What is a flotilla sailing holiday?

In flotilla sailing you sail as part of a group of boats. Flotilla comes from the Spanish flota – which just means a fleet of ships. You’ll have your boat to yourself – just you, your friends and family on board – and a hired skipper as well, if you want some support. You can sail at your own pace. Flotilla operators are quick to point out that you won’t have to sail together like ‘ducks in a row’. In fact, after your morning briefing, you can pretty much go where the wind takes you – just as long as you’re at the next overnight stop by late afternoon.
Though you only need one qualified skipper on your flotilla, anyone on board can take the helm and steer the boat. Stand astride, turn the wheel and feel the power.
Flotilla sailing is a fantastic way to enjoy sailing, without any of the pre-planning and organisation that can come from sailing in unfamiliar territories on a hired boat. You’ll have a lead boat who can come and help you with any issues. Though you’ll be supported, flotilla sailing is a hands-on holiday, suitable for active types. You’ll be fully in charge of your own boat and preparing your own breakfasts and lunches.
Because it comes with a certain degree of responsibility, to charter a flotilla boat, you’ll need to have at least one person in your party with an ICC (International Certificate of Competence) – a certificate you can apply to get once you hold your RYA Day Skipper licence. The rest of the party don’t need to be expert sailors at all, though it’s easier for your poor friend playing the part of skipper if people are willing to help out on deck from time to time.
The advantages of sailing in a flotilla are many. Firstly, you’ll get guaranteed berths. Come peak season in the busy sailing areas moorings and berths get snapped up quick. Your flotilla lead boat will book your overnight stays for you, so you won’t have to call ahead for yourself. Next, you’ll get great local knowledge – the nicest restaurant, the best beach to get the morning sun – and mechanical and sailing support. Last, there’s a (non-obligatory) social element. If you like the look of the other crews, you have the evenings to mingle as much as you please.

What does a flotilla sailing holiday entail?

You can go on a flotilla holiday as a couple and charter a small 32 foot monohull, or take your whole family – and your neighbour’s too, and charter a roomy catamaran with room for up to 11 people. Flotilla trips usually last for one week and start on Saturdays.

Big charter companies will normally have a fleet of hundreds of identical boats – so once you’ve sailed one, you’re used to them all. Boats are robust, fibreglass and pretty difficult to break. They’ll be very space efficient downstairs, with small bathrooms (the toilets are known as ‘heads’, and are flushed using a hand pump). There’ll be a little ‘galley’ (kitchen) and cosy cabins; fitting out all the funny-shaped mattresses in the different cabins is an industry in itself.

There will be electricity on board. It runs off a generator attached to the engine – and also runs from shore power. This means when you’re sailing appliances will switch off (but your fridge should remain relatively cool). You’ll stay in touch with the lead boat by VHS radio – which is good fun.

The lead boat will help you with a lot of things before you set off, but you’ll probably need to do your own food shop in a local supermarket. It’s best to buy cold lunches, so you’re not slaving over a stove in a tiny galley in the middle of the day – and go for local ingredients to get a taste of your destination and support local providers. Banish visions of maggoty hard tack: you’ll be able to top up your larder en route – ask your lead boat which anchorages have bakeries or small shops. One of the best experiences on sailing holidays is buying fresh seafood on a whim when you’re sailing along.
Every day you’ll set off on a new adventure – your lead boat will brief you with the suggested route, and recommend pretty bays along the way where you can drop the anchor and have your lunch. After your day of sailing, swimming and exploring, you’ll meet back up with the lead boat – and either go out to dinner as a group or choose your own dinner spot. There’s often a day on the trip when you’ll stay in one place for two nights – meaning you can have a free sailing or rest day.
Your boat comes with an engine. While it’s perfectly feasible to motor all the way, every day, this is more expensive, as you’ll pay for the fuel – and it’s much less environmentally-friendly. It’s nice, however, to know that if the winds are against you, you can always turn the engine on.
The lead boat in your flotilla will have no shortage of silly entertainment whilst you’re on holiday (who can come up with the best boat-based poem? Who has the best radio etiquette?), but there’s no pressure to join in with group activities. You’ve got your own boat to retreat to, after all – you could spend your evening on deck clinking the ice around your gin and tonic, or book your own restaurant. There are a couple of group meals, and the last day of the trip often has a regatta – a race – where you can put your crew through their paces and feel all powerful as you cajole them to crank harder on the winches. Again, you don’t have to take part if you don’t want.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Flotilla sailing or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Flotilla sailing courses

On some flotilla holidays, you can also learn to sail. Everyone in your party can be taught to sail and end up with an RYA Start Yachting qualification. These trips are for up to five people per boat, and are great for families. Your boat will come with a skipper; far more than a nautical chauffeur, they’re aboard to teach you to sail for a few hours each day – and the rest of the time you can still enjoy all the perks of the flotilla holiday.

What to bring for a flotilla holiday

During the day you don’t need much more than an eco-friendly sun cream (which is kind to your ocean host and its inhabitants), some sort of swimming costume, deck shoes and a tightly fitting hat (those glamorous wide-brimmed ones aren’t much use when you’re underway – as the breeze can get pretty strong). There’s no need to dress up much for dinner. Rubber-soled deck shoes are great as they protect both the deck (from scuff marks) and your feet (it’s surprisingly easy to stub your toes), polarised sunglasses eliminate that pesky glare you get when the sun dances on the ocean waves, and a pair of trainers will have you practically skipping around the ports when you visit. Everything you take should be packed into a soft bag that’s easy to stuff in a cupboard; once two of you are trying to get changed at once, you’ll soon find out that there isn’t much space spare in your cabin.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Karla Car] [Intro: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen] [What does it entail: Mael BALLAND] [What to bring: _dChris]