Water taxis offer a unique way for tourists to sightsee and/or commuters to catch a ride to their intended destination. Transportation is on a public or private basis, with services including urban waterfront transportation and coastal excursions.
Learn how to start your own Water Taxi Service and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a water taxi service by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Water Taxi Service
- Form your Water Taxi Service into a Legal Entity
- Register your Water Taxi Service for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Water Taxi Service
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Water Taxi Service
- Get Water Taxi Service Insurance
- Define your Water Taxi Service Brand
- Create your Water Taxi Service Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your water taxi service. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
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 will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
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 Water Taxi Service 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.
What are the costs involved in opening a water taxi service?
The primary items required to start up a water taxi business are:
- Passenger boat - You will need at least one boat to get started. Minimum size you’ll want to invest in is 28 feet. Many suggest a vessel 32-38 ft long. Used vessels can cost as low as $15,000-$45,000, while new, larger ones could set you back as much as $250,000.
- Signage for your vessel
- Business cards and marketing materials
It is suggested to set a budget of at least $35,000 to get your business started.
What are the ongoing expenses for a water taxi service?
There are a number of ongoing expenses one should budget for in this industry:
- Vessel maintenance - Average annual maintenance for a 49-passenger boat is reported at $10,000.
- Hull and outfit maintenance - A 49-passenger vessel operating 3,000 hours annually requires approximately $3,100 for hull and outfit maintenance.
- Moorage fees - $2,400 per boat annually
- Insurance - Rates vary depending upon operating hours, size of vessel, location, and type of coverage required.
- Fuel - Successful business owners report burning more than 3,500 gallons of fuel each month.
- Labor - Operators earn between $20-$22/hour, depending upon the size of the vessel and their experience level.
Who is the target market?
Historically, tourists have comprised approximately 85% of a water taxi’s demographic. Consumers are now realizing the benefits of utilizing these services and are turning to them as an economical commuting option. Since each city’s waterways are distinct, owners are urged to research what the area is lacking and devise a business plan that specifically targets those needs.
How does a water taxi service make money?
A water taxi business’ primary source of income is derived from each passenger they transport.
How much can you charge customers?
Fares vary, depending upon location and specific services offered. The national average fare is $2-$5, with weekly and monthly passes offered at a discounted rate for regular customers.
How much profit can a water taxi service make?
Assuming your service runs 3,000 hours per year and your 39-passenger vessel is full during those hours, a fee of $4 per person would generate revenue of $468,000 (pre-expenses). Several business owners have reported a modest profit going into their second year.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Consider implementing these strategies to increase your organizations’s profitability:
- While the initial cost is greater, many are now turning to hybrid-electric powered boats to reduce ongoing expenses.
- Offer special event transportation and group transportation.
- Host dinner or sunset cruises.
- There is a lack of resources for individuals living in a marina. Consider offering transporting services for those in need.
- Offer coastal excursions such as scenic tours and whale or dolphin watching.
- Offer advertising slots on your boats.
- Sell beer and wine to your customers.
- Charters are a very lucrative option for many water taxi owners.
- Approach your City Counsel about partnering to offer your services as an extension of the Public Transit system. Some owners have been successful at obtaining federal grants to invest in this partnership.
Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!
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 water taxi service 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!
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.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from BILL and build your business credit quickly.
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.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
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.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a water taxi business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
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.
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.
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.
FInd out what types of insurance your Water Taxi Service needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Water Taxi Service.
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.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a water taxi service
Many successful water taxi business owners indicate they do not spend a penny on advertising, relying solely on word-of-mouth. However, if your target demographic is tourists, consider partnering with hotels, airports, tourist attractions, and travel agents in your area. By offering packages and/or discounts, both benefits stand to gain valuable business. Your local Tourism and Recreation Department could also serve as a great resource.
How to keep customers coming back
It is critical that you provide a first-rate experience every time. Your boat should be clean and safe. Maintenance must be performed regularly to avoid unexpected breakdown. Prices should be fair and congruent with industry standards. For routes that drop commuters off at different stops along the waterway, it is suggested that you offer 7-day and 31-day passes with unlimited rides.
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.
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. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
If you love being on the water, and enjoy both boats and people, opening a water taxi service might be the perfect fit. This facet of the transportation industry is engaging and fun, allowing entrepreneurs to utilize their boating skills in a unique and profitable way.
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 water taxi service?
The specifics of your day-to-day activities will vary, depending upon the services your organization offers and the needs of your customers.
A typical day will look something like this:
- Before your first group of passengers arrives, start to the boat up and perform a routine check of all fluids, including fuel.
- Travel to your first pick-up location.
- Greet passengers, assist them in stowing away any gear they may be traveling with.
- If your services include sightseeing, you will need to both plan and deliver information to customers along the route.
- Navigate waterways, dropping passengers off at predetermined locations.
Administrative duties include:
- Planning and executing new routes
- Marketing and networking
- Answer emails and phone calls regarding private charters/parties (if you choose to offer this service)
- Oversee workforce
- Plan and enforce budget and pay bills
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful water taxi service?
As with any venture, strong business acumen would prove beneficial. If you lack the experience and knowledge necessary to run a business, consider pursuing classes online or at your local community college.
The administrative tasks only represent one aspect of your business, however. Your water taxi company will require you to be independent, logistical, and possess strong organizational skills. Since your purpose is to transport passengers, strong interpersonal skills will also prove critical to the organization’s success.
Additionally, most states will require you to have a significant amount of boating experience in order to obtain the necessary licenses. This includes navigating waterways under various weather conditions, traffic patterns, and changing tides. Check with your local Coast Guard to determine how many sea service hours you are required to log and fill out the necessary paperwork accordingly. You may be required to complete a physical, which includes a vision exam and drug test. Colorblindness is typically a disqualifying factor.
What is the growth potential for a water taxi service?
With the rise of fuel costs and increasing environmental awareness, consumers are seeking out alternative transportation options. Many are turning to public transportation and carpooling as an economical way to reduce their carbon footprint. The water taxi industry offers a solution to these needs. Entrepreneurs have experienced significant growth over the last few years, with plans to expand their operations over the next decade.
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 water taxi service?
Successful water taxi business owners offer the following advice:
- When shopping for your first boat, look for the following: 1) flexibility 2) enough seating to be able to offer affordable passenger rates without cutting into your profits 3) sound construction that is commercial and marine grade 4) make sure it meets all coastal regulations specific to your area.
- Keep your vessels clean and offer a safe ride at an affordable rate. Your profits will reflect the service you offer.
How and when to build a team
If you plan to start with just one vessel, you should be able to run your water taxi business yourself. As you begin to learn what is needed in your sector, new routes should be added and business hours may expand. To avoid burnout, you will need to start building a trusted team of taxi drivers.
Each employee must possess knowledge of local waterways and have boating experience. To carry more than seven passengers, they must also be at least eighteen years of age and be able to pass the requirements for obtaining necessary licenses.