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Monday, Jul 22, 2024

Yacht Charter Boats a Growing Industry

TOURISM: San Diego Bay Cruises Among Those Sailing Smoothly

SAN DIEGO COUNTY – From tours and sightseeing, whale watching and dining cruises to corporate group events, weddings and burials at sea, local yacht charter boats offer a variety of options for seafaring visitors to San Diego’s coastline.

They are also a boon to the economy, says Port of San Diego Commissioner Frank Urtasun.

Frank Urtasun
Port of San Diego

“Even though we don’t have the financial numbers, we know the yacht charter cruises are a positive thing,” Urtasun said. “We know that people will see something on their cruise and go back and follow up and visit that venue, experience that park, whatever the case may be.”

While officials from both the Port nor San Diego Tourism Association say they don’t keep official tabs on the numbers of yacht charters boats or how much of an impact they have on the local economy, the popularity of cruising is on the rise.

According to Mordor Intelligence’s study looking at the years 2019 to 2029, with 2023 used as the base year for information, the yacht charter market had a CAGR of 5.79%. The market was valued at $18.9 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $26.5 billion by 2027.

Local Cruises on the Upswing

With the pandemic in vessels’ rear-view mirrors, companies like San Diego Bay Cruises out of Harbor Island are once again taking local residents and tourists for memorable trips on the water in greater number than ever.

John Valente, CEO of San Diego Bay Cruises and a retired San Diego County Sheriff’s Department deputy, owns three yachts including a vessel called Bella Luna that can serve about 140 guests per day, although Valente stresses that the company does not reach that total all the time, with less people in the winter and other times of year.

John Valente
San Diego Bay Cruises

“On average in the summertime we average about 12 to 15 charters per week, or about 400 guests per week,” Valente said. “If we try to blend that busy time into the slower season, I think it’d be fair to say we could be serving upwards of 10,000 guests aboard Bella Luna on an annual basis.”

The company is also a referral network representing more than two dozen other chart operators around the bay. Valente said in tracking leads, he has found that more than 50% of the company’s inquiries come from parties of between 10 and 40 guests.

Valente said the percentage of his company’s growth through the years has been challenging to track because of outside factors such as COVID, the volatile economy and increased competition with new charter operators.

“All things considered, we were seeing an average of 37% increase year-over-year in confirmed reservations until COVID,” Valente said. “Then an obvious plummet. Once businesses started opening again and people wanted to get out of the house and celebrate everything, they’ve missed over the last couple years, we saw record breaking spikes in bookings. It seems now, we’re back on pre-COVID numbers again and continue to grow by continuing old partnerships and establishing new ones.”

Coast Guard, Police Ramping Up

Valente also divulged that there’s also another impact that has affected the industry – charter companies operating illegally.

Many in the industry, including Urtasun of the Port, say there is a proliferation of charter boat operators that are not following the law and putting their passengers at risk.

Valente said that as a member of the local Harbor Safety Committee he has appeared in front of the Port of San Diego Board of Commissioners as an advocate for making changes to local ordinances on San Diego Bay to ensure everyone has a safe and memorable experience on San Diego Bay.

“There has been a tremendous issue with illegal charter operations in San Diego Bay,” Valente said. “Some due to ignorance of regulations, some due to downright careless negligence. I’ve been frustrated to see such a proliferation of ‘charter’ boats beginning to operate without regard to laws, regulations, and most importantly, passenger safety.”

Sharon Cloward
San Diego Working Waterfront

Sharon Cloward, president of San Diego Working Waterfront, the group that looks out for the businesses and environmental vitality of the port tidelands, said individuals should request the captain’s credentials and safety plan before boarding a vessel to ensure their wellbeing.

Cloward said security measures have been ramped up before summer to crack down on those running businesses not abiding by regulations and the licensing required of them to be operating legally.

“I would say for the safety of passengers paying for a captain and a charter boat, we need to protect everyone,” Cloward said. “The Coast Guard and the San Diego Harbor Police are making sure that we have legal charters because of the safety of the passengers. No one should be at risk.”

Last October, the Coast Guard terminated an illegal charter operating near the USS Midway.

A Coast Guard boarding team conducting a safety inspection issued citations that included lack of a valid Certificate of Inspection, failure to possess a valid Certificate of Documentation for a vessel over five net tons and failure to employ a properly credentialed mariner.

A Boon to the Economy

Valente said it’s not correct to say that all charter operators are operating negligently.
“There’s still some work to be done with safety in mind but the San Diego maritime and tourism charter industry is thriving,” he said.

Cloward said that however concerning the situation is, overall, local private yacht charters are a boon to the economy in several ways.

“They have to pay for their crew, and then the crew goes out to dinner, they go out and do things… and the ship’s guests do the same things,” Cloward said. “Whenever I see a yacht coming in, I think ‘They’re going to be doing business with our tenants.’”

She also said that whatever a vessel costs, “10% of the value of the boat is invested every year to maintain the boat to the level it needs to be, so it’s a huge business for our tenants.”

“Also, when you’re in the charter business. You always have to keep your boat at a pretty supreme level,” Cloward said. “You’ve got to make sure it’s working, make sure the boat is clean. And local charter companies are all paying a marina slip fee, with marinas charging a certain amount per foot.”

San Diego Bay Cruises, LLC
CEO: John Valente
BUSINESS: Private yacht charter
REVENUE: $700,000
WEBSITE: SanDiegoBayCruises.com
CONTACT: 619-928-2441
SOCIAL IMPACT: John Valente and San Diego Bay Cruises have been an integral part of the San Diego Bay maritime industry since 2012, advocating for fair business practices and safety policies.
NOTABLE: John Valente served as a San Diego County Deputy Sheriff for 22 years before “retiring” into the maritime private yacht charter industry of San Diego.


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