LOWER TOWNSHIP — Charles Hackett would like to set the record straight about the job of a charter-boat captain.
It’s not the life of leisure on the high seas that many people assume it is, he said.
“Everybody thinks it’s the ideal job — just going fishing every day. It’s a dream job, right?” he said. “But people don’t know the effort involved.”
Hackett, 42, of Lower Township, has been working on fishing boats all his life, most recently as owner and captain of the 60-foot Sea Star III based at the Miss Chris Marina in Lower Township.
He spent the winter sanding, repairing and repainting his boat to get it ready for the annual U.S. Coast Guard inspections. His recreational fishing season runs about nine months of the year, weather permitting.
And during the season, it’s hard to catch your breath sometimes, he said.
“You only get what you put into it. I work seven days per week. And the days that most people get off work — weekends and holidays — I definitely have to work,” he said.
“I will fish all day and then spend the evening answering emails and phone calls, getting the bait ready and lining up first mates so we have a successful trip tomorrow. It just never ends.”
But after nearly 30 years on the water, Hackett said he still loves his job.
Sea Star is a party boat that takes up to 50 customers to prime fishing grounds. They target different species for the seasons — striped bass, blackfish and drum in the spring; flounder and black sea bass in the summer; striped bass again in the fall.
In between these daily trips, he rents his boat out for private parties of up to 80: catered graduations, bachelor parties, sunset cocktail cruises and wakes to scatter a beloved’s ashes on the ocean.
His most popular cruises are during the annual summer fireworks displays off the beaches in Lower Township and Cape May.
The Sea Star III is big and fast enough to take customers miles offshore, but small enough to fish along the beaches when the incoming tide attracts the fish, he said.
Cape May’s geography gives Hackett an advantage over other fishing ports along the New Jersey coast, he said. The coastal peninsula separates the Delaware Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. He has a choice of fishing grounds if the seas or weather conditions deteriorate.
Hackett worked as a first mate aboard the Sea Star for 20 years before he bought it in 2010 when the former owner retired. He got a business loan from Cape May County to finance it.
Cape May County has maintained a revolving-loan program for its commercial fishing industry since 1984, Tourism Director Diane Wieland said.
The program started from a $500,000 state grant and has grown to $3 million in disbursed and available loans. It has helped business owners make emergency repairs to their boats or make capital investments such as Hackett’s, she said.
The program is helping the county’s oyster industry and was expanded to allow $10,000 grants for the replacement of safety gear after the 1998 sinking of two locally operated commercial clamboats.
Today, Hackett runs the boat with the help of his wife and two children.
New Jersey has fewer party boats than it did when he graduated from high school more than 20 years ago, he said. Older boat captains had nobody to pass their business to when they retired, he said.
“There is a rich history of party boats in New Jersey. But it seems like there are fewer and fewer businesses every year,” he said.
Hackett said the business is less profitable than it once was with higher fuel prices and stricter quotas on species such as flounder, even as others such as striped bass have made a remarkable comeback in New Jersey.
“Fisheries regulations are tough. You can only fish for certain things at certain times of year. And that’s not necessarily when those fish are even here,” he said.
Charter boats compete for customers at the docks, but help each other once they leave port, he said.
“It’s a tight-knit group of people,” he said. “Our competition ends at the parking lot. We all have a common goal.”
Contact Michael Miller:
Sea Star III
Location: Miss Chris Marina, Second Avenue, Lower Township
Owner: Charles Hackett, 42, of Lower Township
Started: 2010 under Hackett
Employees: 5 seasonally