Those Devilish Details

10 questions to ask your broker before you charter any yacht.

My own stupidity led to my hindquarters being trussed up like a stuffed turkey's.

I rose at sunrise to shoot photos from a charter yacht's dinghy. An hour later, during my attempt to load a roll of film atop a nearby island, my precious morning's work tumbled from my fingertips and landed about 15 feet below. I thought it safest to descend the infinite number of small, loose rocks between my film and me by sitting and sliding-a decision I realized was asinine as I crashed swiftly, feet-first, into a bush. My wake was littered with the shredded seat of my wrinkle-resistant khakis.

Back on the boat, the two stewardesses hustled me belowdecks and dashed off to retrieve the medical kit. I lay prone and pantless on my berth for a good five minutes. When they finally returned, they proceeded to catalog the kit's contents, some of which I am certain they had never seen before. About five minutes after that, they said they had figured out how to disinfect and cover my wound. I felt a little burning. I heard a bit of snipping. There was an awkward pulling of adhesive against skin that hadn't seen the sun in three decades.

As the 20-minute mark neared, one stewardess proclaimed, "That'll do it. I stood and tried to pull on a fresh pair of pants, a task made impossible by the cheek-by-jowl job.

That moment I realized I should have inquired in advance about the crew's medical training. While all reputable charter brokers-those affiliated with the Mediterranean Yacht Broker's Association, the Caribbean Yacht Broker's Association and the American Yacht Charter Association-can fulfill clients' desires and needs, the best brokers ensure your yacht and crew will be prepared no matter the circumstances. If hindsight has taught me anything, it's that there's no such thing as too many questions before booking a charter. Here are 10 good ones for your broker.

Have you been aboard? Any broker can look through brochures. If your broker has spent time aboard, chances are better that the boat will live up to its hype.

Have you chartered with this crew? Many brokers take "familiarization trips, spending as long as a week on board. Truly knowing crew members' personalities means a broker will be better able to match them to yours.

Will the chef meet our needs? If you have special dietary needs, don't ask whether the chef is good. Ask whether the chef will meet your needs. Some are well versed in Atkins, Weight Watchers and diabetic recipes. Others, well, they know their specialties-and that's what you'll get.

Does the captain know the area? I once sailed after sunset into the harbor of a Caribbean island with one restaurant. It served lobsters caught by day-to feed only the mouths that had a reservation that night. We had none, but our captain was so well known that the owner fed us from his personal take. That's what you want: a well-known captain in familiar waters.

Does the yacht have special rules? One yacht that charters for a quarter-million dollars per week will not allow red wine within spitting distance of the saloon's beige carpet. Another encourages guests to water-ski, but not without a wetsuit for added safety in wipeouts. Better to know such things before signing your deposit check.

Are there any "hidden costs? I never thought of flowers as a source of consternation until I learned that when they die on charter, the guest can be asked to pay for their replacement. The same goes for food; if the chef needs a rental to drive to the nearest grocery mid-charter, the guest can be charged for the car. Check the fine print.

What happens to my deposit if something goes wrong? Weather, world events, illness-many things can come between you and your charter, and contracts can vary substantially. "Most owners are really good about working with charter people in emergency situations, said Shannon Webster of Shannon Webster Charters, Inc., in Ft. Lauderdale. But she cautions that you should have your broker walk you through every contract line-from Act of God clauses to deposit terms-even if you've chartered before.

How is the yacht's service record? Would you book a week in the sun on a boat whose air conditioning died six times in the past three months? Ask about the boat's history of breakdowns.

What are the boat's design features? You don't have to be a naval architect to know you don't like to eat in the galley, or that you do like to sit in the pilothouse with the captain while cruising. Ask about design features that will affect specific parts of the yacht you find comfortable.

What kind of medical services are aboard? Ask not only about the crew's training, but about the yacht's equipment. There's no reason to expect trauma, but if you have a special condition, don't assume the crew is trained to address it.

And of course, make sure they know first aid basics. You don't want to end up like I did, with your end up.