Imagine witnessing a whale breaching across the bow? Or, heli-skiing down your own private mountainside? Perhaps you are keen to get involved with environmental research and marine conservation? Explorer yachts allow you to enjoy a whole range of fascinating experiences, opening up the possibilities for once-in-a-lifetime adventures where the world really is your oyster.
In this article:
- What makes an explorer yacht?
- International Polar Code
- Long distance cruising
- What are the benefits?
- Freedom to explore
- Once-in-a-lifetime experiences
- Superyacht luxury
- Cocos Island and the Galapagos
- South Georgia
- Great Barrier Reef
- Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
- Svalbard archipelago
- Need more information?
In recent years, the charter scene has witnessed an increase in demand for go-anywhere explorer yachts, with naval architects pushing the envelope with a raft of innovative concepts in response to discerning yacht travellers seeking ever-more thrilling adventures.
Thomas O'Nial, Commercial Director at yacht charter firm Boatsters Black, confirms he's seen a marked increase in requests for explorer yachts in both the sales and charter sectors over the last few years, with the pandemic acting to accelerate this demand: "Clients are tired of the usual yacht charter circuit, and are expressing a desire to explore new territories and discover new things."
Damen's SeaXplorer Design Manager Enrique Tintore agrees, adding "SeaXplorer clients come from all manner of backgrounds and nationalities, but all share a passion for pushing the envelope and a love for fun and adventure. From tropical diving to heliskiing, they want the highest level of capability for fun."
Expedition yachts not only boast impressive cruising ranges and autonomy, but also come equipped with the latest toys, gadgets and state-of-the-art technology, offering a synergy of impeccably-styled interiors and luxury amenities – proving you can have your cake and eat it too.
However, there are some important distinctions between a superyacht and a true explorer yacht;
First and foremost, while aesthetically rugged and robust, an explorer yacht must be seaworthy. This means safe enough to withstand the roughest sea conditions, and do so comfortably for its passengers onboard.
A number of yachts also comply with IMO’s Polar Code, with hulls built to ice-class, such as Damen's SeaXplorer yacht LA DATCHA (pictured), designed to venture to extreme polar regions.
Although not mandatory, it certainly opens up greater opportunities for extreme exploration.
All our clients share a passion for pushing the envelope and a love for fun and adventure
Explorer yachts should also have the fuel tank capacity and efficiency to cruise for longer distances, offering unlimited potential to access remote areas of the globe.
And they don’t need to be behemoths either, British shipbuilder Arksen’s flagship explorer model is a fairly diminutive 26m (85ft) with an impressive 7,000 nm oceangoing range.
Likewise, Italian shipyard Cantiere Delle Marche's latest explorer yachts, AURELIA and RJ are both under 500GT, yet still bear all the hallmarks of a true explorer: robust, seaworthy and designed for world cruising, with both offering a 5,500 nm range without compromising on comfort and luxury, illustrating just how diverse the growing market for explorer vessels can be.
Another important attribute of a true explorer yacht is autonomy, basically the ability to remain at sea for long periods while remaining totally self-sufficient.
To achieve this, as well as ample fuel capacity, the yacht needs sufficient storage space to carry adequate food supplies and other necessities to maintain crew and guests, including specialists such as local guides, helicopter pilots and ski instructors.
The vessel should also be able to generate fresh water and manage waste effectively. This last point is often something that gets overlooked, however is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of an expedition yacht charter, not only because the vessel will undoubtedly be exploring remote locations without convenient refuse services, but also because effective waste management is a crucial environmental issue for ocean going yachts given their autonomy at sea and global range.
With a clearer understanding of what makes an explorer yacht, the next question you might ask is: why should you charter one?
Below are some pretty compelling reasons why explorer yachts are a cut above the rest;
The best thing about an expedition yacht is the freedom to explore the world’s oceans, from the poles to the tropics, with the capacity and range to remain at sea for longer periods of time between stops.
Clients are tired of the usual yacht charter circuit, and are expressing a desire to explore new territories and discover new things
Space is another great feature common on ocean going yachts. From storage to outdoor living, everything about an explorer yacht is supersized, designed for your ultimate comfort and safety whilst at sea.
