Food trucks transformed how food is served on land. But could the same culinary disruption be about to happen on boats as well? Is it even possible to start a food boat business?
In fact, there are businesses that generate revenue in a similar way to food trucks, but with a boat instead. Usually these aqua based business operate only a short time of the year during peak tourist season at a lake or a busy harbor when other there are many other vessels in the water. Here’s how the business model works.
Most of these so called “food boats” operate more like floating convenience store than a restaurant. Prepackaged treats like ice-cream sandwiches, candy bars, sunflower seeds, pre-made sandwiches and cold beverages is all that’s usually served from these units. In many cases, you won’t be able to find a fresh cooked meal like you would expect on a truck.
The kitchen equipment on these floating units is often sparse. Some boats will have a full-size refrigerator or freezer to keep pre-packaged food items cold. These boats stick to serving pre-packaged or ready-to-eat items because the health code requirements needed to serve this product is minimal. In an effort to better serve their customers, these units will also carry gas, water, batteries, fishing bait and other supplies that could be required by boaters. Below is a video on food boat in action based out of Washington, D.C., called Nauti Foods:

As you can see in the video everyone from paddle boarders to other boaters visit this pontoon for a quick snack.

Is This a Full-Time Business?

For most operators this is not a full-time venture. It’s a simple way to generate a few extra bucks during peak summer time weekends. Often the folks that operate this type of unit part-time have a related business similar like managing a dock or teaching boating lessons. Although there are probably a handful of exceptions, operating this type of business is not a viable way to generate a comfortable and consistent income.
Florida is one state where you would have a better than average chance of operating this business full time due to year round good weather and plenty rivers, lakes, and ocean water.
One type of boat that could produce a full-time income would be a tour or river boat dinner cruise, however. These types of businesses have operated successfully for generations where there’s nearby water source. Due to their larger size, these boats can provide large crowds of 100 – 500 people dinner and entertainment for an evening or longer. These experiences can be as short as a few hours to a few weeks if you happen to be on a cruise ship.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a creative way to make some extra cash during the peak tourist months in your area this could be a way to accomplish that goal. Just don’t expect this to be your main source of income.