Maybe you’ve been watching your fair share of Deadliest Catch, or maybe you’re seriously looking for a side gig help put food on the table. Whatever the case, crab fishing can definitely look like a lucrative endeavor. Prices for crab have gone up exponentially in the past decade, and experts say the upward hike might not end any time soon.
So if you were hoping to take a slice of the fat profit, then you might already be looking into the cost of starting up your own crab fishing business. Now, exactly how much does a crab boat cost? Here’s what it will take to get started in the crab fishing business.
The Average Price of a Crab Boat
Did you know that not all second hand crab boats started out as crab boats? These commercial crab boats were usually once something else entirely, like oil tankers or cargo ships. After being bought and sold between different markets, some of them managed to wiggle their way into the crab fishing industry and were then given the necessary upgrades to make them worthy of the task.
That said, prices for crab boats aren’t set in stone. Some of them can be fairly affordable at just a couple tens of thousands. And then there are others that can cost upwards of a million bucks.
To better illustrate how much a crab boat might cost, here are prices for five different boats on the market (as of writing):
Built by Kvichak in 1993, the CR21-016 is an aluminum crabber with a 400 gallon fuel capacity. It measures 29 x 10 feet, and includes a VHF, GPS, a drum, a Kolstrand crab davit, and a herring shaker. The boat costs just $25,000.
W.E. Sanders Crabber
Measuring 43 feet, this steel combination vessel was put together in 1979 and is rigged for longline and trawling. It packs a fuel tank with a capacity of 1,300 gallons, and carries up to 30,0000 pounds of crab. The selling price stands at $245,000.
H&F Custom Boats CR21-012
This boat was built in 1999 and touts a mere 200 gallon fuel tank. It measures 24 by 8 feet, and comes as a complete package. The boat sells for a mid-range price of $92,000.
Marco John Deere 6135AFM
At $925,000, this 58 footer puts you in industrial crab fishing territory. The big crab boat carries 3,000 gallons of fuel and comes equipped with all the equipment and electronics you might need to get started.
Rodriguez 1992 CR20-024
Measuring 85 feet, this gargantuan crab boat was assembled in 1992 and features a 660 hp Cummins QSJ19 engine. The vessel can carry up to 145,000 lbs of catch, and loads just 9,000 gallons of fuel. Fitted with autopilot, this advanced and well-maintained vessel sells for a whopping $2,200,000.
What Affects the Cost of a Crab Boat?
As you probably already know, there are a lot of factors that can affect the price of a crab boat, which is why the price range can be so drastic. Knowing how each of these factors plays a role in the overall crab fishing experience should help you better pick out which ones are essential to you and which ones are just nice to have around, but not necessarily vital.
Size and Capacity
Obviously, your boat’s size will affect how much it costs. Anything under 50 feet is considered a small crab boat, and can easily supply the needs of a local market. But if you’re looking to join the ranks of the guys on the Deadliest Catch, then you’re going to need something a little bigger.
A big commercial crab boat is anything 50 feet or bigger. These boats deal in the industrial crab fishing market and sell their catch to markets all over the globe. Of course, they make a lot of profit in the process, but that also entails quite a large capital shell out to wiggle their way into the business.
While these boats might look like hulking, rusty beasts on the outside, they’re actually equipped with pretty intricate electronic systems on the inside. The Bering Sea - among many other places for crab fishing - can be precarious and difficult to traverse because of the strange currents, ice, and unpredictable weather patterns that prevail in the area.
These electronic systems give the captain a precise idea of where they are and where they’re headed so they don’t get lost out at sea. So yes, these systems need to be pretty high tech. Other than that, there are government-mandated electronic equipment that must be on board. So having these systems literally makes the boats legal.
So what are some systems that they can have on board? Here are a few examples:
High Power Radars
High power radars help boats picture out other vessels on the water. They work 24/7 and even send out a blip to inform other boats of your presence. This just makes sure no one crashes into anyone.
GPS makes it possible for the captain to locate crab potting locations. Without a GPS or an older Loran-C system, it would be near impossible for these crab fishing boats to pinpoint the precise location of the catch.
Ship to Shore Radios
Ship to shore radios work to keep the boats in contact with the ground at all times. This can be particularly important especially during accidents and emergency situations. And if anything ever happens to the boat out on the water, the radio keeps it from becoming a mystery lost in time.
Internet connectivity is possible on a crab boat, but it takes a whole lot of high tech hardware. This can be an expensive addition, but can definitely improve the mental health of the crew on board.