Tintore explains the major reason for such large volume on explorer yachts like SeaXplorer La Datcha "is so that we can combine the capability you need to explore the world with the luxury space you want when you are there. Our SeaXplorers offers the best of both without compromise."
Having plenty of onboard space also means there’s more room for toys for use on land and at sea. O'Nial confirms one of the major bonuses in having plenty of space is that "there's much more room for jumbo toys, such as landing craft, especially for remote destinations without any convenient harbours or pontoons, as well as all-terrain vehicles, seaplanes and helicopters."
Some of the larger explorer yachts also come equipped with their own mini medical hospitals complete with trained staff, as well as research laboratories, ski lockers, hyperbaric dive chambers and much more.
Explorer yachts by their very nature offer the kind of unique experiences that many standard yachts cannot, such as the opportunity to partake in scientific research, explore remote destinations and offer greater opportunities for adrenaline-fuelled adventures as part of the whole package; such as 4x4 off-road touring, heli-skiing and submarine exploration à la Jules Verne.
Tintore underpins this point: “Explorer yachting offers the opportunity to experience the world with genuine adventure and rare experiences that are truly priceless."
there's much more room for jumbo toys
And there’s no need to compromise on luxury as most explorer yachts nowadays also offer an array of luxurious extras, such as wellness facilities, swimming pools, entertainment systems and movie theatres.
With unlimited cruising potential coupled with superyacht standard luxury, it's clear to see why explorer yachts have become so popular.
For inspiration, we have compiled some of the coolest destinations on the planet that you can visit on an expedition yacht charter;
Best for: wildlife, diving and learning about marine conservation
Cocos Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, situated 300 nm (approximately 18 hours cruise) off the coast of Costa Rica. This vast rock is covered in lush jungle and myriad waterfalls but remains uninhabited, save for its permanent ranger station.
The main reason people are drawn to this remote outpost is for the spectacular diving opportunities it presents, where schools of hammerheads, manta rays, whale sharks and other pelagics converge against a backdrop of submerged volcanic islands, home to vast coral reefs rich in marine flora and fauna.
Schools of hammerheads, manta rays, whale sharks and other pelagics converge against a backdrop of submerged volcanic islands
Further west you’ll find the Galapagos, a remote volcanic archipelago rich in biodiversity, and famous for inspiring Charles Darwin’s theories of Natural Selection. It’s now a protected marine park, home to some of the most diverse plant and animal species on the planet, both above and below the water, as well as myriad tranquil island sanctuaries and tantalizing stretches of pristine beaches.
Both Cocos Island and the Galapagos offer some of the best scuba diving in the world thanks to the spectacular megafauna that flock here in large numbers, and ideal for those wishing to experience a truly magical underwater adventure.
If you’re keen for land-based exploration, the Galapagos is also home to numerous islands and islets, each with their own unique characteristics and indiginous wildlife, such as the Galapagos giant tortoise, the comical blue-footed booby and the fascinating marine iguanas that dive into the sea to feed on the vegetation found in abundance around the shores.
home to some of the most diverse plant and animal species on the planet, both above and below the water
The main island of Santa Cruz is the beating heart of the archipelago, and home to the Charles Darwin Research Centre, which provides a great opportunity to learn all about the fantastic conservation efforts and scientific research being carried out throughout the archipelago.
Best for: breathtaking scenery, glaciers, wildlife and rich history
If you’re lucky enough to be chartering a Polar Code compliant expedition yacht and have always yearned to visit Antarctica, then South Georgia could be the perfect destination for you. Part of the Antarctic, South Georgia is a small landmass – only 176km (110 miles) long – that juts out towards South America, and although an extremely remote destination, the concentration of wildlife is off the scale.
the concentration of wildlife is off the scale
Visitors to this remote wilderness will get the chance to spot king penguins, humpback whales and huge elephant seals in a cacophonous symphony like nowhere else on earth. In the sky, vast numbers of free-wheeling seabirds add to the orchestra of noise.
