So you are planning your next party extravaganza, and you’ve considered the usual suspects of event spaces, bars, lounges, and nightclubs. But this time you want something special. You want to take your party to the open waters to feel the wind in your hair, sail past the city skyline, and have picturesque champagne toasts on the sun deck!
The plans sound perfect. Now you have to source agencies, secure reservations, and negotiate the best prices and deals for your party boat or yacht rental. But you will soon find that there is not much in the way of guidance for this process of chartering a boat!
So in this article, I’ll help guide your steps with tips to find then choose the right boat, important questions to ask, and prepare you to negotiate the best boat rental packages! After reading this article, you will be able to book your birthday party cruise, happy hour cruise, or celebratory event on the high seas (or circling your local river) with confidence.
As a quick FYI, the terms “boat rental,” “boat charter,” and “yacht charter” are all synonymous with renting a boat. The only difference lies in the type of boat that you are renting, like a party boat or a yacht. So you will see those terms used interchangeably online and throughout this article.
Let’s start things off by explaining the differences between a party boat and a yacht.
What’s The Difference Between a Party Boat and a Yacht?
Generally, the main differences between a party boat and a yacht are the use cases, the accommodations, and the crew required to operate them.
- Party boats are typically designed for commercial purposes
- Yachts are typically designed for recreational purposes
- Party boats tend to have a larger team and crew onboard (e.g. deckhands, captain, security, performers, etc.)
- Yachts generally have a minimal crew onboard (e.g. one captain and possibly a server/deckhand*)
*A deckhand assists with the operation and maintenance of a marine vessel.
Since party boats and yachts both vary in sizes, your decision may likely be determined by your budget, event type, and taste for luxury amenities.
What’s a Party Boat?
A party boat is a boat that is designed to accommodate large events, social functions, live entertainment, etc. Party boats are like floating dance clubs, which makes them ideal for parties with over 100 guests and promotional events.
Party boat amenities often include:
- A dancefloor
- A stage for a live performer or DJ
- A connected sound system throughout the entire boat
- A bar
- Multiple floors
Party boats often have limited seating and ample standing room. Their decor will always favor style and space over comfort. And most will have “partial bars,” which are small ad-hoc bars that offer a limited selection of wines, beers, and spirits.
What is a Yacht?
A yacht is a boat that is commonly designed for recreational purposes, leisure trips, and extended getaways. They are built with style, luxury, and comfort in mind to offer a premium boating experience.
Yacht amenities often include:
- A lounge area
- A kitchenette
- A living area
- Sleeping areas
- Front and rear sun decks
Unlike party boats, most small yachts do not have dance floors or performance stages. Some may have a bar, but it would be a very small installation to preserve space. It is possible to find any or all of these amenities on a custom “superyacht” (a.k.a. mega-yacht), which is likely not something that is in the scope of this article or that most could afford to charter.
At this point, you should be able to decide if you want a party boat or a yacht. So next let’s get into costs.
How Much Does A Boat Party Cost?
A party boat rental costs around $6,000 and up for a 4-hour cruise in NYC. While a private yacht charter can cost around $3,000 and up, for a 4-hour cruise on a boat that can accommodate up to 30 guests. The bigger or more luxurious boat, the higher the base prices are.
Optional add-ons for bar and/or buffet packages range from $30 – $100+ and are charged per person. Any taxes and optional gratuities (customarily 15-20%) are added to the final bill. Also note that at least 30-45 minutes of your trip will go towards boarding and disembarking procedures.
The base rental price normally includes the costs for the boat charter, a captain, and any necessary crewman.
While many variables can affect boat rental prices, here are 5 main factors that generally affect them:
- The boat’s size and guest capacity
- The number of attendees in your party
- The style, decor, and amenities on the boat
- The port of departure
- The season, day, time, and duration
A private yacht chartered in New York City could cost 2 times more than a similar boat in New Jersey. Keep this in mind when you select your boat location!
Expert Tip: You could slash your pricing down if you are open to sharing a boat and renting floor instead of the entire boat.
