To the locals: Will this work? Opinions please !!
We are researching and trying to decide on a business that we could do once we reach usvi. (open to suggestions) Our idea is, we'd like to purchase a boat, maybe a thirty or forty footer, and take tourists around the islands on private trips where we'd pamper them and serve them fresh fish for supper and enjoy the sunsets together (while getting paid). Maybe even become a dive master and take them scuba diving or snorkeling. Is this just crazy dreaming or is this possible? Is there a thousand other people doing the same thing? What do the usvi residents think? Which Island? Would we be welcomed? Could we survive? Not wanting to get rich.....just wanna live. Thanks for your help !!!
Everyone either wants to open a bar or run a boat charter like you are talking about, most fail within a year or two if they are lucky. If you know the way things work and you work like a dog you might be able to pull it off. Better to get regular jobs and be able to have a day off and relax. It's a really really really really bad idea to buy a home or business your first year. Get the lay of the land, save your nickels then try. This may be the US but it runs so differently then most of the US.
Running a boat requires a USCG Licensed Captain -- This will require 720 DAYS at sea! -- Before you can sit for the USCG Test! - Not a walk in business - 1st buy the boat start a business project. That is truly the reality of the Legal situation - and then you start by getting a business license - buying the boat and learning the waters and NPS rules for STJ. If you live aboard - market it properly - are willing to have people in your home every day - shop for, cook for ,find ice for , - own snorkeling gear for - satisfy USCG regs - buy a NPS permit - have a legal mooring or even more expensive dock space - pay 20-25% commission on bookings - then maybe the income will defray the cost of life aboard - these dreamers come and go each season with absolute regularity.
If you buy the boat -- Cash -- no loans!!!!-- can afford the $1M plus insurance to deal with cruise ships and hotels which require it - enjoy life each night after work all day on the boat -- Have a USCG license the ability to acquire one or and your crew is drug test passable - you will somehow find it to be a way of life but not profitable for years down the road - until the boat is paid off - you are living on a mooring and have a stellar reputation for quality and service. It can be done.
Holy crow Exit! That was very informative and interesting. Now I see why so many people have the 6 person limit. Can you explain that license? I don't know much about that either.
Julie -- without getting technical about the inspection process involved here are the basics.
Any vessel can carry up to 6 paying passengers if the Captain has a OUPV license from the USCG.
[Operator of Uninspected Power Vessels] - this is an entry level license and only requires 360 Days at sea before testing - I am pretty sure the USCG is trying to Phase this level out -- The next step is a Masters License and that is issued by Tonnage of Vessels listed in your 720 days of certified time. This license allows you to Captain an Inspected Vessel - one that carries more than six passengers - and you build on that license with different endorsements.
To carry more than 6 paying passengers a vessel must obtain a COI [ Certificate of Inspection] - this has many requirements covering many areas and many boats just cannot satisfy some of them structurally or will require expensive modifications. The CFR 46
covers these entirely - and can probably be downloaded. Even If a vessel can be Inspected, many owners do not want to go through the expense of maintaining a COI year after year, may not have a Masters license[ so must hire a Captain], or simply do not want to deal with the USCG beyond the Basic Safety rules affecting a 6 passenger Uninspected Vessel.
An Uninspected Vessel does not mean unsafe vessel by any means.
To carry more than 12 Passengers - on an Inspected Vessel - Internationally [as in to the BVI] the vessel must also be a SOLAS inspected vessel [ Safety of Life at Sea] - this is another stringent inspection - and the Captain must have the proper endorsements on his/her license as well [STCW 95] for example.
An Inspected Vessel is a valuable boat - it can carry whatever # of passengers the COI states and as such is much more expensive to maintain while conforming to many complicated rules at all times - CFR 46 again.
Any USCG licensed Captain who acts as a Paid Guide on a vessel carrying more than 6 passengers - [which is how many rental companies skirt the Inspected Vessel rule] - puts themselves, their license and livelihood in jeopardy should a problem arise and the USCG is involved and most professional Captains would never put themselves in that position.
My husband is a captain, and not for a fleeting moment did we ever consider running our own sailboat as a day charter (or term charter). Much easier, and more profitable, to drive someone else's boat! Having said, though....we have friends that have done it for years and seem to love it.
You might try working on a boat, as a mate, while building up your required hours. That will give you a better idea of what is involved and you can then decide if it's something to work toward. You definately have to work toward it.. you can't just walk into it.
To answer one of your questions. St. Thomas is a better location than St. Croix. More tourists, more anchorages and more islands to visit close-by and more boat jobs available. We're going into off season right about now, though. Keep that in mind when you start to schedule a move.
What Juanita said!