The site is also steeped in human history, where visitors will get the chance to follow in the footsteps of Cook and Shackleton’s great adventures. This tundra region is also home to majestic glacial peaks, fjords and waterfalls, which can be experienced by foot, cross-country skiing or by helicopter. South Georgia is also home to a variety of shipwrecks as well as mesmerising underwater kelp forests.
a cacophonous symphony like nowhere else on earth
Be prepared to plan your trip several months in advance as permits may be required. The best place to meet the yacht is in the Falklands, after which you should factor in a travel time of around 2-3 days before you arrive at your destination.
Best for: coral reefs, scuba diving, white sandy beaches, marine preservation
As one of the most spectacular living structures on earth, this global icon almost needs no introduction. Covering an area of approximately 344,400 km² the Great Barrier Reef makes up around 10% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems and provides a habitat for a vast array of marine life.
Comprising some 3,000 reefs and 900 breathtaking palm-fringed islands and coral cays, as well as mangroves and vast oceanic drop offs, this World Heritage marine park is the perfect destination for a truly unforgettable yacht charter.
makes up around 10% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems
As well as world-class diving, the Great Barrier Reef also presents an opportunity to get involved in marine preservation projects and research, which you can speak to your yacht charter broker about before your trip.
Best for: wreck diving, experiencing indiginous cultures, tropical jungles, hiking and tranquil islands
These remarkable islands offer some of the best diving on the planet with one of the highest diversity of corals in the world, where sea temperature and currents are set to Goldilocks level year round, although the optimum time to visit is during the slightly cooler months of June through August.
sea temperature and currents are set to Goldilocks level year round
The islands also offer a number of land-based expeditions too, such as hiking through lush rainforests and waterfalls, or across pristine bone-white sand beaches with crystal waters, with plenty of scope to experience the local culture, which operates on ‘island time’ where the pace of life is much slower.
The locals are welcoming and friendly and happy to accept donations and gifts to allow you to build relationships with the Chiefs and their community in return for access and insight into their local customs, food and festivities.
The locals are welcoming and friendly
The islands do not require any permits, making these southwestern Pacific Ocean archipelagos the perfect destination for a one-of-a-kind expedition family charter, where snorkelling and diving opportunities abound.
Best for: majestic glaciers, ice-caves, northern lights, polar bears, scenic wilderness
Considered the true Arctic North, this Norwegian achipelago is characterised by stunning snow-capped peaks, narrow fjords, vast glaciers and extraordinary wildlife.
astonishing marine life is so abundant here
During summer, this region experiences the "midnight sun" – a phenomenon that occurs between the months of April and August where the sun never sets. Throughout this period, visitors will get to experience the spectacular native wildlife in all its glory; from polar bears to arctic foxes, walruses to Svalbard reindeer – all making hay while the sun shines.
Winter produces a 4-month long dark season from October through till February where the mesmerising northern lights that dance and shimmer in neon hues against a blanket of stars can be witnessed even during the day.
On the yacht, you can navigate narrow fjords where you'll hear the deafening roar of calving glacial ice, cruise past blue-tinged icebergs and witness the vast array of seabird colonies, or simply enjoy the astonishing marine life so abundant here; from breaching humpback whales to playful dolphins that leap through the yacht's wake, there is no end to the spectacular sights to behold in this remarkable archipelago.
The mesmerising northern lights dance and shimmer in neon hues against a blanket of stars
The breathtaking scenery is worth the trip alone, but there is also plenty to experience in Svalbard, whether you're into guided hikes, exploring magical ice caves, whale watching or zooming along glaciers in a snow mobile or even pulled by your own pack of huskies, you'll be spoiled for choice.
There are flights from Oslo to the capital Longyearbyen, where you can experience the culture on Spitsbergen – the only inhabited island in the archipelago, which offers a range of lively bars, boutique hotels and fine dining.
Please note that every destination will have unique environmental factors that may need advance or additional planning. Therefore, if you are interested in travelling to any of the destinations mentioned in this article we strongly advise reaching out to your preferred yacht charter broker, who will be able to guide and help you plan your dream yacht vacation.
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