Most visitors to Miami concentrate their stay on South Beach and miss some incredible sightseeing opportunities close by that remain undiscovered by the masses. Right on Biscayne Bay, just a 15 minute drive from South Beach , offers some great “back to nature” experiences. One of the best is spending a day sailing/sightseeing on Biscayne Bay . Sailors from around the world know of its beauty and sheltered sailing ground. Miami and Biscayne Bay are hosts to Olympic sailing trials annually during the winter season and the Bay is frequently peppered with multi colored sails from literally around the world.

One little publicized fact is that Miami is one of the premier sailing destinations in the country. Because Biscayne Bay offers a protected and unique sailing area, the often heard worry about feeling queasy is never a problem—a day on the Bay makes a terrific outing for first time as well as frequent visitors to the area. While the winter season offers the best winds for sailing, the summer offers the best swimming opportunities -- and the sightseeing is good all year long!

On a day half day sailing trip you can easily see all the homes of the rich and famous on Key Biscayne, Stiltsville (unique homes on stilts in the Bay built in the 1930's), and the historic Key Biscayne lighthouse. For a whole day, you could sail to and enjoy the island of Boca Chita, part of Biscayne National Park and situated just 15 miles south of Miami . For trips to Biscayne National Park and Stiltsville check to see that the sailboat has a permit to take passengers to the park, the park service permit is granted after a through check of the companies insurance, captains licences, etc. to insure a safe trip.  A night sail is even more spectacular if you incorporate a sunset and a full moon rise -- just recently Miami was voted as having the #3 best skyline in the United States . And while you certainly can view it during the day, once the sun sets and the city lights come up, a sailing trip right up close and personal to downtown Miami is breathtaking. Even locals who take a romantic evening sail are surprised how beautiful and colorful the Miami skyline is. This is a must do while in Miami and is a great respite from walking up and down the beach trying to see everything. Charter yourself a nice sailboat and just sit on deck and watch the scenery go by -- the only sounds you will hear are the wind and lapping of water against the boat.

SELECTING A CHARTER SAILBOAT

Researching and selecting what boat and captain you want to spend a day with on Biscayne Bay is no different than researching and selecting your hotel in Miami or deciding on your rental car -- there are many factors to consider . . . But when all is said and done, there are 3 key elements to consider when making your decision:  1) What level of luxury you desire, 2) What your budget is, and 3) What departure location you prefer.  Being an educated consumer in this process will ensure you maximize your enjoyment and get the most value for your dollar spent. 

LEVEL OF LUXURY

Using the hotel analogy, you have a wide variety of Miami hotels to choose from -- every level of luxury from hotels like the Ritz Carlton and Setai on down to Motel 6.  And sadly, most visitors spend hours researching what hotel to stay in but devote little time to research what sailboat to charter.  The important characteristics of hotels and boats are similar:   some are new, some are old; some are immaculately maintained, some are not; some offer top quality and service aboard, others offer nothing; some offer dining aboard, others do not.    The quickest screen for level of luxury will be the age of the sailboat -- the newer the boat the more likely you will have the highest level of luxury and comfort.  TIP: When booking a sailboat charter, ask how old the boat is and ask if they have a website with good photos of exterior and interior shots. This will be your first clue if the boat meets your expectation for level of luxury.  If the website shows the boat in that "faraway" photo, it's probably for a reason -- the aesthetics just aren't there to warrant close-ups.  Most of the boats available in Miami are in the 20-30 year old category and knowing this is important when making your decision.  Just like all hotels vary in their level of luxury, so it is with charter sailboats. 

Age of the prospective charter sailboat would be the first screen to apply to the field of choices you have.   But beyond that it would be important to look at the current market value of any sailboat you are considering – just like automobiles, boats vary in quality and level of luxury and just like luxury automobiles, well built and quality boats hold their value and those of lesser quality do not. 

Most people unfamiliar with boat manufacturers might mistakenly assume all boats are created equal.  But just like a Bentley outclasses a Fiat, so it is true with boat manufacturers.  You can visit a site like YachtWorld.com for information detailing the average selling price for each charter sailboat based on the year built and the boat manufacturer.  It helps to point the novice prospective charterer in the right direction – toward a boat that will fit their budget – from 5 stars down to 1 star. This will give you an insight into what to expect from your charter sailboat – photos on the internet can be deceptive and websites are marketing tools designed to lure you in.   Stick with facts in making your charter decisions and you won’t be disappointed.

