Ahoy, yacht charters getting more popular

A private dinner party on board a yacht (above). Some charter firms offer standing paddle boards and giant floats (left) for guests to have a soaking good time.
A private dinner party on board a yacht (above). PHOTO: CLUBVIVRE
A private dinner party on board a yacht (above). Some charter firms offer standing paddle boards and giant floats (left) for guests to have a soaking good time.
Some charter firms offer standing paddle boards and giant floats (above) for guests to have a soaking good time.PHOTO: ALBATROSS CRUISES
Mr Vicnesh Raja, a relationship manager with an IT company, 29, proposed to his girlfriend, Ms Arveen Kaur (both left), 27, a teacher, on a yacht on Valentine's Day this year.
Mr Vicnesh Raja, a relationship manager with an IT company, 29, proposed to his girlfriend, Ms Arveen Kaur (both above), 27, a teacher, on a yacht on Valentine's Day this year.PHOTO: COURTESY OF VICNESH RAJA

More people are chartering yachts to unwind out at sea as well as for special celebrations

Bank finance executive See Kwang Yew, 29, rented a yacht for his friend's stag night in July.

The group of five paid about $800 for a four-hour evening charter, during which they sailed off from Sentosa and docked at one of the nearby islands for a barbecue dinner prepared by the crew, before heading back to the Sentosa marina.

"The groom-to-be really enjoyed it because it was his first time on a yacht. The rest of us also had a cosy time hanging out together," says Mr See.

Once seen as an activity for the upper crust of society and expatriates, yacht charters are becoming popular with Singaporeans across age and income brackets.

They charter boats for a variety of reasons - for celebratory occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries; recreation, such as fishing trips and island cruising; and corporate team-bonding retreats. Some also rent yachts to go out to sea to scatter the ashes of their departed loved ones.

A quick search online turns up more than 10 charter firms here, and those that Life spoke to say there has been growing demand for private yacht charters among Singaporeans.

Marina at Keppel Bay sees 60 per cent of their charter inquiries coming from Singaporeans, while Albatross Cruises says 95 per cent of their customers are locals.

In general, ONE15 Luxury Yachting says its number of charters has doubled year-on-year since 2012, while SingExperience has seen inquiries for private charters doubling in the three years that it has been in the business.

Nor will chartering a yacht for an evening break the bank. For example, ONE15 Luxury Yachting has a fleet of 35 yachts and prices begin at $650++ for a four-hour charter of 10 people in a mid-range yacht, which works out to less than $100 a person.

Director of SingExperience Manita Bidaud, 46, says the opening of the Keppel and Sentosa marinas has allowed people a "fresh lifestyle experience" that never existed in Singapore before.

"A yachting experience is hassle- free and exclusive; and you get to unwind with a small group, which is more personal," says Mrs Bidaud.

Yachting offers relaxation and entertainment away from the hustle and bustle of city life, says Ms Evangeline Wong, 32, owner of Valencia Yachts. "You can do only so much on land."

She adds that on board, charterers usually put aside their mobile devices to talk to, bond and do water activities with their friends, family members or colleagues.

"It's no longer just the expatriates who know how to enjoy life. Singaporeans these days not only work hard, but play hard too," she says.

Another reason for the growing popularity of yacht charters is that yachts are seen as an alternative and offbeat venue for celebrations.

Mrs Bidaud says many of her clients use the yachts for wedding solemnisations, surprise proposals, birthdays, anniversaries and hen parties.

One of her clients this year was Mr Vicnesh Raja, 29, a relationship manager with an IT company.

He wanted to propose to his girlfriend on Valentine's Day and decided to do it on board a yacht with close friends and family members.

"Many of my friends had popped the big question in restaurants or hotels, so I wanted to do something different," he says.

So as the yacht sailed past the fireworks display from Sentosa's night show, Wings Of Time, he said to his girlfriend: "Baby, you light up my life. Will you marry me?"

She accepted the proposal.

Mrs Bidaud says it is not just the single men who are romantic.

"We recently had a husband who rented a yacht for four hours as a surprise for his wife who had just given birth to twins. He wanted them to spend quality time together as a couple."

In response to clients' requests to be taken away from an urban environment, these trips usually cruise out to the Southern Islands such as St John's, Lazarus and Kusu.

Upon docking at the island, guests can swim, kayak, snorkel or just laze on the beach.

Some charter firms, like Albatross Cruises, also offer for rental fishing equipment, standing paddle boards, inflatable giant floats, beach toys and water guns.

On the way back to the marina, companies like Yacht Charter Singapore usually cruise their boats along the southern coastline of Singapore for guests to enjoy views of iconic structures such as the Marina Bay Sands and Singapore Flyer. During evening charters, guests can also catch the fireworks display from Sentosa's Wings Of Time.

The charter firms usually have add-on entertainment options and food and beverage packages upon clients' requests, but some charterers choose to bring their own food.

Mr Kenneth Tan, 36, an executive director at a bank, had a team bonding event with more than 20 colleagues on a yacht earlier this year.

They booked the boat from 3 to 8pm and brought their own food and drinks on board.

"The crew helped us barbecue the food and although we were of different ages, we had a very fun and relaxing time together. Many of my older colleagues in their 50s were especially enthusiastic," he says.

There are also those who hire private chefs.

Chef service Clubvivre has had many private dining bookings on board yachts since they began operations in 2013.

A typical event organised by them starts with drinks, paired with canapes or amuse bouche.

When the yacht is anchored, the dinner begins. This could take the form of a sit-down multi-course dinner, a barbecue or a buffet-style reception, says the Clubvivre spokesman. Cocktails and desserts cap off the night as the boat heads back to the marina.

Private chefs come with a heavier price tag - rates for Clubvivre private chef services start at $50 a person, excluding yacht charter fees.

However, in general, renting a yacht for a few hours does not burn a hole in one's pocket.

For instance, Yacht Charter Singapore is offering a special promotion of $5,000 for up to 80 people for a dockside charter from Sundays to Thursdays. That works out to $62.50 a person.

Mr Vicnesh says he paid $1,000 for the charter for himself, his girlfriend and eight friends. The cost included a barbecue dinner on board that was prepared by the crew.

"Because my girlfriend said yes, I don't think it was expensive at all. The moment was priceless," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015, with the headline 'Ahoy, set sail for some fun'. Print Edition | Subscribe