Start a fishing charter business by following these 10 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your fishing charter business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Check out our How to Start a Business page.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a fishing charter business?
The startup expenses for a fishing charter business are significant, usually falling in the tens of thousands of dollars. The largest expense, by far, is the cost of purchasing a boat. According to FinAngler Charters, which created a business plan for a fishing charter in Florida, a new boat can be had for a little over $41,000, but they also can cost much, much more.
Other startup expenses that FinAngler Charters lists include:
- dockage, which was budgeted at $2,400
- insurance, which was budgeted at $2,500
- business Licenses, which will vary by state
- a fishing license, which will will vary by state
- utilities, which was budgeted at $600
- advertising, bookkeeping, legal and management fees
(Expenses for dockage and insurance in other regions will vary.)
Business owners looking to reduce startup costs may want to purchase a used boat, rather than a new one. Boat Trader has a number of used boats listed for sale that cost a lot less than $30,000.
Purchasing a used boat has a tradeoff, though. New boats usually come with maintenance plans and warranties, which reduce a fishing charter business’ ongoing expenses. When purchasing a used boat, a business must be financially prepared for emergency repairs and plan on higher maintenance costs.
What are the ongoing expenses for a fishing charter business?
The ongoing fees for a fishing charter business are significant, but they aren’t as high as the upfront expenses. FinAngler lists the following costs as ongoing expenses:
- captain’s fees (or salary), $150 per day
- fuel and oil, $32.50 per day
- Bait and ice, $30.00 per day
- Tackle, $10.00 per day
- Dockage, $7,200 per year
- Insurance, $2,500 per year
- Business and fishing licenses
- Utilities, accounting, advertising, management and legal costs
- Boat maintenance, $1,000 per year (for a new boat under warranty)
- Boat depreciation, $6,000 per year
Who is the target market?
A fishing charter business’ ideal client is someone who likes fishing and has discretionary income. Such a person is likely interested in a fishing charter, and they can afford to go on one.
How does a fishing charter business make money?
A fishing charter business makes money by charging customers who want to go on fishing trips. Trips may last anywhere from a few hours to several days. Most charters, however, are either half-day or full-day trips.
How much can you charge customers?
The price of a fishing charter depends on the region that a business is in and the type of fishing it provides. For instance, a fishing charter in Destin, Florida charges between $165 and $200 per hour for up to six people. Meanwhile, a charter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin charges $750 for an 8-hour charter with up to six people, which averages out to under $100 per hour.
Most charters have a flat rate for up to six people, because how many people are on a trip doesn’t significantly affect how much the trip costs the business. Charters that are licensed to take more than six people often add on a fee for each additional person.
How much profit can a fishing charter business make?
A well-run fishing charter business should earn about a 25-percent profit. Going out 200 days a year, this would equate to an annual profit around $34,300 (after the captain has been paid).
How can you make your business more profitable?
A fishing charter business can add another revenue stream by offering other types of trips. Depending on its location, a charter boat may be used for snorkeling, scuba diving, wildlife tours or sightseeing.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Fishing Charter Business Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your fishing charter business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Open net-30 accounts
When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.
Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.
Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
Federal Business Licensing Requirements
If your fishing charter boat carries 7 or more passengers (excluding the boat’s crew) it must be licensed with the Coast Guard. More information on receiving licensing can be found here.
The US Coast Guard requires boat owners who run a fishing charter to have a captain’s license. Information on obtaining your license can be found here.
Charter boats can be inspected by the Coast Guard any time and are expected to adhere to Coast Guard safety regulations. More informations on safety regulations can be found here.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Some states may require a state-issued fishing charter license. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Requirements vary by jurisdiction, but states frequently require fishing licenses. More information on fishing licenses and how to purchase them can be found here.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Fishing charter businesses should consider requiring clients to sign a service agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. Here is an example service agreement.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your fishing charter when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
How to promote & market a fishing charter business
Most fishing charter businesses’ first years are slow, as it takes time to build up a customer base. Most business comes from customer referrals and via repeat customers. FinAngler reports that 60 to 80 percent of customers return, thus providing a solid customer base once customers have taken one trip -- but it takes time to initially attract customers.
To speed up the process, business owners can partner with travel agents and give talks to local sports clubs. Offering travel agents commissions for customers they refer can help attract tourists, while giving presentations to local groups can help attract nearby residents.
How to keep customers coming back
A fishing charter business can set itself apart from other charter businesses in the area by garnering a reputation as the go-to fishing authority in the region. Giving presentations and sharing knowledge can help a captain earn this reputation.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.
Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.
Start A Fishing Charter Business In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
Anyone who is passionate about fishing and enjoys sharing that passion with other people may be well-suited for running a fishing charter business. Customers expect fishing charter captains to be knowledge about and have a love for fishing, and sharing that knowledge and love helps ensure customers have a great time.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a fishing charter business?
A charter business owner begins their day by getting fuel, bait and ice. While getting these supplies, captains often discuss the current weather and fishing conditions with other fishing charter captains and the marina owner. (Ice is used to keep fish fresh. In some setups, fish can be kept in water tanks that are built into a boat, and ice isn’t necessary.)
Customers usually meet the captain at the marina. Everyone boards the boat, and the captain explains any pertinent safety information and the day’s plan. While fishing, the captain helps customers bait their lines, use proper technique and reel in fish.
Once back at the dock, the fish are cleaned and the boat is wiped down for the next day. This may be done by the captain or an employee.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful fishing charter business?
Most fishing charter business owners will need to be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard. The type of license that a captain must have depends on how many people they’ll be taking out on their boat and how far from shore they’ll be traveling. The National Maritime Center has a directory of approved courses, which are offered throughout the country by different companies. One such company is Maritime Professional Training, which offers certified courses in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In addition to knowing how to operate a boat safely, captains should also be expert fishermen (or women). Business owners who don’t already know how to fish may want to work for another fishing charter captain in the area for a season before opening their own business. Hands-on experience is the best way to learn how to fish.
Finally, business owners should be familiar with the business side of a fishing charter business. How to Start a Fishing Charter Business has information on this.
What is the growth potential for a fishing charter business?
Most fishing charter businesses operate out of a single location, because captains need to have an in-depth knowledge of the waters they fish. Operating in different regions -- even if on the same body of water -- reduces how much a captain will know about the fishing in each region.
Businesses may operate multiple boats out of a single harbor, though. A fishing charter business in Port Canaveral, Florida, for example, has two boats.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a fishing charter business?
When choosing a boat, business owners should look for one that is built for the type of water they’ll be fishing in. Fishing in bayous and swamps may require a flat-bottomed boat that has a shallow draw, while heading miles offshore might call for a deep V-bottomed boat that is built to handle waves.
Additionally, business owners that plan on purchasing a used boat should be weary of buying a boat without an engine. Boats that don’t have engines are usually extremely inexpensive, but engines alone can cost thousands of dollars -- thus greatly increasing the cost of a vessel.
Finally, getting a boat with diesel engines generally helps businesses reduce their fuel costs. How much a business can save on fuel by selecting diesel engines will depend on how far from a marina the boat will be taken.
How and when to build a team
Most captains are able to field phone calls and emails from customers if they operate one or two boats. Captains who have more than two boats, however, may want to hire a receptionist to help manage booking trips.
Some captains might also want to hire a first mate, who can help customers while fishing, and clean fish and wipe down the boat at the end of the day. This person can be hired when the demand requires another set of hands (and the revenue supports an employee).
Read our fishing charter business hiring guide to learn about the different roles a fishing charter business typically fills, how much to budget for employee salaries, and how to build your team exactly how you want it.