How to Start Your Own NZ Boat Tour in Four Simple Steps

electric tour boat

The borders are open!

The borders are open again and if you’re not heading out of NZ you can place a safe bet that many will be coming here!

Let's see how to make it happen!

While you might think there’s a market for your tour business or charter operation, you still need to carry out due diligence and see if it’s worth the effort. There’s two parts to this – finding your market, and figuring out how much money you need to be making in order to earn income.

Is there a market for your tour? Who is your ideal customer- who are you going to be marketing to? Are these people in your town or city, or are they close by? Who is the competition? Ask around and see if the local Information centre has any enquiries for your type of service. Also, Google your tour and see if anyone is offering it already.

Electric boats

Estimating costs should be a simple process. You know how much petrol you need for your boat each trip, or any bait or expenses you might need on the day, rough costs for maintenance and boat upkeep. Then, take into account depreciation on the boat, a trailer/ car if required, and fishing equipment wear and tear and most importantly- your time. What do you want to be paid an hour? How many hours do you want to be working each week? There are also costs for accountants, compliance with laws/ buying licences/ completing training courses, and a range of other running costs.

Keeping it Legal

There’s a difference between recreational boating and becoming a tour guide and skipper. It also matters where you’re taking  your passengers. Commercial boating requires a SRL (Skipper Restricted Limits) licence at minimum. River jet boat operators must obtain a commercial licence. Make sure you find out what type of licence you need before carrying any passengers.

boating education

If you intend on driving customers in a car or van too, then you’ll need a passenger endorsement on your licence.

If you plan of running a charter fishing operation, you must register with MPI before running any trips. Once you’re registered, you must file reports that record the number of fish caught and type of fish, when, where and who was operating the vessel.

By law, any vessel carrying over 50 passengers must develop a disaster plan. This plan must describe the boat, how many people she carries, what human resources are on board and how a disaster would be dealt with.

It’s also worth up-skilling. The coastguard runs a number of courses, for everyone from a novice through to a skilled professional. These added qualifications will help your customers trust you.

You may also need to enter your business into MOSS (Maritime Operator Safety System). Make sure you do this at least three months before you take your first paying customer out.

Register a Business

This is the fun part- choose a name, buy a domain, create a logo, get an IRD number and a separate bank account. Also, you get to start a profile on Marine Services and start to collect leads and bookings via our traffic.


You can become a limited liability company easily, which can offer benefits legally. Consider if you want to remain a sole trader for a period of time, or do you register as a company from the start?

Find a Boat

Find a suitable boat for your venture. With tourism ramping up there are plenty of opportunities. For example these electric boats from Vision Marine would make an amazing water taxi or tour boat in Queenstown or the Viaduct, these are also incredibly low maintenance and very stylish. If you would like to find out more about these, get in touch with us, we can help get you on the way to starting your dream tour boat business.

electric tour boat
Enquire about the Vision Marine Fantail

Plenty of options around and the team at Marine Services can certainly help you find a boat to suit your operation.

Develop Your Tours

You’ve probably been thinking and planning this from the start- where you want to take people, what you want to show them. Write it down, map it out, and write a description of the tour- then, run it past some other locals. In particular, find the person that always has an opinion about everything, they may have some valuable feedback and ideas.


Check what your competitors are doing and develop something different. Will you offer pick up and drop off? Catered meals? Lessons how to fish? What sets you apart from your competition? What is your unique selling proposition? Maybe it’s a luxury water taxi on the lake in Queenstown, maybe it’s a rough and ready charter boat for slaying marlin, maybe it’s a classic yacht for the Bay of Ialands.

Now Get Marketing!

How are you going to get customers? Are you planning everything online on your site? Or will you have physical flyers or posters to put up around tourist spots? If you want to go all online, you’re going to have to do search engine optimisation, so that Google knows where to find your website and get your site ranking highly when people search for your tours. This is where we can help you.

Consider hiring a content writer or copywriter to write your website and advertising. The initial cost may seem huge, but professional writing means more people will buy your service.

Once you’re advertising and you’ve got your first few customers, keep going. Enjoy running your own business- and spending your days doing what you love, in a place you love.


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