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8 Signs You’ve Picked a Bad Charter Boat

If you still aren’t sure if you’ve chosen a good or bad charter boat, take these considerations.


You’re vacationing in the Florida Keys, or some other exotic locale, and you want to go for a fishing expedition. Unfortunately, you couldn’t bring your own fishing boat along with you, so you’re left looking for a charter boat captain who can show you to the best fishing spots in the area, give you a long day of high quality fishing, and help you score some good, respectable fish that you can brag about to your buddies when you get home.

As with anything else in the fishing world, all charter boats (and charter boat captains) are not created equal. If you find yourself facing any of the eight scenarios listed here, you might have picked a bad charter boat. Better yet, keep these cautionary tales in mind as you search for the best charter boat out there.

View the slideshow to see the signs.

1. The price tag is surprisingly cheap

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A price tag doesn’t necessarily have to be an indication of quality when it comes to charter boats. When you lay down a payment for a charter boat, you are essentially paying for a few different things. You are paying to rent the boat, of course, and any equipment that you didn’t bring with you, and you are paying for fishing time (meaning that you’ll face higher prices on prime fishing weekends than on weekdays at off times throughout the year).

However, you are also paying for the experience and reputation of the charter boat captain, meaning that a higher price tag will normally indicate a captain who has been in the fishing charter game for awhile and who has earned the respect of local anglers and tourists alike. That said, you can have a perfectly enjoyable day out on the water with a captain who is just starting out and working to make a name for him or herself. However, be weary of cheaper charters. There’s always a reason for lower prices, and that reason may well have something to do with quality of the charter experience.

2. The captain beats around the bush when you ask to see their license

Photo via WikiMedia

Often, the biggest reason for a low-cost charter is a captain who is not licensed as a fishing guide. If your request to see a charter captain’s credentials is met with hostility or coy attempts at deflection, there’s a good chance that you’ve selected an unlicensed charter boat. The lesson? Make sure you’re checking credentials before you let the captain head out to sea. Better yet, ask your charter captain to provide license numbers or credential information ahead of time, before you book the charter online or over the phone. You can’t trust an unlicensed captain, and should therefore absolutely not allow them to take you out into open water.

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3. Word of mouth or online reviews are not positive

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Want to know if the charter boat you booked was the right choice or not? Look around online. If you are vacationing in a popular fishing locale, you will have little to no problem finding message board chatter about the area’s charter boat market. Anglers like to talk about their experiences online, whether to brag about positive charter expeditions or to warn fellow fishermen about less-than-stellar charters. Online discussion that places your chosen charter boat in the latter category can generally be trusted, and is decent proof that you’ve chosen the wrong boat. In other words, check the online chatter before you book a charter boat, not after. You’ll save yourself a headache.

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4. You choose based on which boat looked the nicest

Don’t choose the charter based on how good the boat looks. Seeing a beautiful fishing boat may get you excited, but if you don’t gel well with the captain – or if the captain doesn’t have the credentials to prove that he or she is a licensed guide – then even the best-looking boat in the world isn’t going to ensure that you have a good fishing experience. Your captain should be licensed, excited, positive, friendly, and helpful; he or she shouldn’t be someone who you feel like you have to tiptoe around.

Pick a guide who you can trust and with whom you can comfortably fish – even if that captain doesn’t have the biggest, fastest, or newest boat in the harbor.

5. The boat is in disrepair

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With that said, taking stock of a boat’s condition is still important. A boat that shows a little bit of wear and tear or age is okay; if your charter captain uses a boat covered in rust or cracks, a boat with bent propellers, or a boat that is just in overall disrepair, then you probably chose the wrong charter.

For one thing, you should feel safe and comfortable on your fishing expedition, and you can’t do that if you feel like your charter boat is going to sink at some point in the next five minutes. For another thing, a boat that looks like it’s falling apart is generally the sign of a captain who doesn’t care enough to maintain the craft, and a captain who doesn’t care about his own boat probably isn’t going to care much about showing you a good time on the water.

RELATED: How To Maintain Your Fishing Boat and Get It Ready for Spring

6. The captain doesn’t make the boat policies clear to you right away

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Professionalism counts big time on a charter boat, and that means a captain who makes his or her policies clear from the moment you set foot on the boat, if not before. You need to know how your charter captain prefers to fish (trolling, down rigging, casting, etc.), what the policy is for catch and keep versus catch and release, and how long the charter will last, among other things. A captain who does not reveal these policies, rules, and standards from the get-go is often the first sign of a sub-par charter.

7. You booked your charter on the spot

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It may seem appealing to just head down the docks and book a charter boat on the spot. However, doing things that way is a perfect way to commence the worst fishing day of your life.

While you might end up with a great charter by booking on the spot, you may also end up with a sketchy captain who doesn’t have a license and doesn’t have a clue where the fish are biting this time of year. As a rule, make sure you are booking ahead of time so that you can give yourself the opportunity to research the charter and learn of its reputation. Without this research, you are entrusting your fishing enjoyment – and frankly, your life – to a charter captain who you know nothing about.

8. You were able to book the boat easily on a prime fishing day

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The other thing about booking a charter boat on the spot – especially on a prime fishing day (like Saturday during peak summer season) – is that you have to ask yourself why no one else has booked that boat already. Sure, there’s a chance that the charter had a last minute cancellation and is now looking for a new client to fill the open time slot.

However, a fishing charter not booked ahead of time on a mid-summer weekend is usually struggling. Usually, it’s the weak or questionable charters that struggle.

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