Boating Business

What it Takes to Start a Charter: Be Your Own Boss

Charter boat, charter sailboat, Great Lakes charters

Sailing catamarans can be a good candidate for chartering because of the space on board.

There is a great allure to owning and captaining a charter boat. Because we operate a fleet of charter boats, we are often asked how to go about getting a boat inspected for chartering. This can be a complicated question but, for starters, you have to realistically ask yourself if this will be a hobby business or your primary income? Do you hope to slightly offset the cost of owning a boat or are you looking to profit from it? The answer to these questions will determine what expense and what level of inspection is right for you.

State Laws

Contrary to what most people think, the United States Coast Guard is not involved in most charter boat inspections. Boats are inspected by the state in which they operate. Michigan, for example, has three basic types of inspections: a Livery Inspection — “bareboat,” meaning no captain is provided; a Charter Inspection — a captain is provided for up to six passengers; and a Coast Guard COI (Certificate of Inspection) — Coast Guard inspected for seven or more passengers. Only the COI requires a Coast Guard inspection, the others are state-level inspections usually conducted by an agency like a department of natural resources.

Assuming that you’re a safety conscious captain who finds a pleasure in protocol, checklists, and maintenance, you might find that state inspections can be relatively easy. The boat should be solid, the gear well organized and the systems upgraded and well maintained.

charter sailboat, family on charter boat

This is the ultimate goal for the owner of any charter boat, happy customers.

If your dream is to be Captain Ron, you probably won’t make the cut. An old boat might be great for the occasional cruise with family and friends but the inspectors will have a different view if you intend to carry paying passengers. One could spend a small fortune upgrading systems and safety gear, which is why it might make financial sense to buy a newer boat.

Captain or No Captain

It may seem backwards but requirements for safety gear, construction of the vessel, and integrity of the vessels’ systems are more stringent when a licensed captain is provided with the charter versus if the boat was rented bareboat or without a captain. And the requirements grow exponentially when you want to carry more than six passengers and a Coast Guard COI is required. This is why most charter vessels stick to six passengers or less.

charter fishing boat, Fore River sportfishing

Charter fishing business are a great way to make a living with a boat.

The process starts with an early application to the right agency. For state inspections, keep in mind there’s a big rush in the spring so make sure you get in early and have all the details worked out prior to scheduling an inspection. For Coast Guard inspections, it’s a longer process and may require outside consulting. There’s much more to say on this topic regarding insurance, financing, inspections, and the Captain license process. There’s a wealth of resources online so do your research.