Business and pleasure: What I’ve learned from a decade of chartering out my boat

Henry Firman recounts his progression from avid leisure boater to seasoned charter professional…

Having started sailing with Lasers, Wayfarers and National 12s as a child, my claim to fame was coming 18th in the National Firefly Championships. In truth, only 19 boats started and one of them sank, but we had a brilliant week, sailing out of Itchenor.

Me and a mate, a subsidised bar (which may have turned a blind eye to licensing laws), fish and chips, an overloaded minivan and lots of glorious sunshine – it really couldn’t have been better!

After I finished school, I learned navigation in the Royal Navy and although I ended up taking a different path, the seed was sown.

A history in boats

In 1999, we bought our first boat – a Four Winns 195 cuddy cabin with an inboard Volvo V8 petrol engine. We used it for waterskiing inland and also for a bit of cruising around the south coast. A Fairline Targa 35 quickly followed, before we upgraded again to a Fairline Phantom 42 Flybridge.

It was then, in 2007, that we bought our first Princess – a brand new Princess 42 Flybridge with Volvo D6 engines. It was a fantastic boat that did everything we asked of it. It was just a little bigger everywhere than the Phantom and it was really practical.

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By now, I was getting quite comfortable with the whole boating thing and we had decent knowledge of the Solent from our home berth at Haslar Marina in Gosport, so we did trips overseas to France and the Channel Islands, as well as cruises west to Devon and Cornwall.

But towards the end of 2011, I started to think about turning my hobby into a business and doing boat charters – and much as we loved the 42, my charter work was going to require a bigger boat.

The Princess P50

The Princess P50 Mk3 seemed to offer a good all-round package. I looked at some secondhand examples but eventually found myself back in Princess Motor Yacht Sales’ Swanwick office in early 2012. Roger Lipman, Sales Director of PMYS, told us he had a brand-new ‘secondhand’ P50 for sale.

It was the show boat from the 2011 London Boat Show and although it had been sold at that event, the buyer had never completed.

The as-new P50 was a boat show display model

Being a stock boat, it had a great spec, too: CAT C12 ACERT 715hp engines, tropical air-conditioning, uprated Onan generator, icemaker, passerelle, crane, additional refrigeration, bow and stern thrusters, a good chartplotter and radar at both helm stations.

And the standard fittings were excellent too, including the full-size fridge freezer and the silent-flush electric freshwater toilets. A deal was struck and we took delivery in March 2012. We arranged for Princess Yachts to code the boat and while that was happening, I prepared myself for the job of a charter skipper.

Charter licence

I needed a licence that could be commercially endorsed, so I took my Yachtmaster Offshore (Motor) exam. It was the first formal training I’d taken on a boat and it gave me a much better grasp of what everyone else on the water should be doing.

Charter training was an eye-opening process

As well as the Yachtmaster exam, I had to undertake a sea survival course, which taught me all about the liferaft and safety flares. In addition to getting my VHF radio licence, there was also a first-aid course, which gets refreshed every three years.

And finally, there was a professional practices and responsibilities exam, plus a medical to ensure I was up to the task of taking people out on a boat.

A decade of chartering

In terms of the operational side of things, our ten years of chartering with the Princess P50 Mk3 has been as easy as we could ever have wanted. It had cleats in all the right places, as well as great visibility, responsive engines, easy close-quarters manoeuvring and a wonderful hull.

Henry’s Princess P50 has put in ten years of charter service

In terms of the hotel side, the galley and full-size fridge freezer allowed us to cope with 12 guests and it had loads of socialising spaces, both covered and open. It still looks like an impressive boat to guests when they first arrive and it has held up incredibly well to ten seasons of full-on charter work.

But in 2021 at the Southampton Boat Show, we once again found ourselves chatting to Roger Lipman at Princess Motor Yacht Sales, and a deal was struck for our new boat – a magnificent new Princess F55.

The new Princess F55

The F55 is just a bit bigger in every respect than the outgoing P50 Mk3 and, although it’s an aft galley design, there is still a full-sized fridge freezer and plenty of storage. We’ve also chosen to specify the crew cabin area as dedicated storage.

Easy to handle and brilliant at sea, the P50 hasn’t put a foot wrong

We’ve never used the crew cabin on the P50 for anything other than storage so why not just design it like that from the outset? That’s one of the benefits of buying new.

Our original build slot was scheduled for completion between late 2022 and early 2023 and there’s still a bit of a journey before we take delivery of the keys. But as soon as that happens, we’ll give you an update on how the build process worked and how our new F55 performs.

First published in the June 2023 issue of MBY.

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