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Better Late Than Never

Maybe a surprise opening just popped up on your August calendar. Or maybe you hemmed and hawed and have nobody to blame but your own procrastinating self. Either way, if you’re looking to book a last-minute charter in the Mediterranean this summer, you still may find a yacht, but doing so will require flexibility and a willingness to act fast.

Top charter brokers say yachts up to about 150 feet long (45 meters) with five staterooms, in the $100,000- to $120,000-a-week range, were all booked at least six months in advance this year. So were the larger yachts with six staterooms, though as of early June, some larger yachts with five staterooms were still open.

Between the spate of early bookings and the relatively few yachts offering discounted rates for July and August—not to mention yacht owners feeling flush from the roaring economy—brokers were predicting a seller’s market this summer.

“I’d say that availability will be limited, but we may find something,” says Barbara Dawson, senior charter broker with Camper & Nicholsons International. “There’s always a boat popping up, or a cancellation. And it depends on what kind of boat they’re looking for.”

Liz Howard, a longtime charter broker with Fraser, agrees that last-minute clients need realistic expectations.

“We can find something wonderful, but it may not have the décor they want,” she says. “Good brokers, this is our job, and we will find something.”

Howard says one key to a successful last-minute inquiry is understanding how yacht owners think. Many clients are confused, she says, when they offer to book and a yacht owner declines.

“In the past, a lot of the last-minute Med bookings have been people who think it’s like a hotel, that if there’s an empty room, they’ll fill it at a discounted rate,” Howard says. “That is not the case this year—at all. Owners would rather leave their boat empty or use it themselves.”

She urges clients to be ready to book within a few hours’ notice, because they’re not going to be the only ones seeking last-minute opportunities.

“What I send to you at 9 a.m. may not be available at 5 p.m., especially during July and August in the Med,” Howard says. “The other thing that people don’t understand is that if they call me on a Friday and say that they want a boat for Sunday in the Med, there are situations where I can do it, but at that point, it’s about banking. If we don’t have money in the account, that boat’s not leaving the dock. We can do it in 24 hours, but it’s all about banking and time zones.”

After several decades of doing such deals, Howard says, she urges clients to trust her with a front-loaded negotiating tactic.

“I’ve had people call me and say they want a boat for tomorrow in the Med,” she says. “I say, ‘OK, you have to wire me $200,000 to a trust account and we’ll try to find a boat, and if we can’t, I’ll send it back to you.’ Because if I find the boat and we can’t move the money fast enough, that boat is not going to leave the dock.”

If a client has the cash ready to transfer, Howard says, a yacht owner is more likely to want to make a last-minute deal.

“You want to be a bird in the hand,” she says. “If the owner knows there’s money there, he may just accept it.”

Dawson says that no matter how late in the season it gets, it’s worth picking up the phone to talk to a seasoned broker, one who knows how to find yachts that other brokers might miss.

“Sometimes, you can find a great deal at the last minute,” Dawson says. “You never know.”