In search of the perfect wedding venue -- a place with spectacular views and a sense of wonder -- a growing number of wedding couples are choosing to hold their big days aboard yachts. Established yacht companies may have dozens of different styles and sizes of yachts in their fleets, from smaller boats ideal for more intimate weddings with smaller guest lists to enormous yachts for 200-plus guests, with grand ballrooms, elegant staterooms and glamorous decor. Yacht weddings create a destination wedding feel, an escape from the usual types of wedding venues in your area, with spectacular photo opportunities in every direction and a VIP feel.
*Cover the Basics
Find a reputable yacht company and a wedding coordinator who specializes in yacht weddings. Many yacht companies employ their own wedding planners, who have experience working on your particular boat. A professional planner who knows the ins and outs of weddings on your vessel can point out needs and decisions vital to the success of your day and can help run things smoothly.
Before you embark on the task of selecting your wedding yacht, it's essential to have a few of your wedding plans set. Know your budget so that you can consider yachts within your means and you don't torture yourself with dreams of a larger, more expensive yacht. You'll also need to know the size of your guest list because yachts have strict capacity and weight limits.
"It's most advisable that you set up tours of the yachts in a company's fleet so that you can see and feel the realities of the boats," says Camille Cerria, nautical event planner for Smooth Sailing Celebrations. Though it may seem to be a smart savings of time and effort to peruse gorgeous photos of various yachts in a fleet, nothing can compare to boarding the boat and seeing everything for yourself. During your tour, walk through all rooms and ballrooms, decks and gathering spaces, and check out the bathrooms.
Choose a boat with both indoor and outdoor space to provide beauty, as well as plan B settings, in case of any kind of bad weather, including summer heat.
*Get Your Team Together
Some companies have official teams -- including caterers, floral designers and bar staff -- working on particular boats. Many companies will give you a list of their preferred vendors, known to them as good performers on their yachts, and your event coordinator can negotiate to get permission for an outside vendor you would prefer to be hired for your event.
An important issue is the yacht's kitchen. Your caterer will need a kitchen that is big enough for his or her needs, with large enough ovens and refrigeration units.
Ask your wedding planner about licenses required for an officiant to perform your ceremony aboard the boat. You may think a ship's captain can marry you, but in reality, there are many factors at play regarding the legality of an officiant. For instance, your captain may be required to be a justice of the peace or a minister. It all depends on where you're sailing and what the rules of nautical officiating are. Learn the legalities so that you're not inviting trouble. The same rule applies about the insurance needed for boat weddings. You don't want your insurance to be marked as invalid because of a broken rule, such as bringing more guests aboard than the ship's capacity. "Always check with your nautical wedding planner to be sure you're in compliance with the boat's, the state's and other legalities," says Cerria. Your planner can do the work to be sure you're in the clear.
*Choose Sail or Dock
If you're nervous about sea motion during your yacht wedding, you may be able to arrange for your wedding to take place while the boat remains docked. With no sailing in open seas, you might avoid the motion of swells and waves that can contribute to queasy stomachs and affected movement. "I like to have candied ginger available for wedding guests," says Cerria. "It's a sweet treat that can help manage seasickness symptoms." In addition to potential comfort, a docked boat may be boarded by late-arriving guests. A boat at sea would leave late arrivals stranded on the dock. "Set an arrival time for an hour before the start of the ceremony or sailing time to avoid missed connections," says Cerria.
*Choose Your Wedding's Dining Style
"Buffets are usually the most successful style of food service," says Cerria. "Guests may not want to be stuck in their seats at a formal dinner when there are so many decks and glass-covered areas to enjoy on the yacht. Set up food stations in the main dining area, and offer separate food stations and bars around the boat for guests' ease and enjoyment." Sit-down dinners can be arranged, of course, if that is your desired style of food service.
You may also wish to blend styles, such as having a sit-down dinner and a dessert buffet.
*Choose Your Decor
Trending decor items for yacht weddings include driftwood, anchors, lighthouses, shells, rope tied in nautical knots, and nautical flags. You're not stuck with a red, white and blue color scheme. Nautical accents can fit into any palette.
*Choose Your Wow Factor
Some wedding couples arrange for fireworks displays to light up the night sky and seascape when the sun sets on their wedding day. Your wedding planner can help you hire the ideal fireworks company and time the show for a spectacular end to your dream yacht wedding.
Depend on your wedding planner to cover all of the details of your yacht wedding, including this important aspect: Be sure that your vendors will be granted access to the boat far enough in advance of your wedding's start for them to be able to perfect all of their preparations so that your timeline can proceed smoothly. That way, you can enjoy your wedding day without worrying.
Sharon Naylor is the author of "The Bride's Guide to Freebies" and three dozen other wedding books.