How to Start a Charter Boat Business: The Complete 12-Step Guide

  • by Norm Tedford
  • 7 months ago
  • Blog
  • 0
Man and his charter boat business

Want a business that has sky-high earning potential, lets you double your revenue every single year, and might even give you a glorious opportunity to hob-nob with billionaire celebrities?

If so, starting your very own charter business might be just the thing for you.

Dmitry Lyubimov, the owner of UNIQ LA, did just that, with results beyond anything he could ever have dreamed of. That’s particularly impressive when you consider that when Dimitry first stepped foot on American soil, he had no job, spoke no English, and didn’t have a dime to his name.

Today, he’s living his very best life catering to an exclusive boat-loving clientele while raking in truckloads of cash in his charter business. Starting from a single boat, he’s expanded his fleet beyond boats to include limos, planes, helicopters, and even mansions.

We were incredibly excited to interview Dmitry to find out how he started his wildly successful boat business empire. He’s got a ton of actionable advice to share.

You’ll find out how he built his impressive client list, which of his services bring in the most revenue, how he was able to convince a city to construct a dock for him,  and so much more. Best of all, we’ll go through every step you need to take to start your own highly lucrative charter business, including the best way to charter fishing trips.

Let’s dive in and get started!

Step 1: Write a Business Plan

Several sticky notes and a laptop on a desk

Before you can start to make your vision of owning your own charter business a glorious reality, you’ll need to write a business plan.

This will help you outline your business’s ultimate objectives, which will help you accelerate your success. Your business plan should include costs and financial projections.

List all the expenses involved in running a charter boat business. These are things like gas, insurance, boat payment, and maintenance. You should also list the equipment you need, including the boat itself, fishing supplies, and anything else you need to make your business a resounding success.

Also, list how much you’ll need to charge per hour to offset those expenses so that you can turn a tidy profit. 

You’ll want to include the results of market research too. Ask other boat businesses in the area how much they’re charging, how much business they’re doing, and how much they make with fishing charters.

Once you collect your research, quantify it and make it a part of your plan.

Your business plan should also contain the following elements: 

  • Sizes and types of boats you plan on leasing or buying 
  • Destinations
  • Preferred clientele
  • Services offered (fishing equipment rental shop, parasailing, jet ski rentals, etc.) 
  • Price of services 
  • Where you’re going to be docking your boat
  • If you need to build a dock 
  • How you plan to market your business 

By taking this step, you’ll define your vision with piercing clarity, allowing you to confidently move in the direction of your dreams. A well-defined business plan also helps you to secure financing for your charter business when and if you need it.

Udemy has a terrific course on writing business plans that includes 50 free business plan templates. For a sample charter boat business plan, check this out.

Step 2: Mentorship

A sketch pad, pencils and a laptop on a desk

If you’re new to the charter boat business, it’s a good idea to set up a mentoring partnership with an established company. 

With a business mentor by your side, you’ll get the valuable assistance and expert instruction you need to take you from a struggling neophyte to a consummate professional. 

Studies have shown that 70% of small business owners who enlist the support of a mentor see their companies survive for at least five years. This is twice as long as those entrepreneurs who forgo mentoring services. 

Fantastic mentors will have a lifetime of real-world knowledge and a dizzying array of skills to share with you. Look for one with five or more years of experience in the field. 

Your mentor should have a keen awareness that he doesn’t know everything there is to know about his business niche. That’s why, ideally, your mentor will introduce you to his network of experts who will be eager to help you acquire a more comprehensive understanding of running a boat business. 

An excellent mentor is also someone who runs his business according to impeccable ethical standards. You don’t want to be tutored by an individual who jettisons his moral standards in pursuit of the almighty buck. 

Ask your mentor if he can develop an action plan based on concrete goals. For example, learning the essential skills all successful boat charter business owners must have. 

It’s great if you can locate a mentor who has a proven history of pushing his own professional boundaries. This will hopefully inspire you with the confidence to push past your own limits. 

