How to Start a Fishing Charter Business

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Our guide on starting a fishing charter business covers all the essential information to help you decide if this business is a good match for you. Learn about the day-to-day activities of a fishing charter business owner, the typical target market, growth potential, startup costs, legal considerations, and more!

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Start a fishing charter business by following these 9 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 step guide to starting your fishing charter business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

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 initial costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your fishing charter business is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account

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.

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.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

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.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Business Overview

Many people enjoy fishing, but few people have the boats, tackle and knowledge to go fishing far from shore. Fishing charter businesses take people on fishing trips that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience. These trips may range from going into swamps to venturing far offshore. Customers are usually allowed to keep any fish that they catch (assuming the fish are legal to keep).

Who is this business right for?

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.

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 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.

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.

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 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.

Where can I 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.

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.

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Growing 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.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

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.

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.

Legal Considerations

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:

Maintain Personal Asset Protection

Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:

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.

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.
A smiling man sits at a computer and learns about corporate veils


To learn more about maintaining your LLC's corporate veil, read our guide and protect your personal assets.

Service Agreement

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.

Earning Potential

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.

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

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.

Next Steps

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