Party Boats vs Group Charters vs Private Charters
If you ever get the chance to take a stroll along the Destin Harbor, you’re guaranteed to witness two things: the largest fishing fleet in the state of Florida and plenty of booking booths promising the best deals on deep sea fishing. Many Destin, Florida vacationers choose to wait until they get into town before securing their spot on a deep sea fishing trip, only to find an overwhelming number of options and the chance of missing out on the experience all together. Planning ahead and scheduling your trip in advance can help to avoid signing up for a deep sea fishing trip that you regret.
Understanding the difference between party boats, group charters, and private charters is crucial in the process of deciding whether to go with the booth that offers an 8 hour trip for $90.00 per person, the one for $250.00 per person, or the one that covers six people for $1,680.00. They all include bait, license, and tackle, but what about the experience?
As you can imagine with such variation in the pricing, each option offers a completely different deep sea fishing experience. Differences in the prices usually reflect the type of boat, the number of passengers onboard, the type of fishing that you can expect, and the overall experience that directly influences the kind of deep sea fishing trip that’s right for you.
We’ll start by sharing the details about party boats where you can expect to get a taste of Destin’s deep sea fishing waters. Next, you’ll get the scoop on how group charters work, and find out what to expect if you’re planning on joining a group charter. We’ve saved the best for last with the ultimate deep sea fishing experience where you’ll learn about all of the benefits that come with scheduling your own private charter.
To jump to the charter that you’re most interested in, click on the link below, or continue scrolling to compare the differences between each type of deep sea fishing experience.
The first time that you hear the words party boat, you may envision a venue for music and dancing similar to the party room on a cruise ship. Those of you who have experienced a party boat already know that the word “party” refers to a large group of people combined together on one boat to go deep sea fishing. Another name commonly used for party boats in the deep sea fishing community is “head boats.”
There are certain characteristics of party boats that appeal to first time, and even seasoned anglers, including larger boats, a lower cost compared to other fishing charter options, and the type of fishing that party boats are known for. However, some aspects tend to turn off deep sea fishing enthusiasts, like the larger amount of people and the limitations of the types of fishing available.
Party boat reservations are operated by booking agents, often located in a booth near the boat. They usually have a set schedule for a day of the week when a particular trip length can be booked. For example, there may be an eight hour trip on Monday, a four hour on Tuesday, and a six hour on Wednesday. Depending on the length that you want and your personal availability, you will sign up for the trip that best meets your intentions.
When scheduling a party boat trip, you may be asked to hold your reservation with a credit card, which is a common requirement for most reservations anywhere today. Though cancellation policies vary, there could be anywhere from a 24 hour to 72 hour, or longer, notice requirement, at which canceling during the days and hours leading up to your trip could result in a 50% or full charge to your credit card. Always ask about the cancellation policy when booking your party boat reservation, just to be safe. Also, since party boats require a minimum head count to operate, your charter could be canceled or rescheduled due to a lack of interest in the particular trip.
About the Boat
Of the many party boats found along the Destin Harbor, they range from lengths of 56 feet to 65 feet, and up to 90 feet long. Though the shape and build of these vessels vary to some degree, all party boats in Destin feature walk around decks surrounding interior cabins. Most party boats have two toilet rooms, or heads, and a few of them offer a snack bar where anglers can purchase chips, crackers, and drinks. Some party boats are equipped with an upper level deck, but all fishing must be done on the lower level walk around areas. Party boats are typically larger than group and private charter boats, as they are designed to carry larger groups of people for a specific type of deep sea fishing.
Amount of People
Party boats carry the most people for a deep sea fishing trip in comparison to group and private charters. The size of the party boat coincides with the amount of people that the vessel is coast guard approved to carry. Smaller party boats may have a maximum capacity of 40 people, while larger vessels can carry well over 100 people. Though it’s always a good idea to ask about the minimum head count needed for the trip to go, you can expect closer to maximum capacity during warm weather months, and closer to the minimum during the colder months.
Types of Fishing
Party boats are known for targeting bottom fishing reefs and wrecks, and usually stick around the same hand full of locations on each trip. You can expect to target snapper, grouper, and other bottom fishing species when in season. However, with a hook and line in the water, you never know what you may reel in. You can expect about half traveling time and half fishing time on most party boats. For example, if you sign up for a six hour party boat trip, you may ride out for an hour and a half to the fishing location, fish for three hours, and have an hour and a half ride back to the dock. Though there is variance in trips where you may fish one spot for 30 minutes, another spot for an hour, and so on, the routine is similar, which seems to give everyone onboard the opportunity to catch fish.
