot, once again it’s very much of the region. You do have to book a couple of days in advance, but it’s well worth it, and furthermore, the restaurant staff come and collect you from the marina and drop you back to your boat after your meal. Even the journey to and fro is memorable, as the views along the way by car are nothing short of spectacular. We shared one meat and one octopus peka, complete with tentacles – much to the twins’ collective horror! Both dishes were outstanding – rich and hearty. Great recommendation, Marcus!

Komiza Village, Vis Island. iStock-vuk8691

Komiza Village, Vis Island.

The wilderness of Kornati

From Vis, we headed three hours on a northerly bearing to the Kornati National Park. Incredibly, the Kornati National Park is made up of over 89 islands and islets, and perhaps not surprisingly it’s a precious haven for wildlife. Mooching from one anchorage to another, we spent a few days exploring the ‘park’, swimming, paddleboarding, snorkelling and kayaking. This, in our view, is an experience not to be missed. Because of the lack of human population here, the waters are exquisite. In fact, you feel as if, by chance, you’ve strayed into a watery paradise, a forgotten quarter of the ocean that the rest of the world lost the coordinates for. Surely, only a boat can give one such a privileged experience, and for many at least, boat charter offers that wonderful but realistic opportunity of accessing such beauty and acquiring such a lifetime memory.

istock-Extreme-Photographer

The Kornati National Park is the perfect place to explore beaches and archaeological sites, as well as providing the opportunity to steep oneself in the region’s history and heritage. You’ll not be surprised to know that it was one of the most photogenic places we had the pleasure of exploring afloat. The natural scenery was breathtaking! We also snorkelled here, something we love doing. But I have to say, our expectations were exceeded in terms of the marine life we saw, the clarity of the water we swam in and the purity of our surroundings. Looking back at the hull of the 48 as she rode at anchor, it was if she was floating on a shimmering expanse of glass. We all knew, especially with this being our first charter, that any future charter our family might embark on now had a very hard act to follow.

A world of waterfalls

Coming towards the end of our charter now, we continued to ply the seas a further 33nm over to Skradin – a bright and colourful place to visit, and a great launchpad for day trips to the breathtaking Krka waterfalls.

KRKA waterfalls Croatia during summer, young women watch the waterfalls of krka national park Croatia on a bright summer evening in the park.

KRKA waterfalls.

Pastel-painted homes sitting prettily on the waterfront, a peaceful riverside marina offering restful berths and old cart-worn cobbled streets that wind inland all go to make this location the perfect place to take things at one’s leisure. If you feel so inclined, there is even the opportunity to take advantage of sampling a few of the locally made wines along the way. With regard to the latter, Plavac Mali is my personal favourite – a rich red made from a ‘little blue grape’ that produces a wine with accents of figs, dark cherries and spices.

While here, we took the opportunity to visit the Krka National Park, where no fewer than 17 waterfalls thunder and turquoise swimming holes entice. It was a breathtaking experience that the whole family loved. As you can imagine, the kids had a wonderful time splashing around under the cooling cascading falls.

Homeward bound

On the Friday, we headed 20nm back to Marina Frapa, where we reflected on our wonderful first charter and all the amazing excursions we had embarked upon. We’d had an incredible time motorboating in Croatia. Indeed, we were all agreed that it had been the most perfect way to see the country and experience its beauty. We saw stunning scenery, sampled delicious food, took in rich history, met some great people along the way and, of course, had the privilege of enjoying a truly superb boat as if it was our very own. So, what’s not to like about chartering? It offers so much without all the cost of ownership. Best of all, the world and its wonderful seas truly are your oyster, and in terms of going abroad, a mere flight away at that! Time to begin planning our next adventure, methinks …

Paperwork & licences

In order to charter a motorboat in Croatia, you will need to have a valid ICC licence, at least a Powerboat Level 2 certificate and a boat registration certificate. You may also need to obtain a cruising permit, depending on the length of your charter. You can find out more on the licence requirements by checking in with the RYA, who will be pleased to offer you any guidance needed. Your charter company too, of course, should be helpful in offering you support and guidance.

Pasticada with gnocchi, beef stew in a sauce. Croatian cuisine

Pasticada with gnocchi, beef stew in a sauce. Croatian cuisine

Did you know?

  • Croatia has over 1,000 islands, making it the second-largest archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The Diocletian’s Palace in Split is the largest preserved palace from the Roman Empire.
  • The Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia.
  • The national dish of Croatia is pašticada, a stew made with beef, onions and tomatoes.

Technicalities & costs

Technicalities & costs

Chartering a motorboat is a great way to explore Croatia by sea. Croatia has a range of both bareboat and skippered motorboats for charter ranging from 30 to 50 feet that are ideal for exploring the islands. More information at https://www.helm.yt/destination/croatia

The cost of chartering a motorboat will vary depending on the size of the boat, the length of the charter and the time of year. This is something your charter broker takes you through from the beginning with complete clarity so there are no surprise costs when you go to book. Marcus at HELM was really helpful to us.

