A few years ago, I was working on a boat that travelled to Panama. We hired a driver to help us provision and navigate our way around the port city of Colón. After we saw the town, it was clear why we needed local information. As the driver explained, the shops with the armed guards framing the doorways were the safe ones to visit.
Our driver was organized by a yacht agent, who also helped the captain book marina space and clear customs and immigration in Panama. As you no doubt know, yacht agents provide support services for captains and crew who need help to find things or get things done in the various ports they visit around the world.
Capt. Scott Schwaner says agents are especially useful if you’re visiting a place for the first time. “I can read the guide books and review my charts and talk it up to friends and neighbouring boat captains, but the agents take care of clearance and dockage before I arrive. They will give me their contact in the port who speaks both English and the language of the country we are visiting,” he says. “The agent will also give me a heads-up on the usual customs, who to tip and how much is expected. I can ask about the shopping; the places to avoid and confirm what we’ve read in the guide books or we’ve heard about from others. I usually make reservations through the agent or the contact person for restaurants, taxi service and anything else my crew or guests would like.”
If you have a yacht management company, you may not need to use yacht agents – but they can come in handy in a pinch. Rupert Connor, president of Luxury Yacht Group, says, “We don’t use agents much, but sometimes they provide standard assistance outside our global reach. For example, we may have a call from a captain going through the Panama Canal and there is a time pressure to get paperwork processed quickly. An agent can get things done quickly.” He adds, “In some ports, the rules may change or they may be [written] from the perspective of a commercial vessels or cruising sailboats. The rules for yachts may be different. That’s where an agent comes in with reliable current information.”
However, Connor cautions against an overdependence on yacht agents. “There are stories of agency bills getting out of control.” To prevent this, he suggests, “...captains could control costs by putting a cap on the amount they are charged. For example, tell the agency to contact you when your bill gets to two thousand dollars.” He adds that a good agent will not let costs skyrocket.
Connor says the best way to find a reliable yacht agent is by word of mouth, talking to other captains and using social, professional networking tools to share info such as Twitter and blogs, and of course, Dockwalk.com.
Do you have any yacht agents in out-of-the-way ports to recommend? Who’s the best?