Party boats offer the lowest cost per person of all deep sea fishing experiences, because they have a large amount of passengers, and they target a specific type of fishing. The cost for a party boat fishing trip is about $10 to $15 per hour for an adult ticket. Some party boats only charge half of the adult rate for children and riders. During the off season, the rates tend to increase slightly, and trips are limited to one or two days per week. Even with the increase in ticket price for the off season, there are usually less people on the boat.
The overall experience of party boat fishing is great for first timers, young children, and those who just want to take a ride into the Gulf of Mexico. There are deck hands to help with teaching techniques and untangling lines, and there is a high level of structure involved with party boat fishing. Though the excitement of a sports fishing style adventure may not be present on a party boat trip, the right person will find that party boat fishing is a great experience. Like anything else, it depends on the person.
Group charters are designed for individuals, or small groups of people, who desire a more private deep sea fishing experience, and are willing to split the cost of a private charter with other individuals, or small groups, who have similar trip length interests. Group charters run on the same boats as the private charters, but the process of scheduling a group charter is different than the process of scheduling a private charter.
When scheduling a group charter, your reservation is made with a booking agent who works to get enough people for the same trip length to cover the operational costs for the boat to go out. Though group charters are a great way to experience a variety of deep sea fishing opportunities with a smaller group at a lower cost than private charters, there are some things to keep in mind about the processes and policies of group charter fishing trips in Destin.
When scheduling most any fishing trip, including a group charter, you must use a credit card number to secure your commitment. Once enough people are found to cover the minimum costs of operation, you are locked into the cancellation policy (usually 24 to 72 hours in advance notice, but always ask).
It is important to note that while you may request a specific boat for your group charter, there are no guarantees that your request will be fulfilled, and you will be held responsible according to the group charter cancellation policy as set by your booking agent. For example, if the same boat is requested by a private charter, then the private charter takes precedence over a group charter, and the group charter will be moved to another vessel. Also, if the booking agents are unable to group the amount of people needed for a specific charter to go out, but they are able to get enough people for a smaller charter boat, then the trip will move to the boat capable of running with less people.
This information is not intended to discourage you from booking a group charter. Rather, the information about the processes and policies has been explained for your consideration in choosing the best deep sea fishing trip for your personal interests. If the chance of being moved from your preferred choice in boat, captain, and crew could result in a problem within your personal group, then reserving a private charter may be more appropriate for you. On the other hand, if the chance of being moved to a different boat is not a big deal, then go with the group charter.
About the Boat
Group charter boats tend to be smaller than party boats in length, ranging from about 38 feet to over 60 feet, in exception to bay fishing charter boats, which average around 20 feet long. Most group charter vessels offer a convenient back deck fishing area with an indoor cabin complete with seating, a small table or bar to prepare food, and a head, or toilet room. Some group charter vessels also have a sleeping quarters. Group charter vessels range in appearance and features. Some have air conditioned cabins and satellite televisions, while other are not climate controlled and rely only on deep sea fishing for guest entertainment.
Amount of People
The amount of people combined together on a group charter depends on the size of the boat, and the capacity that the captain is approved to carry according to coastguard regulations. The smallest group charters going into the gulf may carry 6 people, while others can go up to 15 people. There are minimums for the head count on each individual charter, and the number of people that end up on the trip is determined by the level of interest in the same amount of hours, and charter availability for that day.
Most booking agencies do go out of their way to make sure that group charters are not too crowded, and that everyone can fish comfortably. Always look for the agencies that book privately owned charter boats. When in doubt, call the captain that you prefer to go with, and ask him who to book with for a group charter.
Types of Fishing
Since group charter boats are more flexible with smaller groups than party boats, there may be an opportunity to do a combination of trolling and bottom fishing. Since a group charter combines people who may have a preference for diverse methods of deep sea fishing, the captain always makes the ultimate decision for the trip. The captain’s choice of a bottom fishing, trolling, or combination trip depends on the length of the charter, the amount of people, which fish are in season and abundant at the time, and trying to make his guests as happy as possible during the trip.
Obviously, if a customer books a group charter with the intentions of coming home with a freezer full of red snapper out of season, then there really is no pleasing them. But, within reason, all captains strive to give group charter customers the best deep sea fishing charter experience. Shorter trips (like a six hour), may be more limited to trolling for mackerel or bottom fishing for snapper, while longer trips (like a ten hour) may do a combination with chances at a larger variety of species.