Sample Private Yacht Charter Price and Feature Comparison Chart
Below you will find a sample price and feature comparison chart that I built for my clients. Here you can see how a private yacht charter stacks up against traditional bookings at bars, clubs, and event spaces.
Most boat rental companies don’t list their prices or allowing booking online. This way they can negotiate them on a case by case basis, and according to demand. So now that you understand what affects the charter pricing, let’s get into how to negotiate the right package!
How To Rent A Party Boat Or Private Yacht Charter
Every boat charter company offers similar services and products. But, as you now may have figured, their prices are often completely different. So don’t listen to any companies out there that advise you “not to shop around!” (seriously, one company said this in their blog article)
I beg to differ, you should always shop around and be ready to negotiate so you can lock in the best package! This all starts with determining your needs.
Determine Your Party Details And Boat Preference
Your first step to renting a boat is determining your party details and preferences. This includes your guest count, your budget, and your preferred vessel type (party boat or yacht). This basic information will be fundamental to selecting the right boat.
Here area few example scenarios:
- If you are hosting a birthday party cruise, then a small party boat might be preferable since you would want a DJ and a dancefloor.
- If you are hosting a small bachelorette party, then the space and ambiance of a small yacht may fit your festivities with close friends perfectly.
- If you are hosting a large company party, then a medium-sized party boat or a larger luxury yacht may fit with your higher budget and brand image.
With these requisites in mind, the booking agent can immediately eliminate options that won’t fit your event, and save you a lot of time.
Find A Boat Rental Company Near You
Once you know what you are looking for, you can start scouting options. Here are 3 ways to find boat rental agencies near you:
- Search online maps for a party boat or yacht rentals near you or in the area you would like to cruise
- Physically go to the port that you want to launch from and scout the boats
- Do a general online search for party boat rental agencies
If you want to book a boat cruise along the East River in NYC, then you’ve already limited your options to 3 ports. Two of those ports are in NYC, and one is in Brooklyn. Here’s Google map that I prepared when I used the search query, “Party Boat Rental East River NYC:”
Since we’ve identified 3 ports of interest and the boat rental companies operating out of them, we can move on to selection.
Choose 3 Boat Rental Agencies That Fit Your Criteria
At this point, you need to start narrowing down your options. You now should visit the companies’ respective websites and check their inventory of boats. You’ll also want to look into their online reviews to see the buyer experiences and any user-generated content from prior customers.
While pictures and descriptions of 80-foot boats are helpful, nothing beats seeing them with your own eyes. Go to the port (if you haven’t already) and survey all of the docked boats in person. You may also be able to find an attendant who will give you a quick tour of any vacant boats!
After this research you should be able to choose your 3 top contenders, begin inquiring about pricing, and start comparing quotes.
Expert Tip: Always walk through a boat before committing to booking it. Cruise companies will often use old pictures of their boats online and in brochures. After years in service, those boats could be run down and look much different from what’s advertised. Buyer beware.
Choose the Right Boat, Don’t Get Upsold!
As we mentioned, prices vary greatly depending on the size of the boat. So when you speak with the boat rental agent, start the conversation off with your attendee count and let him/her know that you want a boat that can accommodate up to this attendee limit.
Agents will often recommend bigger boats than you need first and add-ons. They may use the sales tactic where they start with the highest-priced offering (that you don’t need) and then work downward to make you feel like you are getting a bargain. Don’t fall for it.
Don’t be tempted by extra levels, extra decks, or other amenities if you don’t need them.
Be Flexible With Scheduling
Everyone loves to party on the weekend. But a luxury yacht charter on a Saturday could cost 3 times more than one on a Tuesday. So your best bet is to be flexible with your event schedule and compare prices throughout the week.
When you book a party cruise, you will have to select a day and a time slot. Boats normally launch 3 times a day for shorty 4-hours trips. So you would have to select from an early brunch cruise, an afternoon sunset cruise, or an evening party cruise.
Private yacht charters will have similar offerings, but also additional options to book them for the entire day or even a weekend.
