Southwest Florida Yachts



Some trawlers come with training


Southwest Florida Yacht PhotoVic and Barbara Hansen have operated a fleet of trawlers for charter on Florida's southwest coast for 15 years, along with a school that teaches power cruising.

Two keys to their success are a "very friendly" year-round cruising ground and a hands-on teaching philosophy that stresses "nitty-gritty boating skills" and "the personal responsibility and attitudes you have to have to be a successful charterer or boat owner," says Barbara Hansen, co-owner of Southwest Florida Yachts and the Florida Sailing and Cruising School in North Fort Myers, Florida.

The Hansen's cruising ground encompasses both the remote wilderness of the Ten Thousand Islands and the beach resorts of Gulf Coast Florida's vacation meccas. Florida's east coast is accessible from Fort Myers via the Okeechobee Waterway, and those willing to passage open ocean can cruise to the Keys. Except for the trip to the Keys, most west coast cruising can be confined to inland waters. The Hansens were pioneers in trawler charters, introducing them in 1984. They had one trawler then and a fleet of sailboats. Now they have a fleet of eight sailboats, 12 trawlers—Grand Banks 32 to 42—and a 49-foot Hyundai motoryacht. "Trawlers are becoming increasingly popular," Hansen says.

They are seaworthy, and because they are diesel-powered and cruise at semi-displacement speeds, they are economical to cruise. Their principal attraction, though, is they are a good liveaboard boat, according to Hansen. "They have all the comforts of home," she says —air conditioning, generator, microwave, television, sound system, ample refrigeration and comfortable cabins.

She says many of her charter clients are about to retire and want to try the "trawler lifestyle" before buying their retirement boat. Some have little boating experience; others have years of experience operating small boats on lakes and rivers but have never cruised before or handled a big boat. The school, which lets students live aboard while taking the course, brings them up to proficiency in boat-handling and cruising. Courses range from basic powerboating and powerboat cruising, to an eight-day cruising adventure to Key West and back.

Hansen says some of her students and charter clients are preparing to cruise on their own. Others have decided they really can't afford a trawler and instead choose to charter one. Still others are trawler owners who put their boats into charter through the Hansens, who manage the boat for them. Charter income offsets the ownership costs, and owners can use their boat whey they want.

Hansen estimates the annual cost of owning a trawler at $40,000, which includes dockage, insurance and maintenance.

"You [the owner] don't make money at chartering [it out], but it's better than having the boat just sit," she says. "When it's with us, it's well-maintained." —Jim Flannery


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