How to Start a Fishing Charter Business

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Quick Reference

Do you love to fish in deep waters? If you’ve been fishing for a long time, you’ve probably become an expert at finding the best spots to catch the lunkers. Opening your own fishing charter business can be a great way to make money using your skills and do what you love every day. Whether you have the right type of boat or not, you may dream of being the captain of your own charter boat and of your own destiny. So, what does it take to make that dream come true?

Business Overview

A fishing charter business provides its customers with fishing experiences that they would otherwise not have access to, whether on a lake, river, or ocean. Customers generally get to keep the fish they catch if the fish are legal to keep. People pay for the full experience of boating and fishing and also the comradery of sharing the experience with others. They also need to feel safe, so a fishing charter business must portray and deliver a safe, quality experience.

Industry Summary

According to Statista, since 2010, the charter fishing industry has been steady or growing. In 2020 the market size reached $411.9 million, up 1.7% from the previous year. The industry consists of large businesses which run multiple boats to small single boat operations that operate either full-time or part-time.

The industry is vulnerable to economic trends because fishing charter excursions are somewhat of a luxury purchase for tourists and locals, so when consumers have less disposable income, the industry suffers.

Industry Trends

The charter fishing industry is highly dependent on tourism. In early 2020, early in the pandemic, charter fishing suffered in some areas because of this. As tourism rebounds, however, charter fishing will follow.

According to Fishing Booker, tourism decreased by 10% globally in the first 10 months of 2020. However, fishing charter trips increased 24% worldwide. In the U.S., fishing charter areas on the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast experienced growth, but on the West Coast, there was no growth and declines in Hawaii and Alaska due to their reliance on tourism.

Target Market

Although local residents do book fishing charters, the largest target market is tourists. To be successful, a fishing charter business needs to operate in an area with active tourism, whether on a coast, large lake, or river.

Skills, Experience, and Education Useful in Running a Fishing Charter Business

A fishing charter business requires certain skills, and other skills are beneficial to have but not required.

  • Diverse fishing experience. You probably can’t just be a casual fisherperson to start a fishing charter business. You need to be an expert in many types of fishing and have a detailed knowledge of the water where you will operate.
  • Business knowledge and experience. You should have at least some basic knowledge of marketing, contracts, and finance/accounting.
  • Knowledge of boats and maintenance. If you can perform the upkeep and general maintenance on your boat, you will save a lot of money.
  • Networking. You will need to network with local businesses to promote your fishing charter.
  • Customer service. You’ll need to be able to build rapport with your customers so that they have a great experience and so that you gain repeat business and referrals.

Costs to Start a Fishing Charter Business

The costs to start a fishing charter business are significant. If you already have a boat, you are ahead of the game, but there are many other costs to consider.

  • Boat of adequate size $40,000 +
  • Fishing equipment $2,000 – $3,000
  • Setting up a business name and corporation costs approximately $200.
  • Business cards, brochures, postcards for marketing $200 – $300
  • Website setup $100 – 200 for a basic, do it yourself website, $1,000 – $2,000 for a professional site
  • Dockage fees $2,000 – $3,000
  • Captain’s license (required by the U.S. Coast Guard – $200 +
  • State commercial fishing license – $500 +

Steps to Starting a Fishing Charter Business

Step 1: Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your fishing charter business should be to write a business plan. The business plan will make you focus on some important aspects of the business, such as who your customers are, how you plan to reach them, projecting sales and expenses, your value proposition to use for marketing, and more. You’ll also need to do some research to calculate exactly what your startup expenses will be.

Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan if you need financing, but multiple studies have shown that having a good business plan increases the odds of starting a successful business. Writing the plan helps you to think through all the aspects of the business and then serves as a guide as you begin.

How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2: Name the Business

Finding the perfect fishing charter business name can be challenging. Not only does the name have to reflect what you do and be appealing to customers, but it also has to be available to use. You can check your state’s website to see if the name is available and register your name. Your name should make you stand out, reflect your brand, and tell potential customers exactly what you do.

Related: Tips & ideas for naming a fishing charter business

Step 3: Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from, which include a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 4: Select your Location

Choose a location that has a lot of tourist activity, and advertise your business at other local businesses.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

You may need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located. Some common local, state, and federal registrations a fishing charter business may need include a sales tax license and an Employer Identification Number if you are going to have employees. You also need to get your fishing charter license and any other applicable licenses and permits.

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 6: Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a fishing charter business is another. In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able to invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs. Startup costs for a fishing business are fairly significant unless you already have a boat.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account

Keeping your business and personal finances in separate business bank and credit card accounts makes it easier to track the income and expenses of the business.

​Step 8: Get your Marketing Plan in Place

A fishing charter business will need to set aside a budget to cover marketing costs on a continuous basis. Finding ways to stand out from competitors will be tough, but some common marketing techniques may include social media marketing on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, in addition to online advertising, print advertising at local businesses, direct mail advertising, and coupons or special promotions. Developing a website can be a significant expense, but it can also give your fishing charter business greater visibility online. You can also advertise on tourist sites for lodging or other local activities.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 9: Get Insurance

A fishing charter business needs several types of insurance for full coverage:

General liability insurance can help protect you from third-party claims of bodily injury and property damage.

Professional liability insurance protects you from claims of professional errors or negligence that result in a financial loss.

Property and casualty insurance protects you if your boat is damaged.

Insurance policies will vary. To get the most accurate idea of what to budget for insurance, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, consider not only the premiums but also how the plan exclusions, coverage limitations, and deductibles compare.

Related: Common types of insurance a business may need

Step 10: Hiring Employees

You may need employees to help you run your fishing charter business as you grow.

In addition to salary costs, your budget will also need to include other employee-related expenses. Workman’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid time off are common expenses that a business will need to cover when hiring staff.

Related: Hiring your first employee

Step 11: Set up an Accounting System

Setting up an accounting system for your fishing charter business is critical to the long-term success of your business.

Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business out of trouble with the government but the numbers can be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.

Related: Setting up accounting for your business

How Much Can You Potentially Make Owning a Fishing Charter Business?

A fishing charter booking costs $500 – 1000 per person for a half-day or full-day. As a fishing charter business owner, it will be up to you to market yourself to get clients and grow your business. If you make $500 per person, 10 people per day, 180 days of the year, that means potential annual revenue of $900,000. However, the profit margin for a fishing charter is about 25%, so your profit would be $225,000.

Things to Consider Before Starting a Fishing Charter Business

Running a fishing charter business or any business will have its challenges. You need to be prepared and make sure that you know what you’re getting into.

First of all, your ongoing expenses need to be considered. Your fuel, boat utilities, bait, equipment, and repairs will be significant, and you’ll need to be prepared for larger expenses if something goes wrong with your boat.

Second, your business will be somewhat seasonal, depending on where you are located. You will also be very weather dependent, so there will be a lot of days that you can’t work.

Finally, remember that you will be responsible for the safety of the people who are on your boat and liable if someone is injured.  Charter boats are required to abide by Coast Guard safety regulations and can be inspected at any time.

Talk to other business owners for tips on starting a business and do your homework to determine costs. Visit other fishing charters to see how their owners run things and what they offer but make your business unique. You may want to choose a fishing specialty based on your experience in order to differentiate yourself.


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