Sunday, April 14, 2013

How to Start a Boat Charter Business

Boat charter businesses flourish in the United States, particularly in regions known for high-quality access to ocean sightseeing, fishing and other water activities. The U.S. Census Bureau found that 1,748 recreational water transportation companies generated $1 billion in 2002, employing around 12,000 individuals. California, Hawaii and Florida together captured over one-third of the market, although other states, including New York and Florida, fared well with boat charters. Boat charter businesses can be relatively simple to establish, but expect higher start-up costs because you’ll need to procure a boat.

Step 1
Write a business plan. The Small Business Administration recommends that you prepare a detailed business plan outlining the organization’s offerings, management structure, accounting practices, loan applications, market analysis, summary of competitors and long-term goals before getting started on a boat charter business. A plan in place helps attract financial backers and sets the stage for stability and growth. For example, conduct a market analysis by visiting local harbors to determine what kinds of boat charters already exist. Outline the possibility of niche offerings, such as sunset charters, whale-watching charters, singles mixers or releasing cremated ashes at sea. Pricing scales might vary depending on time of year or services offered.

Step 2
Apply for permits. Most boat charter businesses need permits, including a business license and tax identification number. You’ll need to purchase liability insurance. Boats vending food or alcohol will require additional licensing. The boat’s captain will need to hold a U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license for carrying passengers. This involves earning a certain amount of sea hours and passing a technical examination, background check and physical exam.

Step 3
Lease or purchase a boat. You’ll need a sturdy, dependable boat for transporting passengers. Customers will likely expect coolers and a toilet, but also equip the boat to match charter needs. Fishing boats need pole racks, bait tanks and fish-finding technology, for example. Sightseeing boats should be equipped with plenty of seating. All boats should be equipped with safety gear according to state law, including life vests, fire extinguisher and life rafts.

Step 4
Stock charter gear. In addition to safety gear, stock the charter boat with goodies. Snorkel charter boats need snorkeling gear and fins of different sizes with a deck hammock for passengers who don’t want to fully enter the water. Fishing charter boats need quality fishing gear and tackle. Consider stocking sightseeing charter boats, such as a whale-watching boat, with inexpensive binoculars.

Step 5
Advertise. Network with local marine supply stores to set up a mutual referral system to promote business. Create a website complete with video footage of whale sightings, landing trophy fish or little kids having fun with snorkeling gear. Reach out to colleagues in the travel industry, including hotel concierge, travel agents and the Chamber of Commerce to promote the boat charter business.

  • For many guests, part of the fun of climbing aboard a charter boat involves a friendly, charismatic captain and crew. While employees’ primary concern should be the safety of all passengers, train crew members to chat with customers, identify points of interest and offer to take photos or serve drinks to guests.
  • No matter how entertaining the charter, some guests will prove to be landlubbers. Stock the cabin with ginger tablets and over-the-counter nausea-fighting medication, and direct passengers to take care of seasickness business above deck.
  • Not all passengers will be familiar with charter boat toilets, or “heads.” Take a few minutes to demonstrate how to pump and flush the head while still docked. It’ll save you extra grunt work down the line.
  • Poor weather will sometimes dictate that you cancel scheduled charters. Have cancellation policies in place so that customers know what to expect when their charters are canceled. Policies might include rain checks or refunds.

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