Pick your guru’s brains and take advantage of all the knowledge he’s willing to share with you. By doing this, you’ll have a leg up when it’s time to start your own charter boat business. If you need more guidance on mentorship, read this excellent Forbes article on the subject.

Step 3: Licensing

Before you can head out for the open seas with your first passengers, you’re going to have to get licenses for your charter boat business. 

Your boat captains need to be licensed. You also need to obtain a license for the commercial use of your vessels. There are even licensing requirements for each water jurisdiction you plan on traveling to.

These are some of the licensing requirements for charter boats and fishing guides in the state of Washington: 

  • A current copy of the boat’s registration is required when a vessel is being designated on a license.
  • An angler permit specifying the maximum number of persons who may fish from the charter boat per trip. Only a person who holds a salmon charter license may hold an angler permit.
  • A non-salmon charter license is required if you accept a fee to take a person fishing for shellfish and fish other than salmon or albacore tuna. 
  • A food fish guide license is required if you accept a fee to take a person fishing for salmon, sturgeon, or other food fish species in freshwater rivers and streams. 

They’re probably similar to the requirements in your own state.

Step 4: Target Market

A man holding an iPad with a cup of coffee on his desk

With a charter boat business, you get to unleash your entrepreneurial spirit while simultaneously indulging your passion for sailing the seven seas.

Before you whip yourself up into a business-buying frenzy, you need to first decide what type of clientele you’re going to target. Will it be multinational companies that want to conduct corporate meetings smack dab in the middle of the storm-tossed ocean? Or, would you rather cater to families who want to want to enjoy the exquisite thrill of their own private whale-watching trips?

Maybe you’ll want to target retirees who want a relaxing, yet fun, deep sea fishing experience.

Here’s Dmitry talking about how he chose his clientele:

I started focusing only on luxurious boats, the most expensive ones, and targeting the 5% of people who could afford them.

You don’t have to target as elite a clientele as Dimitry did. However, make sure you deliver a superlative experience for every single one of your charter business customers. Maybe most of your customers will want to go fishing. In that case, you’ll want to make sure your boat has things like fishing rails, fish holding tanks, and other angling accouterments.

Understand what your customer’s needs are and do everything you can to satisfy them. If you do, you’ll create lifelong fans who’ll be eager to come back. This is what Dimitry has to say:

My goal is for every client to become a returning client.

And if you want to watch the interview we filmed with Dimitry, check out part one and part two

What you want to do is to create such an insatiable hunger in your customers that they cannot help but return for a second helping.

Step 5: Have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

After you decide who you’re going to target in your charter boat business, make sure you have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that sets your business light-years above the mediocrity of the rest of the competition.

A USP is the one benefit that only your company can provide. In an overcrowded market full of cutthroat competition, your USP will be a potent reminder of everything you can do for your customers. 

There are a mind-bogglingly large number of yacht, cruise ship, and fishing boat charter businesses in the world. Every single one of these vessels claims to be the best.

What will be the main selling point that makes you different from everyone else?

Find out what that competitive advantage is, and make sure you hammer that point home in all your marketing messages. 

Here are all the benefits to having a clearly differentiated USP:

  • EMOTIONAL CONNECTION: An excellent USP imprints itself on the minds of your prospects so when they need the kind of service you provide, they’ll automatically think of you. 
  • INCREASED REVENUE: If you communicate a strong USP to customers, you’ll invariably boost your revenue.
  • LOYAL CUSTOMERS: When your USP delivers a compelling value proposition, you won’t only get customers to buy something from you today, but you’ll win them over for life. 

How to Create a USP

Entrepreneurs discussing about unique selling proposition for their business

To create a USP, the first thing you need to do is to determine your customer segments. 

This involves figuring out the value your customers receive from your service. 

When you do that, you figure out how to align your offerings with what the customer wants rather than what you want them to buy. 

Here are a few ways to find out what customers want from you:

  • Analyze data from social media marketing campaigns
  • Talk directly to your customers
  • Talk to your customer service team

Next, figure out how well you currently cater to your clients’ needs. This will help you to identify market gaps that you can fill by offering things none of your other competitors can. 

