Whew, lots of work
ahead of you...for not much money
...but hey it can be fun none the less...beats working at Wal-Mart.
Ive been involved in the start-up of a couple of small sailing businesses (and a number of non-sailing businesses), both in the USA and abroad, but it has been a while since I lived in the USA so best for you to verify current
regulatory details. Others here hopefully can chime in on current
Federal and Florida
This is likely to be a conversation not just a check list (a small book could easily be written on this subject, but not by me, at least not today...).
The business fundamentals of a small sailing business are not that different than any other small business so I am assuming we will limit the scope
of this discussion to sailing biz specifics. But, keep mind, if you don't have these fundamentals right then you are not likely to be financially successful.
Re boat. Where was your boat built? This is important because if foreign built will need an MRAD waiver to run charters. Also, has it ever had a foreign registration
Re Boat Ownership
. How is the boat titled? There are some advantages to having it owned by a company for commercial
use...such as liability limitation. Important note: if you do transfer ownership
of the boat for business purposes then be sure and discuss this with the Florida
Dept of Revenue before you do it. If you go about it the wrong way they may want to collect sales tax from you.
Depreciation. One of the biggest tax advantages of a boat in charter service
is depreciation. A 35' Wharram is not a high value boat, but every little bit helps. Discuss this with your accountant. (Oh yeah, hire an accountant -- you can cost yourself way more money
than their fees
by trying to DIY
your business taxes
. Mine, who is expensive, has paid for herself many times over).
requirements, go directly to the source for legal
requirements and ignore the buzz and misinformation you may read elsewhere. The USCG defines and enforces regulations
for vessels...not some Internet
site where you may have read some stuff. Contact the USCG for your District (7) and ask. I have always found the Coasties to be helpful. Visit USCG Seventh Coast Guard District
. It is important to contact your USCG District because the Commander of each district has some leeway in how he choose to interpret some rules -- you want to know the official interpretation for your District.
You will be operating as an "Uninspected Vessel" so the bar for legal/safety requirements is much lower than for an inspected vessel. The Federal requirements are not hard to meet for a boat in this classification (like PFDs, fire extinguishers, etc...) .
Re EPIRB. When I was running charters in the USA there was no requirement for an EPIRB, that may have changed of course. Ask USCG to confirm current regulations.
Re Insurance. Getting commercial-use insurance for a small, lower value, vessel can be an expensive challenge. This will almost certainly be one of your larger expense items. Years ago, in Florida, I used to use Wiseley Marine
Insurance of St. Pete as a broker. In more recent years, I have used ORM (Offshore Risk Management) with good results. Especially for commercial
use, your insurance company will almost certainly want payment in full of the annual premium to bind coverage. Some may spread it out for you over a few months, but that's about the longest I have encountered.
Florida Dept of Revenue. Contact them and confirm current State tax regulations for charter vessels. I've know a few charter vessels who've gotten sideways with them in the past.
Charter Bookings. Don't try to DIY
your own bookings if you are going to be out running the boat. I've watched lots of folks make this mistake. You will lose more money in missed bookings than it is worth. Don't avoid using brokers or agents because of the commission -- 80% of something is better than 100% of nothing -- just be careful of course that you choose your associates wisely...and don't hesitate to dump a broker/agent who is not producing or not doing a good job. If you want to actually make profit in the charter biz then you need to be busting your hump all the time, having a steady stream of inquiries and bookings is essential. If you just want to charter sometimes, and just defray some expenses and not make a profit, then not as important.