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On Board With: Mike Guanci and J.T. McCarthy

How two college kids started their own charter boat business.

October 26, 2021
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Mike Guanci and J.T. McCarthy on the water
Mike Guanci and J.T. McCarthy have been boating since they were kids. Pete McDonald

This past summer, I spent some time aboard Defiant, a boat owned by cousins Mike Guanci and J.T. McCarthy for their business, Charters in the Hamptons, which they founded together. The cool thing about it? They’re both still college students. Guanci is a senior at Trinity College, and McCarthy is a senior at Fairfield University, both in Connecticut. I asked them about their path to becoming full-time captains.

When did you and J.T. start boating? And as cousins, did you grow up boating together?

Our entire family has been summering together in our grandparents’ home in Southold, New York, for over 50 years. They have had multiple boats over that time, so we started boating as soon as we could walk. Once we turned 10, we both got our New York state license. We began boating independently, taking out a 10-foot dinghy with a 15 hp Mercury to toy around at local beaches. Growing up at the same age, we have essentially learned all the same things at the same time.

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When did you realize you could make a business about your lifelong boating experience?

We first got introduced to the chartering business while working at our family-owned marina, the Island Boatyard, on Shelter Island, New York. We worked as dockhands for eight summers straight and had the great privilege to meet some of the industry’s finest captains. They introduced us to the details of captaining and chartering, and once we turned 18, we decided to move forward with starting our own business.

What was the first step? Getting your captain’s license? What license do you both have?

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Yes, the first step was obtaining our captain’s license. We went to the Captains School during the winter of our freshman year. It was a nine-day course that taught us about navigation, operation and safety. We both have 25-Ton Masters licenses, but with new experience this past summer, we are upgrading to 100 Ton over the winter.

Instead of pocketing your initial earnings to use for having fun in college, you reinvested in a boat for your business. What was the boat-buying process like?

The boat-buying process was not easy for a couple of reasons, the first being the national shortage of boats. There just were not a lot of boats for sale in our budget. The second challenge was trying to figure out which boat makes the most sense for what we are trying to do. We needed a boat that can hold the right number of passengers, and is in good condition, within budget and attractive to people. We checked out maybe five boats on Long Island and New Jersey without much luck, so we widened our search area to essentially the entire East Coast. We were close to having a larger center-console shipped up from Florida but actually found a hidden gem right in our own backyard on Long Island. We bought a 2012 Monterey in Flanders, New York. This boat was exactly what we wanted, being a large bowrider, in great condition and within budget. We named the boat Defiant because that is how we saw ourselves in the already established industry. This summer, the boat was an absolute rock star. We did a lot of preventative maintenance in the spring and along the way in the summer, but nonetheless, the boat was perfect.

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How do you attract clients? Social media? Word of mouth? Advertising?

One of our most influential tools for attracting clients is Google. We used Google Ads in a way to target a very specific audience, which proved to work this summer. Last winter, we partnered with numerous vendors to help get clients on the boat. We partnered with hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in the area to provide their guests with a fun local activity. We partnered with many wedding planners because we do a lot of bachelorette parties on the boat.

What are your plans for Charters in the Hamptons after you both graduate from college?

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We plan on growing CiTH for as long as we can. We think there is still a lot of potential growth for the business, as well as individually as captains. This could be adding more boats to our fleet, or trying to expand to different areas of Long Island and southern Connecticut. While there is more and more competition each year, the chartering industry is becoming more and more popular.

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