For example, say you look at your social media data and discover that there’s a huge demand for sailing yacht charters that travel to barrier islands. You find out that there are few competitors in your area who offer this service. 

In that case, you might want to make this service part of your USP. At the very least, it gives you a new marketing direction to go in. 

Read this article if you need more information on creating a compelling USP. 

Step 6: Name Your Business

Make sure you dream up a creatively clever name for your charter boat business that crystallizes what your company is all about in a few short, eye-catching words.

It should capture the imagination of all who speak it, see it, or even think it. To create an out-of-this-world business name, look at your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and your business plan. Think about your target audience and any market research you might have undertaken. 

Consider the message you want to convey to the world through your charter boat business name. 

If you want a real attention-grabbing name, read this Forbes article

Brainstorming

Once you’ve collected all these raw impressions, it’s time to sit down and have a good old-fashioned brainstorming session. 

Unleash your creativity and go hog wild!

Some of your brainstorming sessions can be just you. However, you should do a few with a friend or colleague. Write down all your ideas as fast you can without stopping. That way, you liberate your imagination and free your creative juices. 

Check for Availability

Before you settle on a charter boat company name, check to make sure it’s available. 

If someone is already using the name, you could be sued if you go ahead and use it anyway. Look through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s federal database to see if someone already registered it.

You should also do a series of Google searches for your desired business name to ensure there isn’t another charter boat company with that same name.

You’re going to have to register your domain name. One easy way to do that is to type the domain name you want to use into GoDaddy’s search bar. 

It’ll immediately tell you if someone else owns it. 

Name.com is another place to check for domain availability. 

Register with State Authorities

A man doing online registration on his iPad

Guard your charter boat business name by registering it with your state.

If your entity is a limited liability company, a corporation, or a limited partnership, you’ll need to register the business itself. By doing this, you’ll automatically register the name of your company.

If you decided to go with a sole proprietorship or general partnership, you don’t need to register it with the state. Instead, do it through the county or city where you’re located.

If you’re a sole proprietor, you can choose to file a “doing business as” (DBA) name. This way, you can use a name for your boat business other than your own legal one.

You can register a DBA with your state or county clerk. For example, if your business is located in Nassau County, New York, you’d contact the county clerk’s office there. 

If you need more information on registering your business name, Legal Zoom has a great article on the topic. This video also has some terrific information. 

Step 7: Choose a Business Structure

Before you can register your charter boat company with your state, you’ll need to select a business structure. 

Select the one that offers the optimal balance between benefits and legal protections. Choose wisely because your business structure isn’t only a name. It affects your taxes, the paperwork you need to file, your personal liability, and even your ability to raise cash. 

Here are two of the most common:  

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is super easy to form and gives you absolute control over your charter boat business. 

If you’re doing business but don’t register as any particular type of legal structure, congratulations! You’re automatically considered to be a sole proprietorship.

With a sole proprietorship, your liabilities and assets aren’t separate from your personal liabilities and assets. This means you’re personally liable for the debts and obligations of your charter business.

It can be challenging to secure funding because banks are hesitant to lend to sole proprietorships.

Partnership

Two business men shaking hands for a partnership venture

For two or more parties, partnerships are the simplest type of legal structure. There are two frequently used kinds of partnerships: limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships. 

With limited partnerships, only one general partner enjoys unlimited liability. All the other partners have limited liability.

For more on the various types of legal structures for your boat charter business, check out the sensational resources at the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Step 8: Secure Funding 

You probably don’t have sufficient funds to bankroll your fledgling charter business.

If that’s the case, you’ll need to secure financing to fund your venture. Getting a boat (or a fleet of them) is going to be one of the most expensive parts of your business. 

