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davidpm 03-12-2013 09:22 PM

Great Charter in Marathon Key
Sailing Cruises - Florida Keys

We had a fantastic sunset sail with Bill and Laura
It was a perfect day, shorts and tee-shirt weather until the sun set.
15 Knots for most of the trip then the wind died just after sunset to make it easy to dock.

This couple lives, sails and charters on an 1981 Endeavour 43, they have a very interesting story.

Neither of them were sailors when they got the bug and decided to buy a boat. It took them a couple years and looking at dozens of boats before they found their Endeavour. They sailed all over the east coast and the islands and south america for two years.
Then they had to decide how to keep going. Get a job or make the boat pay.
For the last 5 years they have been doing charters in Marathon key during season then moving the boat to the Hudson river in NY for the summer.

They are very knowledgeable and offer two hour cruises, dinner cruises (Laura is an amazing cook) and week long cruises.

They even do cruises designed especially for teaching people how to sail.

I'm going to send them this link to see if I can get them to join our little party.

They seemed very willing to share their experiences.
If anyone is looking for an opportunity to do some cruising before committing to their own boat this would be a great way to get started.

bsoulier 03-14-2013 04:16 AM

Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key
Thanks for the great feedback David. The best thing about this "job" is sharing our love of sailing in beautiful places. I'd be happy to answer any questions from the group about running a charter business or our sailing experience along the U.S. East Coast, Caribbean and Pacific.

davidpm 03-14-2013 10:44 AM

Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key
Thanks Bill
I'll bet my sailnet buddies will have some questions for you.
Just how much work is it. You made it look so easy for our little sail.
If you take out two day sails per day of 2 to 4 hours each. Plus have to shop for food and do laundry etc it sounds like a 16 hour day.
I think a lot of us with almost enough money to cruse for while but not quite enough have thought about chartering but it has to be tempered by the reality of the work.

bsoulier 03-14-2013 11:24 AM

Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key
Hmmm. Great question - "How much work is involved in chartering?"

I get a kick out of charter guests on our boat who look at the beautiful water, calm breezes and great sailing then say to each other, "We could do this no problem!" Of course, they don't see the work behind the scenes or the hundreds of hours spent getting a boat ready for the chartering business. I take it as a personal compliment that we make it look easy.

If you only chartered your boat for sunset sails without meals, the daily prep work for each charter would be fairly low - say 1 or 2 man-hours to clean the boat, polish vinyl, lay out cushions, configure bumpers and dock lines for departure, etc. However, in order to make some money with just 1 or 2 hour sunset charters, you have to take lots of people which requires a Coast Guard inspected vessel. Maintaining most boats to stay in line with Coast Guard requirements is a very big deal - both in dollars and hours.

We've decided to offer Sunset Dinner and Luncheon Sails because my wife Laura loves to cook and entertain guests on the boat. This requires much more preparation but also brings in more money. Prep work for a 2-guest, 4-hour Sunset Dinner Cruise is in the 4-6 man-hour range.

You can probably add at least 1 or 2 hours to each charter for the "behind the scenes" work. Phone calls and emails to get the charters booked, accounting, web site monitoring and maintenance, maintaining crew licensing requirements (drug testing, first-aid courses, keeping up with regulations, federal, state and county requirements, etc.).

That said, we haven't talked about boat maintenance and upkeep. Living on our charterboat makes this much, much easier. As soon as something breaks or needs work, we're on it. After 5 years of chartering, we've learn the hard way about the "ounce of prevention..". Our first summer chartering we had to cancel a $600 sail because the lift pump quit on our engine the day before the charter. It was on a weekend and I couldn't get parts. For the lack of a $60 lift pump, we lost 10 times that in income plus our customer wasn't very happy with us. Needless to say, we now have 2 spare lift pumps plus at least one spare for every pump on the boat.

You are pretty close to the 14-16 hour day to prep and run 2 charters - especially if one is a lunch or dinner. But.. most of it is not "work" to us. We love doing it and we're happy crew.

davidpm 03-14-2013 07:49 PM

Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key
OK sailnetters. I roped another one in.
Any questions for these guys? I know a bunch of you have thought of the same kind of life style?

manhattan08 03-14-2013 08:14 PM

Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key
My wife and I have thought of doing something like this in charleston. How much is typically charged per person for a two hour sunset cruise? We figure a 40 or 45 foot boat will hold 6 charterers comfortably.

davidpm 03-14-2013 08:18 PM

Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key
I'm interested in Bills's reply to this too. One thing he mentioned to me is that most charters are last minute deals. IE can you take me out this afternoon or tomorrow morning.
I would guess that getting a full boat is very unusual.
John will know of course.

bsoulier 03-14-2013 09:26 PM

Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key
How much is charged per person is dependent on the boat and type of charter. There is an open-deck catamaran charterboat near us that takes out up to 30 guests for a 1-2 hour sunset cruise. They charge $35 per person.

