How to start a charter boat business

Updated March 23, 2017

If you love the water, turn your hobby into a career by starting a charter boat business. Spend your days on or near the water teaching novice sailors or providing the ultimate getaway for the lucky few. While the start-up costs may be pretty significant, so will your prices. You should already have in mind a marina from where to start your business. Keep in mind that some of your most lucrative weeks will be during holidays and prime vacation time, which means that you will have to take your own vacations during the off season.

Determine the nature of your charter boat business. Consider the types of services your business will provide, such as dive charters, sightseeing, business functions, dinner cruises, weddings, whale watching and fishing. You may offer skippered or crewed charters (you'll need a highly trained crew to accompany your clients) or bareboat charters, which is where clients are responsible for chartering a boat alone or with their own group. It may be wise to offer both, which would allow you to tap into two markets: the independent and skilled sailor and those looking to be entertained.

Obtain a captain's license (see Resources). Without it, you cannot charter your boat. You may need a mate or master license, depending on the number of passengers you intend to carry and the distance travelled. You will also need to be first-aid and CPR certified and pass a physical test. Then register your business with your local tax commission, and obtain a federal tax identification number.

Purchase your boat(s). Sailboats should start at around 32 feet and powerboats around 27 feet. When you first start your business, it is reasonable that you may only have one or two boats. Attend boat shows to review different types of boats. Your boat should be equipped with safety equipment such as life jackets, flares, fire extinguishers, rubber boots and smoke detectors, and it might include a depth sounder, VHF radio, loud-hailer, foghorn and stereo system. It should include the luxuries needed for the types of services you will offer, such as beds and showers for overnight stays, x number of cabins, crew bunks, or a dining room for parties. Once you have purchased your boat, contact your state wildlife department to get it registered.

Purchase business insurance. This may range from £16,250 to £16 million (see Resources).

Provide toys such as diving gear, a hot tub, fishing gear and licenses, and other luxury items that add to your customer's experience. Consider offering diving, sailing or fishing lessons. If you cannot or do not want to provide food, be sure to connect your customers with someone who can. Consider renting or offering towels, blankets and pillows.

Hire a qualified crew, such as trained chefs, deckhands and stewards.

Create attractive brochures. Consider opening a website. Set your prices. You may charge £195 for a three-hour evening trip or £780 for a weeklong trip. Your deposit should start at £195 and insurance may start at about £19 per day. Lessons could be £195 for an eight-hour session. During busy seasons, consider charging a reserve deposit.


As your business expands, consider selling some of your boats to owners who then allow you to charter them. Review other charter businesses' websites for ideas on how to build your own website, what services to provide, what prices to charge and how to market your business (see Resources). Consider working with catering companies and party organisers. If your business will need financing, write up a business plan ASAP. See for help on how to write up your business plan.

Things You'll Need

  • Captain's license
  • Boat(s)
  • Business insurance
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About the Author

Shanika Chapman has been writing business-related articles since 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Science in social science from the University of Maryland University College. Chapman also served for four years in the Air Force and has run a successful business since 2008.