Here are some ways to secure funding: 

  • BOOTSTRAPPING: Bootstrapping refers to scraping together your own financial reserves. This could include accumulated savings, credit cards, and home equity lines. 
  • FRIENDS AND FAMILY: One of the best sources of startup funding is friends and family. If you have a rich uncle who always wanted you to start your own business, now is the perfect time to see if he’ll loan you the money. He’ll probably give it to you with little-to-no interest. 
  • CROWDFUNDING: You can try using the internet to raise small amounts of money from a large number of people. This is known as crowdfunding, and it’s the way many companies get funded these days. Try sites such as AngelList or Crowdfunder
  • TAKE OUT A LOAN: You might qualify for a traditional bank loan. An encouraging sign for small business owners is that banks seem to have a renewed interest in helping out small businesses. In addition to your local bank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are two banks you might want to try.  

Dmitry bought his first boat for $80,000. It was purchased for pleasure—not for profit. He asked himself:

So I started thinking, why is my boat only eating my money and not making any money?

On that day, his charter boat business was born!

However, you don’t have to actually own anything. Dmitry leases many of the boats in his fleet, and you can do the same. 

If you’d prefer to buy your boats outright, check out Sailonline.com or Fraser Yachts

Ongoing Expenses

You’ll also have ongoing expenses to cover. Try to get a line of credit so you can keep your business running until it turns a profit. 

In addition to the initial purchase and all your everyday business expenses, you have to factor in routine maintenance, emergency maintenance, insurance, berthing fees, licensing, crew salaries, and many other things. 

Here’s Dmitry talking about the costs of a charter boat business:

The boat was $80,000. There is a sales tax of 10% on top. There is maintenance. Unexpectedly, I spent over $30,000 just to repair everything that was breaking constantly. Besides that, all the licenses are another few thousand, including preparations for all the inspections. Website is another. You’ll spend maybe $3,000 to $8,000 in general for a website. Advertising expenses are another maybe thousand dollars a month. You can rent an office, you can hire employees, but not in the beginning. In the beginning, you can do everything yourself. Stay small. Yes, and you have to know everything, every side of your job yourself. So when you do it the best, you can teach your employees to do it just like you, or even better.

To reiterate, here is Dmitiry’s breakdown of ongoing expenses for his charter boat business that first year:

REPAIRS: $30,000

LICENSES: $2,000

WEBSITE: $3,500

ADVERTISING: $12,000

Step 9: Docking Your Fleet

A charter boat parked on a dock waiting for passengers

You’ll want to choose a dock where you can park your charter boat and pick up passengers. 

To ensure you’ll attract as many clients as possible, select a dock in an area where tourists tend to flock. Locales where the fishing is superb are excellent choices because you can then specialize in doing deep sea fishing trips.

Some ports offer discounted rates if you lease long-term instead of renting month to month.

Dmitry was lucky enough to have the local municipality build him a dock. Here’s the way he tells it:

I started searching online to learn how to get all the licenses. At that point, there were no commercial docks available for pickup. I started calling the county and asking them how to do this. And they said, “There is no way. You cannot do it.” I called them for half a year asking them questions, and I said, I couldn’t believe it, it’s insane. I want to make a legal business and pay taxes, and you guys don’t give me the opportunity to do so. And they said, okay, hold on. Maybe we’re going to get money and build a commercial dock.

Renting a Slip 

If you’re not as lucky as Dmitry and need to find a dock, DockSearch.com is a fantastic resource that’ll help you get one. 

You can either purchase or rent a slip, which is docking space for your boat. Try to find one that’s not too expensive so you can save on your ongoing costs. 

If you’re a member of a yacht club, you’ll enjoy special amenities and privileges. The downside is that membership tends to be astronomical. 

Public docks are cheaper, but the security isn’t as good. Keep in mind that security for yourself, your customers, and your boat should be one of the most important considerations when starting a charter boat business. 

Premises that aren’t locked, parking lots without good lighting, and unsafe neighborhoods should be avoided like the plague. Private marinas offer some of the best docking options. Best of all, most of them are pretty safe. 

Water Traffic

Make sure you assess the water traffic situation in the area where you hope to moor your vessel. That’s because high traffic areas can be significant collision risks. 