Though group charters usually go up to 12 hours, there may be an opportunity for overnight group charters in the off-season to target tuna, dolphin, wahoo, and more. Because this is a rare opportunity, the overnight group charter may not be available at all times. You’re more likely to find an overnight group charter during the months of November and December from charter booths in HarborWalk Village.
Group charters are in between the cost of party boats and private charters. Since you are grouping with other individuals to cover the cost of an otherwise private charter, the cost is set at a per person rate for the trip. The average price for a group charter in Destin is between $30 and $35 per hour for each passenger. Usually, there are no discounts for children or riders, as there are limited spaces available on the charter. Prices are always subject to change depending on fuel and maintenance prices, so check with your booking agent before locking in your trip.
During the off-season (a time when Destin has fewer visitors than peak vacationing months) private captains and booking agents may team up to offer specials. At other times, if a group charter is likely to cancel because the head count is one or two people short of the minimum needed to cover operational costs, all parties will be offered the chance to split the remaining balance before the trip is canceled. As long as everyone is in agreement and the costs of operation are covered, the group charter can go with less people.
The overall experience of a group charter is adventurous and exciting for anglers of all ages. Group charters appeal to individuals and small groups who don’t mind sharing their deep sea fishing experience with a few new faces. This can add to the excitement of the charter, since you never know what to expect from the other passengers on the boat.
Many group charter guests tend to walk away from the experience with life-long friendships. You’re more likely to have the opportunity for targeting a variety of fish, and there is more time for one on one help from the crew, whether baiting hooks, pulling fish onboard, teaching new techniques, or educating passengers on the ins and outs of various species. If you like meeting new people with similar interests, and an adventure into the Gulf of Mexico with deep sea fishing experts sounds exciting, the group charter may work for you.
Private charters are just that; PRIVATE. This deep sea fishing choice offers the most control over which boat that you go out with, and who you choose to bring on the charter with you. Can someone say invitation only! Private charters are usually scheduled through the captain, and you have the opportunity to remain in direct contact to ask questions about what to expect, get recommendations on deep sea fishing conditions for the time of year that you plan to go, and learn about the length of trip needed to accomplish your intended goals while in the Gulf of Mexico.
Some particular groups are always encouraged to schedule a private charter over a group charter or party boat. These groups include large families of five, six, or more, work colleagues, wedding, bachelor, and bachelorette parties, and deep sea fishing enthusiasts who have specific intentions that may not be fulfilled on a group charter. However, you are more than welcome to reserve a private charter for one person, or couples, who want to enjoy a more intimate deep sea fishing experience.
When scheduling a private charter, a credit card is used to hold the reservation until a 50% deposit is made, typically expected at the time of booking your trip. Unlike group charters who pay individual rates for each angler through the booking agents, one person is held responsible for the private charter deposit and final payment. This means that if you are privately chartering the boat, and you have multiple guests splitting the cost with you, then you are responsible for collecting the money, and paying the captain. Planning ahead and collecting the money from your guests early is always recommended.
As already discussed in the group charter section, private charters take precedence over group charters when requesting a particular boat. The only reasons for cancellation are bad weather and mechanical problems with the boat’s engine, at which time you could reschedule or request a refund. Always listen to the advice given by your captain concerning weather conditions. If you choose to go out, despite your captain’s concerns for weather, and you decide to come back early once you see that the conditions are too rough, you could be responsible for the entire cost of the trip without the opportunity to reschedule.
If you’ve never been deep sea fishing with a particular captain and crew, take the time to do some research before scheduling the charter. Experienced captains and crew members offer the best advantages for first time deep sea fishing experiences. Search the internet for reviews, and always ask the captain about his experience in the gulf.
About the Boat
Private and group charters are offered on the same boats in the Destin Harbor. As discussed in the group charter sections, private charter boats vary in size and features. They usually fall into the range of lengths between 38 to 60 feet, in exception to bay fishing boats that average around 20 feet. Most have a back deck fishing area, where guest anglers can fish from the sides and back of the deck.
Private charter boats are designed for sports fishing with unmatched speed to get out to the hot spots faster than larger vessels, and more flexibility in maneuvering around the gulf. Most private charter boats have a cabin with seating, a toilet room, and sleeping quarters. Some are equipped with air condition, televisions, and radios, while others are do not. If you are concerned about the features of your charter boat, always inquire before scheduling your trip. You may be able to find out on the internet, or by calling the captain directly.
