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Old 09-07-2001
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Starting a Charter Business

My wife and I are now the proud owners of a 55-foot schooner and would like to charter it. Can you give us some advice on getting started?

Mark Matthews responds:
Thanks for the question. Getting started in chartering can bring some strong challenges. The first question to ask yourselves is whether you plan to charter for more than six passengers. This is the line that the Coast Guard draws in the sand regarding whether the vessel will be registered as inspected or uninspected. Uninspected vessels can carry up to six passengers. Inspected vessels can carry more, depending on the size of the boat. As you might guess, an inspected vessel means that a lot more stringent regulations apply, and not just in terms of add-on items like flares and life vests, but with things like railing height, seating capacity, buoyancy, electrical and fuel system layout, engines, and the kind of fire-extinguishing system on board, etc. Converting an uninspected vessel to an inspected vessel can get expensive quickly—so much so that those sailors that wish to carry more than six passengers for hire will usually shop around for a boat that already has the inspected rating.

If you're planning to charter for six passengers, it's a bit simplier. You'll need a US Coast Guard captain's license, as well as charter insurance.With an inspected vessel, you'll need a Coast Guard Licensed Captain with a Master's rating. Obviously if you plan on chartering with overnight guests as opposed to merely day charters, you may have to make some changes to the boat to ensure you're not tripping over your guests in the middle of the night.

Finally, location is a big issue on how well you do chartering. Generally speaking, there's a better market for charters in warmer climates where you can charter year round, and a number of charter boats follow the warm weather up and down the coast. But some sailors just getting into the charter business can easily find themselves down island without any paying passengers, and then there are also local laws and regulations that need to be taken into account. When I cruised through Costa Rica there were a number of boats from the US that made the trek down with the dream of setting up a chartering business only to find out the red tape was all but impenetrable.

I've also known some sailors that have captained large boats to the Caribbean with the hope of chartering down there only never to have anyone come down. It's best to have a homebase in the states, whether that be website or travel agent or charter broker, so that you have a better chance at securing a steady stream of clients. Also, should you decide to do some chartering in another country, you should definitely do some research regarding the rules and regulations ahead of time.

Best of luck to you.

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