Wheelhouse is the term used for the impenetrable boat room where all of these electronics are housed. The high seas can be unforgiving, so it’s important that all of the tech is concealed where it can’t be damaged by strong wind or waves.
If you’re going to be fishing for crab, you’re going to need the right equipment. Crab boats need a lot of gear to be able to pot that precious catch. If the boat you’re buying has all of the necessary equipment already, then you could be looking at a much more expensive boat. But then again, there are some that only pack a few pieces of crabbing equipment to cut down on the initial cash out.
Some things you should look for include:
These are those cage like systems that you submerge into the water to catch crab. Bigger pots let you catch more crab with a single deployment.
You can’t possibly lift the weight of the crab pots in and out of the water with just your crew’s physical strength. The lift system lets you deploy and retrieve your pots by simply turning a few winches here and there.
Not all crab is legal to catch. So after retrieving your crab pot, it’s necessary that you sort out the ones you can keep from the ones you have to toss back. That’s what the sorting tables are for.
Crab boats can spend months out on the waves. Without live tanks, you might be hauling a big pile of stinky dead crab on your way back. This massive holding tanks keep the crab alive while you’re on your way back to the harbor.
Lines, Cables, and Hooks
If you’re familiar with boating, then you probably already know that these don’t cost a lot to purchase. But if you’re managing a juggernaut of a boat, you’re going to need several hundreds of feet of lines and cables - and extra to store just in case.
Although they can be cheap, buying lines, cables, and hooks in bulk can get pretty expensive especially when you’re supplying enough for an industrial sized crab boat. Some second hand boats already have them on board, but keep in mind that older lines and cables might snap after some use.
Living Quarters and Amenities
Fact: there’s a double portion of depression among commercial fishermen versus the general population. The reason for this is the strange and unnatural conditions that they live in for months at a time. Most fishermen claim that the void and nothingness surrounding the boat, plus the cramped conditions on board and the limited human contact can make you feel isolated.
Spacious, pleasant living quarters are a must if you want to prevent depression and other mental illnesses on deck. Although they’re typically sparse, what’s important is that you have enough roomy comfort to accommodate each crew member. The captain usually gets his own room, with the rest of the crew having to share rooms with up to four individuals housed in each.
The heads are also an important consideration. Some boats only have one head, which means that crew members might have to line up to wait for their turn. Of course, that does decrease the quality of living on board. So it might be a better idea to consider a boat with at least two heads, and then factor in the maintenance later on.
The galley should be spacious enough to accommodate the entire crew at once. It should also be kept relatively clean compared to the rest of the boat since this is where you’ll be keeping the food for the entire trip.
How Much Does It Cost to Maintain and Run a Crab Boat Annually?
That really depends on the size of your boat and the size of your crew. If you’re running a smaller operation, you might only need a crew of around 3 to 4 people on board at a time. For bigger boats like those on the Deadliest Catch, a crew of 7 to 8 members should help keep everything running smoothly.
The biggest expense you’ll have to take into account would be the salaries for each of your crew members. The captain makes 24% to 40% of the entire catch value, while deckhands can earn between 12% and 15%. The lowest ranking greenhorns get a cut of around 8%.
Then of course, there’s the fuel expense. According to statistics, a big crab boat will use around 80,000 gallons of fuel for a single crab fishing season. If you’ve got a smaller fuel tank, then you’re going to have to factor in the fuel it takes to get back home for each tank refill. Bigger tanks can help you save on return trips.
And then finally, there’s the maintenance. Some of these boats were made centuries ago, which means they could require quite a lot of maintenance to be safe to operate. Constant engine and motor checks, oil changes and refills, parts replacements, and repairs can cost several tens of thousands of dollars.
So all together, you’re looking at millions of dollars in expenses. But there is a bright side. Even after all of these expenses are taken from the catch, the boat operator can still take home at least $300,000 from the crabs hauled in from the sea. Again, that depends on the size of your boat. With a bigger holding tank and a larger fuel capacity, boats can catch more and stay longer out at sea to increase their numbers.
Thinking of Joining the Crab Fishing Business?
Not everyone knows how much does a crab boat cost, and we often take the boats for granted. But equipped with high tech electronic systems, expensive equipment, and large living quarters, these gargantuan boats were designed for some of the roughest expeditions in all of the fishing industry.
And because they also catch some of the most expensive crustaceans on the market, these boats can earn fat profits with each trip. So if you’re thinking about joining in on the bandwagon, do the math. These boats cost a lot to acquire, but with the right crew, the payback is going to be well worth it.