With these facts you can make an intelligent decision about what boat you’d like to spend the day aboard – there’s no denying that a day on the water beats any day at work – but when you find that 5 star sailboats rent for about the same price as 3 star sailboats it becomes a “no contest” decision. No one should pay Ritz Carlton rates for a Motel 6 sailboat charter and being an educated consumer can help you avoid that situation.  Like the old expression goes:  “ Life is too short to drink cheap wine.”     However, if your budget restricts you to an older 1 or 2 star sailboat, you should adjust your expectations accordingly, but know that you will still enjoy the sights and romance of sailing on one of the premier sailing grounds in the United States.     

YOUR BUDGET

Miami is a shopper’s paradise when it comes to most things, and shopping for a sailboat to charter is no exception. Just as the Miami rental car market offers a wide range of choices from the Hertz/Avis level of service right down to more budged minded Rent-A-Wreck, the same holds true for the charter sailboat market.  There's a boat for everyone's budget in Miami.   Surprisingly however, unlike hotels or rental cars, the price variation between the newest and the oldest options is only about $50 -- the difference between sailing FIRST CLASS and coach is minimal!  Make certain you discuss all costs prior to booking so you know your exact outlay for the sailing experience you choose.

DEPARTURE  LOCATION

Using the hotel analogy again, you might pick a luxury hotel that suits your budget but then find that it's not on the beach, but rather a 20 minute drive to the beach.  If the beach is your focus, then perhaps this isn't the hotel for you.  The same holds true for charter sailboats.  The departure location is an important consideration because the time to get to Biscayne Bay (where the real sailing begins) can vary.  TIP:  Always ask where the charter sailboat departs from.

     DOWNTOWN MIAMI (Bayside Marketplace):    Some boats are docked at Bayside in Downtown Miami and that location is about 22 minutes one way to get down the narrow Intracoastal Waterway and under the Rickenbacker Bridge to really begin sailing. 

     COCONUT GROVE (Dinner Key Marina):   A similar situation occurs with those boats docked in Coconut Grove at  Dinner Key Marina -- there is an 18 minute ride down a narrow channel from the marina to begin sailing on Biscayne Bay. 

      MIAMI BEACH MARINA:   From Miami Beach, the travel time to Biscayne Bay is 45 minutes one way.   Leaving from any of these  locations, you'll be losing about 10-20% of your charter time getting to and from Biscayne Bay.  On the other hand if your goal is open ocean sailing, then Miami Beach is the ideal location to begin your charter.  It is immediately adjacent.to where the cruise ships exit out into the ocean and from there you can experience some exciting sailing conditions. 

      KEY BISCAYNE:  The ideal departure location is Key Biscayne -- from here you can be sailing is about 3 minutes -- Biscayne Bay is literally at your doorstep from this location. 

One other location consideration is the parking cost -- at some departure locations parking is free, at others it isn't.  Always ask about that incidental.

SEE FOR YOURSELF So do some easy research and review the facts for yourself -- make the calculation about what boat, what level of luxury you desire, and what location you want to depart from.  The bit of time spent looking at websites or talking on the phone with the boat captain will pay big dividends.  But in the end, nothing beats seeing the boat in person and meeting the captain.

The 4 departure locations mentioned above (Bayside marina, Dinner Key Marina, Miami Beach and Crandon Marina on Key Biscayne) are all within a 10 minute drive of each other.  That's so close the investment of time in this "live look" will convince you that either you made the right choice or perhaps those internet photos didn't portray the boat accurately.  Prudent shoppers who do their homework always get the best value for their vacation dollar spent -- and they always end up being happy and satisfied guests.  With a little planning and research, you can have the time of your life, avoid a disappointing charter, and make sailing on Biscayne Bay THE BEST DAY OF YOUR VACATION IN MIAMI !!!   If you’ve never been sailing before, take advantage of this opportunity while in Miami. It’s a great photo opportunity and will be a lasting memory for the lucky people you take with you – it’s truly sustenance for the soul!

SUMMARY

So to maximize your sailing enjoyment as well as maximize the value of your charter dollars spent follow these 3 basic steps: 

1) Utilize the information above to analyze which boat might be most appropriate for you – if clean and comfortable is important try to book one of the newer boats.

2) Consider the relative value of the boat you are booking with the cost of the charter.   There should be a direct relationship between value of the boat and cost of charter – if the $500,000 boat charters for essentially the same rate as the $150,000 boat when all factors are considered, then the decision is simple.  Who would choose coach class over first class if the price were the same?   A few telephone calls or minutes on the Internet will quickly give you this information.   The reputable charter boats post  charter rates on their websites.

3)  Choose a departure location which maximizes your sailing time – travel time to and from Biscayne Bay is usually a motoring event from Miami Beach, downtown Miami, or Coconut Grove – departing from Key Biscayne puts you on Biscayne Bay and sailing in less than 3 minutes.

A bit of planning and research and utilizing Trip Advisor is your best assurance that you will have that enjoyable day of sailing and sightseeing you expect and deserve while on vacation in Miami.