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How to Start a Charter Boat Business

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start a Charter Boat Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$5,550 - $12,100

Revenue potential

$84,000 - $210,000 p.a.

Time to build

1 – 3 months

Profit potential

$60,000 - $150,000 p.a.

Industry trend




Have you ever dreamed of being a charter boat captain? The US private boating market is growing fast and a charter boat business offers broad opportunity, from a fishing charter business to a diving charter business, or even a yacht charter business. It’s an industry already worth more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, so there’s good money to be made. A significant investment is required, as boats don’t come cheap, but you can quickly start making it back. 

Before you set sail, however, you’ll need to hone your entrepreneurial knowledge. Luckily, this step-by-step guide will teach you everything you need to know to get started and put you on course to building a successful boat charter business.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Starting a charter boat business has pros and cons to consider before deciding if it’s right for you.


  • Good Money – Make $700 per day in-season
  • Fun! – Be in the sun on the water all day
  • Flexibility – Choose when to schedule trips


  • Weather-Dependent – Cancelled trips due to extreme weather
  • High Startup Costs – Boats are expensive

Charter boat industry trends

Industry size and growth

charter boat industry size and growth
  • Industry size and past growth – The US private boat charter industry is worth nearly $780 million after impressive 15% growth in 2021.((https://www.ibisworld.com/united-states/market-research-reports/private-boat-charters-industry/)) 
  • Growth forecast – The US private boat charter industry is expected to grow steadily over the next five years. 
  • Number of businesses – In 2021, 807 private boat charter businesses were operating in the US. 
  • Number of people employed – In 2021, the private boat charter industry employed 2,482 people. 

Trends and challenges

charter boat industry Trends and Challenges

Trends in the boat charter industry include:

  • Fishing charters are the most popular type of charter boat trips, presenting an opportunity for charter boat businesses to specialize.
  • Boat safety features are improving, so a charter boat business that has all the latest safety features can have a competitive edge.

Challenges in the charter boat industry include:

  • Rising fuel prices are cutting into the profit margins of charter boat businesses.
  • Charter boat businesses need to constantly maintain their boats, a cost that is often underestimated.

How much does it cost to start a charter boat business?

The startup costs for a charter boat business range from $5,500 to $12,000. The largest expense is for a down payment on a boat. 

You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your charter boat business, including: 

  • Life jackets
  • Fire extinguishers and other safety equipment
  • Fishing equipment
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$150 - $200$175
Business licenses and permits$100 - $300$200
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Boat down payment$3,000 - $7,000$5,000
Life jackets, fishing equipment, other equipment$2,000 - $4,000$3,000
Total$5,550 - $12,100$8,825

How much can you earn from a charter boat business?

charter boat business earnings forecast

The average price for a one-day boat rental or charter is $700. Your profit margin after fuel and maintenance should be about 70%. 

In your first year or two, you could do 120 one-day rentals per season, bringing in $84,000 in annual revenue. This would mean nearly $60,000 in profit, assuming that 70% margin. As your business gains traction, sales could climb to 300 trips in a year. With annual revenue of $210,000, you’d make a tidy profit of close to $150,000.

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a charter boat business. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • The cost of a down payment on a boat
  • The boating skills required to be a charter boat captain

Related Business Ideas

If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a charter boat business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.

Choose a location for a charter boat business

When selecting a location for your charter boat business, it’s essential to weigh various factors:

  • Market Demand: Research the local and tourist demand for charter boat services in potential locations. Look for areas with a high influx of tourists, especially those interested in activities like fishing, sightseeing, or water sports.
  • Access to Water Bodies: The proximity to and accessibility of suitable water bodies (oceans, lakes, rivers) is crucial. Consider the types of activities your charter will offer and choose a location that supports these activities (e.g., deep-sea fishing requires access to the ocean).
  • Marina Facilities: Evaluate the quality of marina facilities. Good mooring spots, maintenance services, fueling stations, and customer amenities are essential for the smooth operation of your business.
  • Weather and Seasonality: Consider the climate and weather patterns. Areas with longer seasons of good weather can potentially offer more business days. However, also prepare for off-season business strategies.
  • Customer Accessibility: Look at how easy it is for customers to reach your location. Proximity to tourist hotspots, hotels, and transport hubs can be advantageous.
  • Economic Stability: The economic stability of the location can impact your business. Thriving economic areas with higher disposable incomes can be more lucrative.
  • Local Partnerships and Networking: Explore potential partnerships with local businesses such as hotels, travel agencies, and event planners. These partnerships can provide a steady stream of customers.
  • Scenic Appeal and Unique Offerings: Areas with natural beauty or unique marine life can attract more customers. Consider what unique features your location can offer that others can’t.
  • Safety and Security: Ensure the location is safe for both customers and your business. This includes both on-water safety and the general safety of the area.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Research charter boat businesses in your area to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the market is missing a charter boat business that offers dinner cruises or snorkeling and diving. A location with fewer existing charter services might offer more opportunities but consider if the low competition is due to poor demand.

You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as fishing or late night party cruises.

Your services will depend on the type of charters you decide to do. You can offer fishing charters or diving charters, late night cruises, local boat tours and more. You can also offer food and drinks.

Read our interview with the founders of Catamaran Guru to gain invaluable insights on building a successful yacht sales and charter management business.

How much should you charge for charter boats?