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays are high demand days for all events and parties. So these days, you can expect the following:
- Limited Availability
- Higher prices
- Less flexibility with packages
Think of boats as a commodity. If you want to book a party on a Friday, you may have a lot of buyers competing for it. So booking agents are less likely to be flexible with pricing. They will prefer booking the days with guests who are interested in a higher tiered package or have more attendees.
Hone in on unpopular dates with less demand and compare prices. You may find that a sunset cruise at 6 pm on a Wednesday is half the price of a Friday night booking!
Negotiate A Bar Package That Makes Sense
When booking your package, you may be presented with two options to upgrade your boat party into an official “booze cruise.” Your choices would be an open bar package or a cash bar. An open bar would include unlimited beer, wine, and spirits for all of your guests. While at a cash bar, your guests would pay by the drink.
Since open bars are charged per person and per hour, they carry a heft price tag. So I’d only recommend them if you know that your guests are heavy drinkers.
If an open bar isn’t within budget, go for the cash bar option. Keep in mind that not everyone wants to get wasted during a cruise. They may be more interested in enjoying the party and the view. If you know your crowd, just cater your choice to them.
Expert Tip: Recently, party boats have been shut down for operating illegal bars without liquor licenses. You can protect your event by verifying the boat’s liquor license or hiring a caterer to operate an off-premises cash bar. Learn more about this in my article about throwing an underground party.
Create A Custom Bar Package!
Don’t think that you have to go strictly by the offers presented! Booking agents may not mention this, but you don’t have to buy an open bar for the entire trip. As an alternative, you can also propose the following:
- 1 or 2-hour open bar, after which it converts to a cash bar
- A “beer and wine the only” package
- Pay for a set amount of drinks in advance and distribute drink tickets to guests
These options are budget-friendly and will still give guests a great experience. Also, people do love the sound of a “wine cruise!”
Get A Detailed List of The Bar Selection
Remember when I mentioned earlier in this article about how most boats do not have a full bar? A full bar would have a large selection of spirits, wine, beer, and mixers. Instead, most boats have partial bars available with a limited selection.
This means they likely won’t have the ingredients to make your favorite old fashioned or margarita cocktails! You’re cocktail options are more likely to be limited to “rum and cokes” or “vodka sodas.”
Also, I’m sure you would hate to pay an extra $100 per person only to discover that you are only getting well liquor**. For a party of 30 guests, that would come to $3,000 spent on bottom-shelf drinks! (**Well liquor is low-cost liquor or spirit from a relatively unknown or unmarketed brand. The quality may or may not be on par with popular, well known, “top shelf” brands.)
So be sure to inquire about what’s included in your bar package. The ambiguous options that you may see include:
- “A standard open bar”
- “A premium open bar”
- “A deluxe open bar”
Here’s a reference sheet that I made with important questions to ask to about about your open bar package:
Never assume that you are getting Maker’s Mark (my personal fav) and Veuve Cliquot (a staple for club bottle popping) in your “premium package.” Ask for a detailed list of the types and brands of liquor, wine, and beer included and add it to your contract!
Weigh All Catering Options
If you are on a long cruise, a few bites might be a welcome addition to absorb all of that drinking going on. Boat rental companies may either offer those services in-house or have a catering partner. While this is convenient, it may not be the optimal choice since their prices are often inflated. You may be better off sourcing your own caterers.
The Pros of In-House Catering
- One all-inclusive bill
- On-site tasting before the event date
The Cons of In-House Catering
- Limited menu
- When you have a preferred external catering vendor
- Un-competitive pricing
If, for example, you want an all gluten-free menu, the boat charter agency may not have that. Say you want an all-seafood menu. If you are a seafood lover then you will be strongly concerned with freshness and taste, and you know that not everyone is to be trusted with that kind of menu.
My recommendation is to always source your own caterer and send out an RFP with your requirements for the best options.
Expert Tip: Always ask for a tasting before committing to an in-house catering package.
At this point, you should have a firm understanding of important things to cover so that you get the best booking possible. So let’s talk a little about how to prepare for your party!
What Should You Bring To A Boat Party?