Our “niche” is private charters. We take out 2 to 6 guests on our boat but don’t book anyone else on “their” cruise. Of course, we are able to charge a premium for this. Many guests don’t want to be on an open-deck boat with 30 other people. For a 2-hour, sunset cruise with no meals, we charge $190 for one couple and $50 for each additional couple in the group. $190 is not a lot of money to take the boat out considering our insurance costs about $40-$50 per charter (dependent on how many charters we book in a year). But, the boat is not making any money sitting at the dock and we can sometimes upgrade the charter to a dinner which costs $350 for 4-hours plus a 3 course, home cooked meal.

In a vacation hotspot like the Florida Keys, a good percentage of our charters are from guests that call the same day. I’d say maybe one-third to one-half call for a sail the same day or next. These are people who don’t pre-plan their vacations. They wake up in the morning and say, “What are we going to do today?” Recognizing this scenario is key to a successful marketing strategy.

Not all 40-45 foot boats will hold 6 guest plus 2 crew comfortably. We looked at many boats before purchasing our 43 foot Endeavour, center-cockpit ketch. The cockpit has to be roomy, covered and able to be enclosed if the weather turns.

davidpm 03-15-2013 10:02 AM

Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key
Bill, The judgement required to decide when to go and when to cancel seems tricky to me.
Do you have an rules of thumb you use. You don't want anyone to have a bad time of course. Any experiences that changed your procedures.

bsoulier 03-15-2013 11:20 AM

Re: Great Charter in Marathon Key
Yes. Monitoring the weather and deciding when to cancel or move a charter is “tricky”. If I feel we can safely depart and return to the dock, the decision is mostly based on our guest’s experience and attitude. Laura and I want all of our guests to be comfortable and enjoy themselves – I’m not going to take people sailing if they are not going to have a good time (and good memory of their trip with us). If I don’t think we’ll be able to get the boat safely in and out of the dock, the decision is easy – cancel or move to another day.

That said, how potential charter guests define “comfortable” has a very wide range. We’ve had guests that wouldn’t go out unless the weather was less than 10 knot winds and calm seas. Other guests were sailors and wanted a brisker wind for excitement. Then there were the two gals a few weeks ago who talked us into going out on a cold, overcast, rainy, 20+ knot wind day. They put on raincoats and sat up on the bow with the rain in their face, holding onto the boat with one hand – beer in the other, while laughing and having a ball. Bottom line, we talk to our guests ahead of time to understand their definition of a nice sail and use that as criteria for cancellation.

Oh… I have talked guests into coming sailing with us when they really didn’t want to because I knew from experience the trip would be fine. Let’s say it’s a warm, sunny day but the wind is blowing 15-20 from the north. That’s quite a bit of wind for people who have never sailed before. But.. I know a north wind allows us to stay in the lee of the islands and it will be a great sail on calm waters. I’ll probably only put up jib and 1/3 main so they get the sailing experience without the gusts heeling us over to 30 degrees. Since all of our charters are private, it’s easy for me to customize each sail to the comfort level of our guests. We don’t have 20+ people on the boat with some yelling, “GO FASTER!” while others feed the fish over the side.

From a business perspective you have to decide what happens when you cancel a charger because of the weather. Most charter businesses keep a portion (or all) of the deposit when the charter is cancelled because of the weather. I look at it from our guest’s perspective – If I was chartering with someone and the weather was bad enough to cancel the sail, that’s not my fault. We offer a fair-weather guarantee on all of our day charters. If you pay for the charter ahead of time and the weather doesn’t cooperate, we’ll work with you to rebook for a better day or refund all of the monies you’ve paid – your choice. I think this policy makes people feel better about reserving cruises with us and paying ahead of time.

How many times do you think I’ve had to cancel and refund deposits? I just checked back through my records for this season and it’s less than 5%. For a business that’s totally dependent on the weather, I think that’s a very good number. The reason it’s low is I monitor the weather like a lion stalking dinner. My favorite weather forecast websites are the first thing I look at in the morning (after my lovely bride and a cup of coffee of course) and the last “work” I do before going to bed. I call guests 2 or 3 days ahead of time if the weather doesn’t look good for their charter to see how aggressive they want to be and what other days might work for them. It's a lot of work but well worth it.

That’s a long-winded way of answering your questions but the weather, your cancellation policies and how you manage guests expectations are a huge part of successful chartering.

Gotta go… time to check the forecasts….. :-)

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