The average price for a day charter is $700. You should check prices in your area to make sure that you’re competitive. You should aim for a profit margin of about 70%.Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will be broad, mainly tourists. You should spread out your marketing to include sites like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.

charter boat business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Charter Boat Business Name

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “charter boating” or “charter fishing”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “High Seas Charter Services” over “Scuba Diving Charters”
  • A location-based name can help establish a strong connection with your local community and help with the SEO but might hinder future expansion

Discover over 310 unique charter boat business name ideas here. If you want your business name to include specific keywords, you can also use our charter boat business name generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Charter Boat Business Plan

Here are the key components of a business plan:

what to include in a business plan
  • Executive Summary: A brief overview highlighting the key points of the charter boat business plan, summarizing its objectives and potential.
  • Business Overview: Detailed information about the charter boat business, including its mission, vision, and the problem it aims to solve in the market.
  • Product and Services: Clearly defined offerings, specifying the types of charter boat services, packages, and any additional amenities provided.
  • Market Analysis: An examination of the target market, identifying customer needs, market trends, and potential growth opportunities for the charter boat business.
  • Competitive Analysis: Evaluation of competitors in the charter boat industry, highlighting strengths and weaknesses to position the business effectively in the market.
  • Sales and Marketing: Strategies for promoting and selling charter boat services, including pricing, advertising, and promotional activities to attract customers.
  • Management Team: Introduction of the key individuals responsible for running the charter boat business, emphasizing their expertise and roles.
  • Operations Plan: Details on how the business will operate, covering logistics, maintenance, safety protocols, and any partnerships necessary for smooth operations.
  • Financial Plan: Projections of the charter boat business’s financial performance, including revenue forecasts, expense estimates, and break-even analysis.
  • Appendix: Supplementary materials, such as charts, graphs, or additional documentation, supporting and enhancing the information presented in the charter boat business plan.

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to charter boat businesses. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your charter boat business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

types of business structures
  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.

Form Your LLC

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

types of business financing
  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a charter boat business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.

Step 8: Apply for Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a charter boat business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

The US Coast Guard requires boat owners who run a charter to have a captain’s license. You can find information on getting this license with Maritime Professional Training. You may also need a fishing guide license.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. This includes licenses, safety regulations, fishing limits, and environmental guidelines. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more.

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your charter boat business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

types of business insurance
  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks. 

You may want to use industry-specific software, such as Sedna, Starboard Suite, or Stellar, to manage your bookings, scheduling, invoicing, and payments.


  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Develop your website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.

You can create your own website using website builders. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google. 


Here are some powerful marketing strategies for your future business:

  • Local SEO — Optimize your website to showcase your charter services, boats, and unique experiences, improving visibility in search results for charter-related terms. Regularly update your Google My Business and Yelp profiles to strengthen your local search presence.
  • Professional Branding — Ensure your branding captures the essence of adventure, luxury, or relaxation offered by your charters, reflected in everything from your logo to boat decor.
  • Direct Outreach — Partner with local hotels, travel agencies, and tourism boards to integrate your charters into travel packages and exclusive offers.
  • Social Media Engagement — Use Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube to share captivating images and videos of your trips, highlighting customer experiences and the beauty of the destinations.
  • Sea Adventures Blog — Publish posts about local marine life, fishing tips, and scenic routes to attract enthusiasts and inform potential customers.
  • Video Tours and Guides — Create engaging video content that provides virtual tours of your vessels and insights into the charter experience.
  • Open Boat Days — Organize events where prospective clients can tour your boats, meet the crew, and learn about the services offered.
  • Local Event Participation — Showcase your services at waterfront festivals, boat shows, and fishing tournaments to connect with the community and attract customers.
  • Business Collaborations — Form referral partnerships with local businesses, like seaside restaurants or hotels, to offer enhanced packages.
  • Loyalty Rewards Program — Develop a rewards program offering discounts or upgrades to frequent customers to foster loyalty and encourage repeat visits.
  • Targeted Digital Advertising — Place ads on travel and tourism platforms and local online boards to specifically target individuals interested in charter services.

Focus on USPs

unique selling proposition

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your charter boat business meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your charter boat business could be:

  • Fishing day trips to reel in the big one! 
  • Dinner cruises to view the sunset in style
  • Tour the local scenery relaxing on a luxury boat


You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a charter boat business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in boats for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in boating. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership.

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a charter boat business include:

  • Charter Boat Drivers – drive on boat trips
  • General Manager – scheduling, accounting
  • Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.

Step 13: Run a Charter Boat Business – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

What could be more fun than being the captain of your own ship and sharing the joy with your customers? You can make good money while spending your time in the sun on the water. You’ll need to make an investment to get started, but you’ll be stepping into an industry that’s growing fast. You’ve got the knowledge you need, now it’s time to go ahead and launch your boat and your successful new business.

Charter Boat Business FAQs

How profitable can a charter boat business be?

With prices at $700 per party per day, you can make excellent money. As long as you’re in a good location and you’re knowledgeable about the area, you can be successful.

How can I start a charter boat business with no experience?

You can take various online courses to learn about boating through the Boat U.S. Foundation. Courses cost between $35 and $40. Hands on boating education requirements and providers for licensing purposes vary by state. 

Is it hard to start a charter boat business?

Like any business, starting a charter boat business is challenging. You should do plenty of research before deciding if it’s right for you.

What is the salary of a charter captain?

Charter boat captain salaries vary by location. Salaries usually fall somewhere in the $60,000s. 

What is the largest boat charter company?

Dream Yacht Charter is the largest charter boat company. They have nearly 1,000 boats in their fleet. 


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How to Start a Charter Boat Business