Thanks Exit. I never really understood how all of that worked. It sounds like a real PIA to tell you the truth! I appreciate you taking the time to give me all of that great info.
So Exit, not to open a can of worms here, but this 'six pack' rule is why we lost so many of the charter boats to the BVIs a few decades ago, right? Does the BVI not have these stringent requirements as yet?
I think most BVI charters are bareboats, and the six pack rule does not apply to bareboat skippers. I can bareboat just as easily in USVI as in BVI. But there are other factors that make the BVI more appealing to boaters. There may be other regulatory/tax/bureaucratic reasons that the BVI gets most of the charters, but I'm not familiar with that side of things.
Ronnie -- Not a can of worms at all to me - as the Term Charter boats got bigger - [the crewed charter boats ] the 6 Pax rule did affect some of them - -The Irwin 65 being the prime commercially popular example - it was designed and built with 4 equal staterooms + crew quarters - was not a fleet bareboat and legally could not pick up 8 passenger charters in STT - this boat came out in 1983 in the heyday of term chartering which was essentially driven financially by the current IRS tax code then. The passive investment part of the code changed, real boat owners, [not investors], came back into the mix and understanding the USCG regs -- either built Inspected Vessels starting with the design phase , which makes it easier to be Inspected, Or limited the Charters to 6 passengers, Or did BVI pickups instead of STT. The BVI at that era also was very cheap and very welcoming to any boating enterprise - this has changed dramatically BTW, and combined with the offshore banking surge attracted many crewed vessels away from the VI -- BUT very few of them left because of the 6 passenger rule as their prime reason.
Yes, The BVI is having some very stringent rule changes the last few years, [ask their surveyors about the stability test requirement] - and now due to greatly increasing costs, enforcement, work permit rules, etc. and we see less and less new arrivals in the crewed yacht industry being based , registered and even operated in the BVI - witness the Mega Yacht marina business - however those regs aside, the overcrowded anchorages filled with bareboat rentals is the biggest factor for the crewed charter loss in the BVI currently. IMO
Thanks EVERYONE !!! Much to ponder !! Great info and thanks for the opinions !!
Wow, this just reinforced my political leanings towards libertarianism 🙂
God forbid someone be free to start an honest business, working hard to provide a service to others and enjoy their life in the process. Nope, red tape is the order of the day, no matter what it is you want to do in this life. Land of the free...I laugh that we still pretend that this means something!
Realistically I know there has to be some checks for safety etc. but it sounds like this has become a bureaucratic nightmare!
I guess that the all of the the above is true. Let me give it to you from another view point, one who is a lot older and has been around. If for some reason you determine that you will do this (I would not do it myself) then try putting in savings about 10% to 15% of your net salary. Also make sure that you and your passengers have medical coverage and you have about 1M in insurance. Then add to to this the need to have a life. When you put this together then look at it and then make a determination if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I have seen all to many people come down and start a business like this. They try their best. They fall in love with the islands. The life style. And soon they pack up and go.
I agree that you should try to get involved with the charter business in one way or another. Then after you have been here for a year or so, taking the savings that you have built up and then try something special. What you outlined in what everyone else is doing. We have had people charter boats with almost everything added in. Most have failed.
But perhaps you might be the one who comes up with something new that catches on.
But go slow and don't move down with anything.
If you check into the history of the Virgin Islands charter and bareboat fleet operations, mostly privately operated businesses and yacht management companies...there was a problem with the VI Government's wanting and desiring to get into a "taxation" process for them to get part of the boat industry into the general fund of revenues.
this is true even today with the new additional $1 per passenger fee dropping in on STT!
This started in the early to middle 1980s.
With the governments understanding of all things that they know nothing of...causing the fleet moved to the more tax friendly BVI harbors.
As a retired ocean delivery captain (actually Master of "Oceans; steam, power and sail) and also a marine consulting engineer to many charter operators and yacht builders throughout the Americas for more than 25 years...I could see the business shift starting many, many, years ago...started slow but did fully evolve to transition away from St Thomas.
Additionally, there are more crewed operations developing elsewhere in the world that with increased and often less expensive airline travel...are offering more "interesting" venue to vacation in.
25 to 30 years ago the Virgin Islands; Puerto Rico to far east end of the BVI's was pristine cruising grounds, now it is getting over crowed, polluted and overly-expensive.
Crewed charters are growing rapidly in Greece, Turkey, south Pacific islands, and throughout South East Asia.
To say nothing about the fantastic off shore fishing in the Central American countries from Costa Rica down to South America.
It would be nice to see it come back...but I think Cuba will be open to cruising vessels before then! IMO.
Over - crowed - wow those birds are everywhere.