Wondering what features to expect on a well-maintained private charter boat? CLICK HERE
Amount of People
The number of people that join your private charter is up to you with the exception of captain and crew, and the maximum capacity of the charter boat. In correlation with the variety of charter boats in the Destin Harbor, you’ll find some boats that are coast guard approved for only six passengers plus crew, and some that are approved for over twenty passengers. Though the initial price of a group charter may begin by covering the first six, there is an additional charge for each passenger after the first six. Look under the COST section to get a break down of how private charter prices are normally determined. Overall, you can choose to have only yourself and the crew, or up to the maximum capacity of passengers with enough crew members to help maintain a great deep sea fishing trip for your group.
Types of Fishing
With a private charter, there is an endless list of the types of fishing that can be done. Though trolling, bottom fishing, and sight fishing are the most basic forms, the type of fishing that you can expect depends on your personal preference, which fish are in season, the day’s conditions, and the length of your private charter. The shorter the trip, the smaller the variety of fishing, but longer trips over 12 hours can produce big sports fishing variations.
Overnight charters are best for targeting tuna, dolphin, wahoo, marlin, or sailfish, because the overnight charter provides the time needed to get out into the deep blue water where these big game fish commonly found during certain months of the year. Always tell your captain the type of fishing that you are interested in, and he is more likely to take your preferences into account for a private charter in comparison to party boats and group charters. However, do keep in mind that listening to your captain’s recommendations for the charter offers an even better chance of catching fish than the length of the trip.
The cost of a private charter is often mistakenly labeled as the most expensive choice over other types of deep sea fishing options, because the price of the private charter is given as one figure that covers up to six people instead of a per person rate. True, a private charter could become the most expensive option for a small group of people, but worth the money for those who want the benefits of a private charter.
However, determining whether a group charter or a private charter is more or less expensive depends on the number of people in your group. Let’s do some math comparing the going rate for an 8 hour group charter at $255 per person with a private charter that charges $210 per hour for up to 6 people, and we’ll break down the point in time where a private 8 hour charter actually becomes cheaper than an 8 hour group charter.
So, we know that the 8 hour group charter rate will be $255 per person. With 6 people, the total becomes $1530. (255 x 6 = 1530). The 8 hour private charter at $210 per hour for up to 6 people is $1680. ($210 x 8 = $1680). Clearly, in this position, the group charter is $150 cheaper for a group of 6, but there is a chance that several other people can be grouped with this group of 6, which is many private charter guests would pay the difference anyway. Now let’s say that you have 8 people in your own group, and you want to know whether an 8 hour group or an 8 hour private charter would be less expensive.
A common break down for private charters that can carry more than 6 people is to add 10% of the cost of the trip per additional person after the sixth. (1680 x 10% = 168). Since the cost of the 8 hour private charter is $1680 for up to 6 people, the additional fee for the 7th person is $168, and the 8th person is $168, making the total cost for an 8 hour private charter with 8 people $2016. (1680 + 168 + 168 = 2016). The total cost per person on an 8 hour private charter with 8 people comes to $252 per person. (2016 / 8 = 252). Therefore, from the 8th person up, the price of a private charter becomes less expensive per person than a group charter.
To get an idea of prices for other private charter trip lengths, multiply the amount of hours that you intend to go by the per hour rate of $210 for the first 6 people, and then add 10% per person after the sixth person to the total.
Trip Cost Formulas
Hourly rate X Length = Total up to 6 ppl
Total for up to 6 ppl X 10% = Additional Charge for 7th Person and Up
Total for up to 6 ppl + (Additional Charge X Number of Additional ppl) = Total Cost of the Private Charter
The overall experience of a Destin private charter is the cream of the crop in deep sea fishing experiences, and by far one of the most thrilling adventures that you’ll ever encounter. With your closest friends and family in tow, you have the opportunity to witness miracles that are found only in the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” In the company of a legendary captain who knows the Gulf of Mexico like the back of his hand, and crew members who spend their lives teaching others the art of deep sea fishing, a private deep sea fishing charter is a must for everyone’s bucket list. Getting out into the open water, spending quality time with those you care about, and battling with some of the most incredible creatures on the planet, it doesn’t get any better than this. Whether it’s your first time on a deep sea fishing charter, or you’ve been out in the Gulf of Mexico more times that you can count, you won’t leave a great private charter boat with disappointment. With every fishing trip, there’s a new experience, and with every new experience in the gulf, there’s another memory of the Finest Kind.