Smooth Sailing

Smooth Sailing | Float into happily ever after with a fail-safe wedding at sea

Seeing Charleston from the harbor or while cruising down the Intercoastal is one of the incomparable draws to this little corner of the world; in fact it’s the main vantage citizens knew for centuries before roads crisscrossed the Lowcountry. Captain Bob Murray, owner and operator of The Carolina Girl, a $3.5-million luxury yacht that has welcomed nearly 500 weddings aboard, loves exploring the area this way, and in 2007, he anchored his ship here so parties—and bethrothed couples especially—could revel in the experience. Camille Berge, his director of operations, shared the ins and out of wedding on the water. Read on for her tips and score a list of other great local cruising vessels aboard which to say “I do!” on page 68.

Charleston Weddings: What’s the first thing you tell couples?
Camille Berge: Don’t stress about weather! Weather is only as much an issue on a yacht as it is on any land venue. We have two interior temperature controlled levels and a covered upper deck. Plus, a variety of waterways in Charleston Harbor provide comfort and protection from rain and wind. Embrace the weather and the reason why you chose a yacht wedding—to give guests a unique experience and see Charleston from a different point of view. Rain or not—you will be able to check both off your list.

What should you wear onboard?
CB: Check specific guidelines. For us, there are no shoe or attire restrictions but remember breezes, docks, and ramps are part of it all. And comfort is key! Pass this along on your invitations and encourage guests to wear comfortable shoes and to bring light jackets. Brides should choose a lightweight dress that will move freely about.

Any seasonal changes to consider?
CB: Let temperature be your compass. It’s painful to see groomsmen forced to wear tuxes in August! For the warmer months, opt for light linen suits for the guys or no jacket required. For the cooler months, gift your girls a wrap to keep them warm.

Can boats accommodate wheelchairs?
CB: Larger vessels typically can. We hosted a rehearsal dinner where both parents were in motorized wheelchairs. The yacht is spacious and open, allowing wheelchairs to move inside and outside with no problems.

What if a guest wants to leave before the boat is back at dock?
CB: The most important thing is for couples to inform their guests ahead of time how long the boat will be away from the dock. Wording on invitations is key. We often do a combination of cruising and dockside time for weddings. For a four-hour event, we might cruise for three hours and do the last hour dockside. You will always have a few guests who don’t want to be restricted to the boat the entire time, so that last hour allows those who need to leave to do so.  

Do you have to worry about flowers and cakes tipping over?
CB: Motion is not an issue—we are a 90-ton yacht, an ocean-made vessel floating in a mere “pond.” So bring on the flower arrangements. But simple is best. You are paying to experience Charleston Harbor, and that’s what guests will remember.

Is having a planner essential for a boat wedding?
CB: Planning a yacht wedding is unique. You want someone that knows the ins and outs and what works best. For our part, we offer in-house planning and a day-of event director.

How long should an onboard celebration last?
CB: Three hours is enough time for guests to take full advantage of scenery and cruising. Our weddings—especially if they include ceremonies—are typically three to five hours long. Rehearsal dinners and other events are shorter.

Is there a preferred time of year?
CB: Spring and fall provide the best weather—not too hot, not too cold. Still, this is Charleston, so we operate year-round and host weddings in January and July. Once you leave the dock and feel the fresh air and breeze, a 100-degree Charleston summer night doesn’t seem so bad.

Can couples request routes?
CB: Captains try, but ultimately they determine routes with guest safety and comfort as the goals.

Any disasters you’ve avoided?
CB: Kids being, well, kids, they’re not always excited about attending a wedding. But the quickest way to get over a temper tantrum is getting a personal invitation from the captain to sit at the wheel and drive a 100-foot yacht.

How far in advance do you need to plan a floating wedding?
CB: We’re in the middle of planning a wedding with four weeks notice. Anyone want to challenge us to three weeks?

Can captains officiate weddings?
CB: Yes.

Anything else to add?
CB: Boats are their own power plants. No matter what weather or conditions cause power outages in the city, boat events will go on.

Find the perfect local vessel for your Big Day at sea

Charter: The Carolina Girl
Ship: 100-foot luxury yacht
Capacity: 150 guests
Amenities: The Carolina Girl has enclosed rooms and open decks; air conditioning; private dressing cabins;  event coordinator; officiant; and music system; and is handicap accessible.
Rates: $2,500-$3,600/three hours
Contact: (843) 818-2495;

Charter: Charleston Harbor Tours
Fleet: The Carolina Queen, The Carolina Belle, and The Schooner Pride
Capacity: 200, 150, and 49 guests (respectively)
Amenities: The Queen and The Belle are three- and two-decked smoke-stacked boats with indoor-outdoor decks and rooms; air conditioning; bars; catering options; officiants; chairs, tables; and changing areas; and are handicap accessible. The Schooner Pride is a replica of an 18th-century trading vessel with a cruise director; officiant; picnic-style catering; and limited bar service. Off-site catering is permitted and there is bench-style seating and a private changing room.
Rates: $3,575-$4,650/three hours; $3,025-$3,850/three hours; and $1,785-$2,340/two hours (respectively)   
Contact: (843) 722-1112;

Charter: SpiritLine Cruises & Events
Fleet: Spirit of Carolina, Spirit of the Lowcountry, and Spirit of Charleston
Capacity: 325, 300, and 250 guests (respectively)
Amenities: The vessels are two-deck dining yachts with both indoor and outdoor rooms; air conditioning; event coordinator; bars; and kitchens with full-service catering. Spirits of Carolina and Charleston have limited handicap accessibility; Spirit of the Lowcountry has an elevator and is handicap accessible.
Rates: $3,500-$6,000; $4,000; and $3,000 (respectively)
Contact: (843) 722-2628;

Charter: Tidal Wave Water Sports
Ship: The Osprey
Capacity: 49 guests
Amenities: The Osprey is a 63-foot former shrimp boat that offers catering; a DJ or band; and skeet shooting
Rates: $1,800 for three hours
Contact: (843) 819-2645;