In terms of cost, this of course will vary from size of boat to length of stay, etc. But for a week-long escapade such as our own, I would advise budgeting a figure in the region of 9K (plus fuel and berthing fees) during the May–June period. Bear in mind that the Swift Trawler 48 is a big boat, so a smaller craft will naturally translate to a reduced charter cost and potentially reduced fuelling costs. As for our displacement motor yacht, our fuel bill amounted to about £600 or so for the week.

Beneteau Swift Trawler 48

Tabita, our new home from home and adventure platform for the week.

Tabita, our new home from home and adventure platform for the week.

Beneteau’s new Swift Trawler 48 focuses on practical, triple-cabin living and is built, according to its makers, ‘to seek new horizons’. This mid-range cruiser has a stylish but traditional profile that features the new stainless framed teak slat-fashion plates – in line with those seen on the larger Grand Trawler 62.

The 48’s 20sqm flybridge has panoramic views.

The boat offers generous exterior spaces that include its aft cockpit, which offers a folding table and two directors’ chairs. Together with a large bench seat, these maximise the indoor/outdoor living space. This is ahead of the transom double gate that opens onto a large swim platform with its optional hydraulic lifting system.

Beneteau Swift Trawler 48 Interior

A large fully equipped L-shaped galley.

The 48’s 20sqm flybridge affords a fantastic space with panoramic views. The Transform backrests either side of the pilot seat allow plentiful forward-facing seating during passage making, and aft there’s a useful area in which to eat and relax with a large dining table and a wet bar. Up on the foredeck, the optional sun pad with lift-up sections creates the vessel’s forward seating.

Beneteau Swift Trawler 48 interior

The spacious raised U-shaped dinette provides seating for up to eight.

An asymmetrical deck layout allows for a wide and well-protected starboard side deck. In addition, a large fully equipped L-shaped galley provides plentiful capacity for extended cruising. Forward of the galley, a spacious raised U-shaped dinette provides seating for up to eight with all-round views. To starboard, the professional helm station has an adjacent side door for easy docking and circulation.

Beneteau Swift Trawler 48 cabin

The owner’s cabin features a double berth and plenty of storage for family use.

In the lower accommodation, the forward owner’s cabin features a double berth and plenty of storage for family use. The en suite bathroom includes a separate shower cubicle, and the port guest cabin possesses two single berths with an infill to make up a double berth. This cabin also features an en suite door to the port-side day head.

Optional sun pad with lift-up sections creates the vessel’s forward seating

The starboard guest cabin benefits from two portlights, a transverse double berth and a double-door wardrobe large enough to take an optional washer dryer in the base. And thanks to the hull windows/light ports and overheard hatches, the 48’s interior is flooded with natural light and cross ventilation.

Beneteau Swift Trawler 48

The vessel’s hull has been optimised by Beneteau’s design team to provide a seagoing semi-displacement profile that is both sea-kindly and efficient. The 48’s slender bow and the hydrodynamic qualities of her hull in turn help to reduce fuel consumption by keeping drag to a minimum while assisting stability underway. Complementing her hull form, the 48’s twin inboard Cummins QSB 6.7 425hp diesel installation is rated as having a 600nm range at a cruising speed of 9 knots.

Some of the best marinas in Croatia

Here are five of our favourite places to while away the evenings at either end of your charter:

Marina Kremik, Primosten

Marina in Primosten, Dalmatia region of Croatia. Sailing infrastructure in Croatia.

Kremik is blessed with superb natural shelter, making it the perfect quiet setting to embark on your charter. It is also just a five-minute taxi ride from the town of Primosten.

Marina Frapa, Rogoznica

Aerial View of Rogoznica with Marina Frapa, Croatia

Marina Frapa is well protected, in a lovely setting in the corner of a natural harbour and located just opposite a historical town church. There are many good and popular restaurants here that should be visited too!

Trogir

Trogir, Croatia, town panoramic view, Croatian tourist destination.

Trogir consists of three marinas. The first is Seget Donji, a well-equipped marina just outside Trogir, while ACI Trogir and SCT Trogir are joined on the southern side of the river, which is only a 15-minute drive from Split Airport.

ACI Split

Scenic view at amazing mediterranean port in coastal town Split, popular summer resort in Croatia, Europe.

This is the oldest marina in the city of Split and is perfect if you are looking to be close to the hustle and bustle of the city.

Marina Mandalina, Šibenik

This marina is the only marina in Croatia to achieve five gold anchors from the Yacht Harbour Association. It is much quieter than ACI Split and is perfect if you are looking to explore the natural beauty of Croatia.

Croatia is a truly unforgettable destination and the perfect place to embark on a motorboat trip with the family. If you choose to take a leaf from our pilot book, you can track down HELM by checking out https://www.helm.yt/

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