How to Start a Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business

The first glass-bottom rowboat was invented in Florida during the 19th century. It gave tourists an excellent view of underwater plants and animals. Today, glass-bottom vessels remain a popular attraction. Modern tour boats have electric engines and lights that illuminate the water at night. They provide an enjoyable experience with long-lasting memories.

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Learn how to start your own Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business and whether it is the right fit for you.


Start a Glass Bottom Boat Tour 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 Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

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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:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business?

First, you must purchase a new or used vessel. Some glass-bottom boats are custom-manufactured, but you can also buy a mass-produced model like the Looker 370. You'd probably spend over $300,000 on a new boat while pre-owned crafts cost $100,000 to $150,000. If you seek a high-capacity vessel that carries over 200 people, plan on paying more than $1 million. You may also need to obtain electronics and appliances if the boat doesn't come with this equipment. Remember to acquire adult and child-size life jackets. You can buy them for $9 to $17 each — they cost the least when you order bulk sets of four or more.

What are the ongoing expenses for a Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business?

Liability and boat insurance often cost around $500 to $800 per year. Operators have to maintain and repair vessels; expect to spend at least $3,000 annually on maintenance. Engines need gasoline or electricity as well. Many marine batteries cost $80 to $500 each. You may have to order wholesale food and beverages. Yearly boat registration fees cost around $50. Tour vessels usually have restrooms, so you'll need to pay for sewage pumpouts. Most facilities charge less than $45. Other expenses include advertising, wages, payment processing, and docking.

Who is the target market?

Both travelers and locals board glass-bottom tour boats. They include people of many different ages. Wealthy young adults or middle-aged vacationers may produce the greatest revenue because they can afford to buy more food and usually don't qualify for discounts.

How does a Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business make money?

Customers pay per-passenger fees for tickets. Longer voyages cost incrementally more than brief tours. Some operators sell snacks and beverages as well. Stormy weather, recessions, and changes in water clarity can affect income levels.

How much can you charge customers?

Most rates range from $20 to $50 per person. Silver Springs State Park charges about $10 for a 40 minute trip or $25 for a 90 minute voyage, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. A business in Oahu prices one-hour excursions at $39 to $50. Another tour operator sells snacks for $1 each and soda for $2.

How much profit can a Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business make?

Costly equipment and supplies limit the net earnings of tour operators. Many firms have slim profit margins, even in popular destinations like Hawaii. Some well-located companies have achieved margins as high as 25% at the best of times. A declining business in an area with poor water quality might have a margin as low as 5%.

How can you make your business more profitable?

You could boost your income by selling gift certificates. Gift certificates give passengers an opportunity to spend more money, and some certificates probably won't get redeemed. Another option is to offer private charter services; private expeditions tend to yield higher hourly rates. You can also consider developing expensive special packages for important occasions, such as weddings. They ought to include some luxurious products and a longer trip.

Think about establishing a minimum occupancy rule because you lose money when only a few passengers show up. You could provide a small bonus along with a refund for anyone you turn away. Consider offering a private voyage for an extra fee if they don't want to cancel. Another way to increase your profit margin is to save money on fuel or electricity:

  • Compare different marinas' prices online.
  • Remove unnecessary objects from your vessel.
  • Thoroughly insulate any refrigerators.
  • Install energy-efficient LED lights.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. Read our detailed guide on how to name your business. 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

The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business is sued.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

You can start an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.

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!

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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?.

Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.

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.
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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.

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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.

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.
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Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.

How to promote & market a Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business

Eye-catching roadside signs can help draw motorists to your location. Create a website to lure travelers who research the local area. Provide some appealing photos, but don't give away too much of what customers will see. Many vacationers desire easy ways to purchase tickets online.

Create colorful brochures to display in rest areas and welcome centers. You can get started by contacting the tourism office in your state to request approval. After gaining permission, send or deliver the pamphlets to facilities that have brochure racks.

How to keep customers coming back

Strongly consider using an electric motor. A gasoline-powered boat will produce much more noise, making the experience less enjoyable and disturbing animals that customers want to see. Try to prevent pollution as well. Things like fertilizer and parking lot runoff can reduce water clarity and harm aquatic wildlife. Promptly fix any fuel or oil leaks in your equipment.

If you make announcements during the tour, incorporate some humor and avoid saying anything controversial. Mention interesting facts about animals and the local area. You could describe the history of an old building or shipwreck near your route.

Think about cooperating with cruise lines or resorts. They might include your tour in a vacation package. Some operators offer price reductions for seniors, military personnel, students, and/or children. Consider providing discounts to all customers during slow times of year.

You could unexpectedly hand out snacks, drinks, or souvenirs for free. Generosity boosts customer satisfaction and may result in more positive online reviews.

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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.

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Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.

Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.

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.

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Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.

Start A Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business In Your State

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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?

This occupation may appeal to someone who appreciates nature, enjoys outdoor recreation, and wants to help others do the same. It helps if you find it easy to interact with people in a friendly way.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

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What happens during a typical day at a Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business?

You'll need to handle payments, perform marketing tasks, keep records, and answer customers' questions. After departing at the scheduled time, you will follow a predetermined route and eventually return to the dock. Some captains make entertaining announcements during each trip. At the end of the day, entrepreneurs will also need to set aside time to maintain and clean their boats.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business?

You can benefit from experience in providing customer service and operating motorized boats. Repair expertise proves valuable but not mandatory. You'll need a captain's license to transport paying customers. The licensing process involves an examination and fees. You can enroll in a training course if necessary.

What is the growth potential for a Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business?

Relatively few operators exist, so there's not much data on the growth of this sector. Standard river cruises were becoming more popular, and many entrepreneurs achieved long-lasting prosperity without expanding their businesses. For example, a captain based in Hawaii began offering glass-bottom tours on a catamaran in 1999 and continues to do so. Others purchase multiple boats in an effort to serve more customers. Dolphins Down Under in Orange Beach, Alabama expanded its capacity by using two vessels. It also arranges private charter trips and snorkeling tours.

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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:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

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 Glass Bottom Boat Tour Business?

Before you sell the first ticket, make a detailed list of rules and policies. Specify the minimum age to ride alone without a parent. Decide if customers can bring their own snacks and drinks. Do you allow alcoholic beverages? Is the boat wheelchair accessible? How many people can safely board the vessel at one time? What weather conditions do you consider acceptable? You need to have quick answers to all of these questions.

Try contacting local newspapers and other media outlets when you start your business, especially if you lack nearby competitors. Some states currently don't have any glass-bottom boat tours, so the novelty of your enterprise could attract free news coverage.

How and when to build a team

Depending on the size of your vessel, you may not have to hire staff at first. A thriving business might require a snack bar attendant. These employees earn about $21,000 per year on average, according to Glassdoor. Skilled crew members get paid somewhat more. If you can't serve all of the customers on your own, you could buy another boat and hire a second captain. ZipRecruiter reports that they earn approximately $34,000 to $51,000.

Next Steps

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