How to get a job as a charter fishing deckhand in Orange Beach, Alabama

Becoming a charter fishing deckhand in Orange Beach, Alabama may not as hard as you think as long as you know where to look and what to expect. We get dozens of calls each year around May from young Young Men that are wanting to move to the area and work on a charter boat for the summer fishing season. That seems like a logical choice for those who love to fish and want to spend the season living on the gulf coast, but you need to know how the industry works in order to get a good job with a charter boat.

We will try and answer some of the questions you may have about becoming a charter boat deckhand in the rest of this article. We decided to put it in a question and answer format for your convenience. We felt it is important to tell you the truth, so you will have some indea of what you can expect.

I will suggest that you contact the captain in person instead of sending him an email that may or may not get answered in a timely manner. Phone calls to a captain are advised only when you are asking for a meeting to discuss the possibility of coming to work for him. If you really want a job as a deckhand, you need to build a relationship with that person first. The problem some people have is that they can only come down for the day and don’t really have time to let the captain to get to know them very well. I would suggest driving to our area and start walking the docks and meeting local captains to see their operation and boat that you would potentially get hired on with. This way, you will kind of have an idea about what you’re getting into and to see if your personalities will jive or not. It is extremely important to get on with a boat where you will have a good experience. You always want a win win situation for both yourself and your captain.

What can a deckhand expect as far as having a future in charter fishing?

At this time, things are constantly changing in the charter fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Over fishing of our marine resources has gone on for years and NOAA Fisheries Service has implemented strict bag limits and short federal fishing seasons in an effort to make the Gulf of Mexico Fishery more sustainable. We are in a rebuilding plan with reef fish like the Red Snapper for at least five to six more years. For some species like the Gag Grouper, it might take decades to get back to a sustainable level. Triggerfish is another species that is over fished and is currently being looked at and probably getting ready to have more strict regulations put on them in order to help them become sustainable.

With that being said, Charter fishing jobs are not what they used to be. Depending on what you expect out of the job, you can still make some decent money working as a charter fishing deckhand in Orange Beach. Because of these strict regulations mentioned above, some charter boats are struggling to stay in business while others are growing and changing with the times. As far as any fishermen having the ability to go out and harvest fish in any abundance, those days are over. You can however go out and catch enough to eat for a few meals, but that is about it. That is a trend that is becoming more popular among the next generation of charter fishermen anyway. A good example of fishermen who have changed with the times and are doing it right is Distraction Charters and Intimidator Sportfishing. These two boats usually do not have any openings for deckhands and are definitely the best and most respected fishermen in the area. It is your goal to eventually get with charter boats like these.

What are the duties of a deckhand on a charter fishing boat in Orange Beach?

A deckhand is first and foremost, a customer service representative. You are expected to be clean and neat in your appearance and be willing to serve others. You must keep the boat clean and keep all the fishing tackle in good working order. There is nothing more embarrassing to customers to get on a boat that is not kept clean all the tackle working properly. It is a reflection on you and can affect the money you earn at the end of the trip. You must also know how to tie fishing gear and most of all, be able to teach customers how to catch fish. You noticed that I said teach customers to catch fish? Too many young deckhands think fishing is about themselves hooking a fish and that is not the case. You must possess a current drug card and be a member of a consortium that does random drug testing.  If you get caught working on a boat without a drug card, you will most likely get fined and your captain will get fined because of having improper documentation.

Warning – There are a lot of deckhands that try to fish while his customers are fishing. This is a big no no. The fishing trip is about your customer catching fish and not about you showing your customers how you can fight a fish. Now, if a customer is having trouble feeling the bite or operating the tackle properly, then by all means, educate and demonstrate how to do it properly. Nothing will get you in trouble faster with the captain than him looking down and seeing you not paying attention to your customers.

When should I start looking for a charter boat job?

Most Orange Beach charter boats begin hiring new and potential deckhands for the upcoming season around January or February each year. This is the time when the captain or owner of the charter boats begins planning their year. This is also the time when they haul their boats out of the water and place them on blocks in the boat yard and begin routine maintenance. If you have never been on the end of a grinder, a sander, itchy fiberglass or paint, you will almost certainly get your fill real quick.

What does going to the boat yard mean?