On a boat party, people can’t come and go as they please. So you can’t pick up missing supplies and also if some minor mishap occurs, you are stuck until the ride is over. So here are a few items that you should strongly consider bringing along:
- Cash, since the bars usually don’t accept credit cards.
- Motion sickness pills (helps cure seasickness)
- A small emergency medical kit with bandages (in case of any bruises from minor slip & falls)
- Drinking games (for smaller intimate celebrations with friends like bachelorette or sorority cruises)
- Sunglasses and sunblock
What Should You Wear To A Boat Party?
Dress to a boat party like you would to a lounge or dance club. Business casual or cocktail attire would fit in nicely. This would mean a blazer and tee with jeans and shoes for gentlemen. And a cocktail dress with short heels (for stability against the rocking boat) would be ideal for ladies.
If the boat party is aboard a yacht, then you can go a bit more casual and comfortable. In this case, gentlemen should wear a t-shirt or polo shirt with shorts. Women should wear a comfortable blouse with shorts, jeans, or a dress. If you choose a dress, just keep in mind that it gets windy.
To illustrate, here’s a picture showing what my guests wore on a corporate yacht party cruise to celebrate the company’s 5th anniversary:
It’s always good to bring along the following additional clothing items:
- A spare set of clothes including shorts and t-shirt (in case of spills)
- A jacket to keep warm (it gets windy and particularly cold at night)
- Comfortable footwear like flip flops if it is a small party
And if you’re on a luxury boat during a warm season, bring along swimwear so you can do some sunbathing on the deck!
How Is Renting A Boat Better Than A Bar or Event Space?
Bars, lounges, and nightclubs often value profit over experience. I’ve seen many corporate events fall to disappointment when they paid for a designated space but received less than promised.
For example, I once booked an entire floor of a venue for a professional speaking event. Without notice, the venue’s agent booked another guest who was hosting a live musical performance on the lower floor. The loud music blasting from downstairs interrupted my speaker presentations! Although I remedied the situation by getting their volume turned down, it should never have happened.
This is not something that you have to worry about on a boat. No intruders, no party crashers, and no unexpected annoyances. You can just enjoy the rides and these benefits of your private charter:
Benefit #1: The Views Are Amazing!
It is quite difficult to find high-rise or rooftop venues that have similar views without a high booking cost to match. You would find yourself hard-pressed to find a luxury venue that will let you book the whole venue without considerable investment. You could easily be looking at $10k and up just for a 2-hour event!
With a private charter, you have the luxury experience for your event at a fraction of the cost. Also, people love the variety. A yacht party in NYC offers you panoramic views for endless photo ops.
PS: Some charters allow you to choose your route, so you can take the preferred scenic routes. You can request this when you book or onboard with your captain.
Benefit #2: A Luxury Brand Experience
Most venues have a strong brand imprinted into their design and DNA. find spaces that match your brand can be a challenge. So when planning parties at an event space you may have to must consider props, decorations, and on-brand signage (if it’s for a company).
However, sipping champagne on a luxury yacht, “Wolf of Wall Street” style, is the epitome of a luxury experience. Celebrations on boats are synonymous with success and fun. So you rarely need anything to supplement that ambiance.
Furthermore, yachts in particular offer comfort,style, and many options to keep your guests occupied:
Partying on the upper decks
Mingling on the lower enclosed decks
Lounging on the front and taking in the views
Benefit #3: Fewer Bad Booking Surprises
Venues will often take you for a ride if given the opportunity. Reservation managers often make long promises but come up short on delivery.
For example, I once attended an event where the guests were all crammed into a small area. It was rather strange because it was only half of the floor. I thought that perhaps it was overbooked.
After speaking with the organizers, I learned that the reservations manager promised the entire floor. But the manager on duty gave them half of the space! There was nothing they could do because the event was already underway.
On a boat rental, you won’t have to worry about this. Your space is secure and your time is guaranteed.
You are now well equipped with enough knowledge to ensure that your boat charter is nothing less than spectacular.
I’d love to see pics of your awesome boat party!