Also, lots of water congestion means it’s going to take longer to set sail. This could screw up your departure times, making for unhappy customers. 

Step 10: Hire Your Crew

A board and a cup of coffee on a table

Hire a qualified and experienced crew and treat them well because a good team can mean the difference between your charter business being a resounding success or a miserable failure.

You also need to assemble a great team to fulfill the other roles in your company. Here’s what Dmitry had to say about that:

One good thing about starting a business: the business owner doesn’t need to know everything. The business owner needs to find the best person in each segment and then gather them all together. That’s how you create a successful business.

You don’t need to understand everything about every single aspect of your charter boat company if you can find qualified people to run each area.

Hiring Fishing Charter Employees 

If you’re running a fishing charter boat business, you won’t need too many employees. 

You’ll probably only need a captain, a first mate, and an administrative assistant. 

On a fishing boat, the captain steers the boat and offers advice on how to catch fish to guests. Find a captain with a pleasing personality so your guests have a great time. 

He’ll also need extensive boating and fishing experience. 

The job of a first mate is to assist the captain in piloting the boat and helping guests. An administrative assistant takes reservations and answers customers’ questions. For this, you’ll need a competent multitasker. 

To find employees, do some networking at local fishing or boating charter clubs. You can also post your job openings on Indeed or Monster.com

Step 11: Insurance

Find out what insurance coverage you need by researching various coverage types, such as property damage and personal injury.

Once you do that, set up a meeting with your insurance broker to discuss options. Make sure you’re fully covered before accepting any charter boat business.

You probably don’t want to get the cheapest boat insurance because this means you might not be fully covered for all possible contingencies. So, even though you saved a buck, you’re putting yourself at significant financial risk. 

Before you make a final decision, look at what’s covered and what isn’t. Make sure you’re covered for the following things: 

  • Damage to your vessel
  • Injury to your guests or employees 
  • Vandalism
  • Accidents 
  • Theft 
  • Liability coverage

If you need charter boat insurance, I recommend United Marine Underwriters or Maritime Insurance International

Step 12: Market Your Business

Man on is laptop doing marketing for his business

According to a recent survey, 6 out of 10 small businesses don’t have a website.

This is a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. Your website should be the central pillar of your entire marketing strategy. Without one, you’re dead in the water. 

One excellent way to boost your SEO ranking is by regularly publishing blog articles. Make sure the topics you cover are relevant to your target market and are exceedingly well written because Google rewards sites with high-caliber content by boosting their rankings. 

Dmitry has a sleekly designed, consummately professional website that’s a perfect reflection of the kinds of luxury boat charter services he offers his upscale clientele.  To make sure your website is as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as Dimitry’s is, you should have an expert web designer create it for you.

I recommend companies like Caveni Digital Solutions, Lounge Lizard, or Unified Infotech. These three companies are among the best web design firms in the entire country.

This website lists the top 30 sites to learn marketing for free. 

Marketing Channels 

Often, the success of a small business comes down to its ability to effectively market its service.

That’s because it’s only through savvy marketing that you can ever hope to enjoy a steady torrent of new customers you can then turn into raving fans.  

Think of all the marketing channels out there and pick two or three that you think might be a natural fit for your charter boat business.

You could take out Facebook ads, put up posters around your dock, or write blog posts. You can try advertising in trade and vacation publications or on television. If you’re specializing in deep-sea fishing expeditions, you can advertise in magazines like Sport Fishing.

You can also print full-color brochures that your customers can pass on to their friends.

One of Dmitry’s favorite marketing channels is Google:

…Google has all the clients from all over the world, right? International clients as well. The second place will be Yelp, but Yelp has mostly people from the United States.

He also advertises on Facebook and Instagram.

For more ideas on how to market your charter boat business, check out this article

Conclusion

If you faithfully adhere to the steps in this article, you can follow in the extremely profitable footsteps of Dimitry.

All it takes is lots of perseverance, hard work, and a little money.

Which type of charter boat business appeals to you the most—the luxury yacht kind or a fishing expedition company?

Let me know in the comments!

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