You can spend anywhere from a day to over a month with the boat being out of the water, depending on weather and the repairs needed. There is a lot to do to keep a boat looking good. A good coat of fresh bottom paint to keep the barnacles from growing on the hull is a sure thing every year. Even the top sides of the boat get sanded and painted with frequency. There is usually no pay for the deckhands during this period. Captains look at boat yard work as part of your duty and part of your pay for the summer months when you make all the gravy. Because of this, it is unlikely that new deckhands break into the business. You either have to already live in the area or have enough seed money to get through the year already saved up to make it.  This is why people who live in the area have an advantage over summer help.

When does the charter fishing season begin and end?

The charter fishing season usually begins around the first week in March each year. This is when spring break kicks off and tourist begin coming to the Alabama Gulf Coast. Spring break lasts until about mid April and then it is over for a while. The summer fishing season begins kicking off around May 15 and runs continuously until kids go back to school in mid August. The summer months are the charter boats busiest time of the year. There are a few charter boats that run a few trips each month all the way up to December.

What kinds of offshore charter fishing boats are there in Orange Beach?

There are six passenger boats and multi passenger boats. A six passenger boat can carry as many as six passengers each trip. A multi passenger boat can carry as many as the US Coast Guard’s Certification will allow them. Some multi passenger boats carry as many as 90 passengers. This is what we call a party boat or a head boat. The average multi passenger charter boat carries about 10 to 13 people per trip.

What kinds of charter fishing trips are available in Orange Beach?

The most popular charter fishing trip in Orange Beach is what is known as a private charter. A private charter is a trip where a group of people charter the entire boat for a certain number of hours just for themselves. The money made by the deckhand is paid by the leader of the group after the trip is complete and fish are cleaned and bagged.

The second most popular fishing charter is the walk-on fishing trip. These trips are ideal for those who want to join other people on their fishing trip to keep the cost per person lower. These trips may have as few as six individuals or mixed groups of two or three family members getting together with others to make the boat full.

How long are the fishing charters in Orange Beach?

Most all fishing charters in Orange Beach are, four, six, eight, ten and twelve hours in length. The average trip today is about six hours. Any trip longer than twelve hours, there has to be a second crew on board. That means a deckhand must split the gratuity with another mate.

How does a deckhand earn his pay on a charter boat?

Deckhands get paid by tips from their customers. Charter boat fishing is no longer about going out and trying to harvest as many fish as you can every trip. A deckhand is a customer service representative. A good deckhand is quiet, polite, courteous, knowledgeable and nice. He is no different than a waiter at a good restaurant.

The really good charter boats are called Hiliner’s. They usually have the same deckhand year after year. So getting on with a Hiliner (top producer) might be difficult at first but it is possible if you stick with the job and work hard. Deckhands on these boats make 20% to 25% of the price of the charter. Average deckhands earn 10 to 15% of the price of the charter trip. The boats where you get the biggest tip, usually include free or complimentary fish cleaning on 6 hour trips or less. Some deckhands charge .30 cents per whole pound of the fish cleaned. Example, 100 pounds of fish would be an extra $30 bucks to the deckhand. There are no scales around, so it’s your guess to how many pounds of fish are actually in a cart. The average cart holds about 300 pounds and a five gallon bucket holds anywhere from 30 to 35 pounds. Because of fishing regulations, most trips harvest less than 50 pounds of fish on any 6 hour trip or less. Longer trips can produce more pounds of fish to clean. Deckhands also must provide their own cleaning knives and zip lock bags for the customers filet’s of fish. That is why it is important to get on a boat that runs a lot of trips and generates a lot of revenue. It is up to you to do your research on finding out which boats are the best boats in the area. I mean boats that run a lot of trips and have a really good captain that treats employees with respect. It is also good to get with a captain that teaches and has patience with you until you know your job duties and skills.

Are there any benefits?

Most all charter boats are small businesses. That means the captain usually has no form of health insurance, workman’s comp or retirement plan. If you need anything like that, you probably need to look at a different industry.

With no experience, where is the best place to start looking for a deckhand position?

The best place to start looking for deckhand job in Orange Beach is the party boats. There are nine of them in the area. You may also look at some of the large marinas and try to get on with a multi passenger that runs a lot of overnight trips. This will allow you to run as a second deckhand. You might even contact the Orange Beach Fishing Association to get a list of all the member boats.


Remember, you have to pay your dues in order to make it as a deckhand in Orange Beach. Cream always rises to the top and if you do a good job and take care of the customers, you will make some good money and almost always be invited back next year.