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Old 29-04-2020, 17:45   #1
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Researching small charter/retreat business idea

Hi All!

I've been reading with lot's of interest in this forum various threads on running a small charter business and thought I'd ask for insights on my idea.

My wife and I are looking to make a life change. We are 50 and 46 respectively. She has left her office job and has become a yoga instructor. I'm a sailor who toils in animation/vfx behind a computer all day in a windowless cell. While I've been successful in my field, I'm sick of it.

Soo..our idea is to buy a boat to liveaboard, preferably a Cat with an owner layout, one half for us and the other 2 cabins/2 heads to take out 4 people on week long charters/retreats that we skipper and crew. The retreats would include sailing, yoga, mindful meditation and local eco tours. We may look to include some light sailing instruction, ASA 101, 103 max. We would supplement income hopefully doing some vlogging with Patreon. We would live aboard. Ideally do charters in the Caribbean during season. Then I would freelance remotely in my current field.

Would love insights, advice, encouragement, things to consider, etc

Thanks for any help and happy sailing!
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Old 12-06-2020, 09:43   #2
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Re: Researching small charter/retreat business idea

We have been thinking of doing something similar to what you are describing. We started a business plan and completed a cost over revenue projection and the business model looks very doable if you can secure the proper numbers of charter bookings and there are no major world economic curve balls like Covid-19 or............worst. Our plans are to make the jump in October 2022.
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Old 15-06-2020, 18:12   #3
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Re: Researching small charter/retreat business idea

Hey thanks for the reply! We will be doing the number crunching soon. Happy to share our journey with you! Perhaps we can support one another.

Nice to meet you!
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Old 15-06-2020, 18:27   #4
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Re: Researching small charter/retreat business idea

Why not book an owner crewed charter. It would probably answer a lot of questions.
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Old 15-06-2020, 19:47   #5
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Re: Researching small charter/retreat business idea

There have been some threads earlier on this. Use the search function on top right of the screen. Perhaps there is something you will get from those threads.

Basically, like any other business, do the research for your area and the kind of business, then make a business plan, etc. Not much different than any other type of small business.

You are right in looking at a cat. Most charter guests prefer cats these days.

Make sure your sailing licenses cover commercial use. If you take paying guests, you are a commercial operator, and most countries set different licensing requirements for such skippers / owners.

Good luck,
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Old 15-06-2020, 23:48   #6
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Re: Researching small charter/retreat business idea

I came close to doing something similar almost 20 years ago but in a trawler vs sail. My model was to be the trawler version of John and Amanda Neal on Mahina Tiare ( Had my other half been willing, would have done it. Her concern was the lack of privacy and the amount of work from being "on" 24x7. I have to admit, she was correct in her assessment. About that time we did a crewed sail charter with two other couples in the BVI and the couple who ran the boat did not exactly look like they were having fun trying to create a mini Below Decks experience. Sailing all day and making sure everyone is fed and is having a good time is a lot of work. Heck, provisioning a boat for six in the tropics is tough duty once let alone multiple times per month. You cannot have a bad day or take a day off.

I can add that insurance was very expensive. Thinking back to the crewed charter, they had some sort of dual insurance for BVI and AVI and was limited to a certain number of days in US waters. Also, I think there is quite a bit of competition for crewed charters in the Caribbean. There's also a lot of competition for YouTube and Patreon funded sites - there doesn't seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason why some breakout while others languish. The breakouts usually have attractive, young females and above average video editing skills, though that doesn't seem to guarantee success. Heck, there's one sailing channel that unabashedly hawks some sort of adult content option with a $99/month subscription.

My other concern was how to deal with mechanical failures. I used to drive a 74 passenger dinner cruise boat in SF Bay. Keeping it running wasn't too bad but was really stressful sometimes when something broke at the wrong time.

I can tell you that some people are simply not reasonable - we own a very nice condo in Mexico that we also rent VRBO. We are very clear this is our planned retirement home vs some sort of property management business, and very clear they are coming to a place where the infrastructure is less reliable. We had one person become positively irate and want a full refund because one of three AC units in the condo failed and we didn't have another condo to move them to while it was fixed. Another complained that the driver they hired (yes, they hired) from the airport was 30-mins late picking them up and it spoiled their trip. Another complained about loss of power even though it was caused by the power grid for the entire town was out for an afternoon. My point being that you can move heaven and earth and be crystal clear you are providing a liveaboard sailing experience but will have people with different expectations. In short, living at the mercy of avoiding a bad review sucks.

If I were you, I'd book a leg on Mahina Tiare and see how they are holding up. They've been doing sail charters for 25 years and seem to have a full boat. They must be doing something right. I'm guessing by the end of the passage, you and your wife would know whether this was for you, and what it takes to be successful. Plus you'd have a great time. I do not know the Neal's but have attended a couple of their presentations many years ago. They seem like very nice people. They certainly get good reviews.

Good luck

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Old 16-06-2020, 00:24   #7
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Re: Researching small charter/retreat business idea

Weebles has this 100% correct.

Forget the business plan. Absolutely a waste of time. Business plans are for dreamers and people looking to get funding. The only plan you need is a marketing plan. Then just run a quick and dirty bit of math to make sure you’re profitable and round everything for worst case scenario.

Entreprenurial advice aside (from someone who hasn’t worked at another person’s business for over 20 years), pay serious attention to if you can put up with this line of work. It’s grueling. It’s awful. Some of the people are awful. I ran a successful charter for a couple years. Sold out of every available time slot both years. However, I worked 24x7. My ex did too. Your $ per hour is not all that great doing this work as compared to 2 people working at moderate to lower end office jobs.
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