Friday, September 24, 2021

LG small vessel charter boat biz booms

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer

Lake George charter boat tours in small vessels are very much on the rise.

There are now 56 approved tour boat operators on Lake George and the number only increases, said Dave Wick, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission, in response to a Chronicle inquiry.

Mr. Wick said three were added in recent months. “We only started tracking charter boats within the last few years,” he notes. “Traditionally, we would only oversee marina operations that would run the full size tour boats,” rather than the trending “tour boat operations that are in your standard 26-foot Cobalt.”

ADK Boat Tours is one of 56 approved operators on Lake George. Chronicle photo/Mark Frost

“From a public safety standpoint,” says Mr. Wick, “we think it’s definitely an improvement over increasing rental fleets of the marinas that we have around Lake George. So we see that as a positive. We haven’t really seen a lot of negatives from it yet.”

Mr. Wick says, “We strongly prefer tour boat operators over rental boats, because you have a licensed captain. We know where they’re working out of. And we have a record of them….

“Anybody that’s new, or relatively new, has to go through the commission process to essentially be operating as a tour boat on Lake George. It also helps make sure that they have insurance, that they have the regular public vessel operator’s license, those types of things.”

Don Daley who owns Lake George Island Boat Tours, said, “The biggest issue that we promote is when you come out with a captained vessel, you’re going out with somebody safe. When you go rent your own — these are the people that run into the rocks because they don’t know Lake George.”

Mr. Wick does cite one source of tension. “With the proliferation of a lot of the charter…tour boat operations…they started picking up a lot of people at the town docks, up in Bolton, down here in the village. And so, we’re getting some calls from the supervisors, the Mayor, saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t okay. These people are taking up dock space waiting to pick up customers.’”

Mr. Wick said, “We met with all the tour boat operators on Lake George, I guess maybe three years ago, and said any existing charter that can show they’ve been in business for a few years, we’ll just get them an operating permit.”

Hearing from some of the LG tour operators

The Chronicle spoke with several charter tour boat operators.

“All our cruises are private and custom, so there’s no preset route. There’s no prescribed narration or anything. It’s more of a cruise and a boat ride, a historic tour by any means,” said Ron Miller, who is in his ninth season as owner/operator of Love is on Lake George cruises.

“I am a little niche market. Classic lake cruiser with doesn’t do water sports.”

Mr. Miller said, “When I started, there were fishing charters. And a couple of resorts had a boat. So they would have a PV [public vessel] as a resort. There weren’t that many, just a handful of people doing what we’re doing now. Which is just offering yourself up for boat rides and tours on the lake. It’s really exploded.”

Don Daley owns Lake George Island Boat Tours. “Well, last year was a record year. And this year we’re actually a little bit above last year,” he says. “I wish I had 10 boats.” He has two, plus a backup.

From Mechanicville, Mr. Daley said he started his tour business three years after retiring. “I have a house on the lake. And I started this back in 2016 when I said, You know, I like history. I like being on the water…let me turn this into a little business. So my kids kind of set me up with the website, and one thing led to another and it is now booming.”

“We customize our trip. Yes, they can bring whatever they want to eat drink on the boat, as long as they’re of age. They can drink alcohol, but we don’t provide any of that. We have coolers on the boat.”

arol Mcintosh is Vice President of ADK Boat Tours. It’s in its third year and operates three boats. “We have a 2021 28-foot Sea Ray. We have a 2020 22-foot Mastercraft. And we have a 2012 25-foot Mastercraft,” said Mrs. Mcintosh.

“My son is a captain and he does the tours. And then we have a couple of other captains that we hire…”

“A lot of people like it,” she says. “They like to go out and enjoy themselves and not have the stress of driving a boat, or being able to have a drink and not worry.”

Concerns: Unlicensed operators, crowding; declining dock space

The three charter operators The Chronicle spoke with all brought up concerns about unlicensed tours.

Mrs. Mcintosh at ADK Boat Tours said, “The Park Commission has been incredible with trying to cut down on the amount of people that we always refer to as ‘poachers.’ In August, I’m taking probably 60 calls a day. And you can’t fill all the spots you know, we get booked. And so people are out there just looking any way they can to get on a boat.

“So they don’t know that the person coming to pick them up hasn’t been inspected through the Park Commission or doesn’t have a PV license or the insurance.”

Mr. Daley at Lake George Island Boat Tours makes the same point.

“There’s a lot of — I don’t know what the term would be — illegals. What happens is there’s people who are not public vessels that have boats. And they’re out there. And they’re either getting it from referrals, or from the people who rent boats are saying, ‘Well, here’s the captain, go ahead and call.’ But you can’t do that.

“It’s a big issue this year because their boats aren’t public vessel certified like ours. And so they may not have the proper lifejackets, the proper equipment, fire extinguishers, you know, they may not be prepared, or their captains may not be certified. And so we’re finding we’re running into that, we’re seeing them out there.”

A rising concern? Declining dock space.

Mrs. Mcintosh said, “It just is really hard because you have to get a permit, so you need a Grade A marina, and then you have to have a PV permit at that marina, and there’s very few and so with some of the smaller places closing down, some of the other companies have had to — they don’t have a business because there’s not a PV permit. It’s pretty difficult.”

She said, “I’m hoping that Lake George realizes that and is thinking of other ways around it as other motels and things close, and we’re losing more and more dock spots.”

Mr. Miller said, “For Lake George, the more people that can come here and visit and get out on the water and enjoy being out on the water is good.”

“If rental boats get them on the water, okay. If PV operations get them on the lake. Okay. So that’s all good. I just think either one of those can become saturated or overwhelming at some of the popular sites.”

“I’ve been in Paradise Bay and counted seven PV boats. And they all have swimmers in the water. And it’s just a saturation. And West Dollar Island can be worse.”

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