Marine Visionaries that Shaped Modern Day Boating

Lessons Learned & Forecast for the Future


Twenty years ago, whether you were on land or sea, the new millennium was on everyone's mind, especially for these marine visionaries. Today, the computers that we feared would crash are now in the palms of our hands via iPhone and on our helms via nav stations and more. While the future is fickle to forecast, the past reads like an open book. It takes a true visionary to bridge this gap.

The following are seven marine industry veterans who have shown a keen knack for building these types of bridges. They've taken simple concepts and shown what can and could be done. What's more, these marine visionaries aren't all work and no play. Indeed, all are avid boaters themselves.

Lisa Almeida | Marine Visionaries | Marinalife

Lisa Almeida
Promoting Boating Club-Style

Say the word 'boat' and Lisa Almeida's eyes light up. Almeida, an owner and marketing director of the Venice, FL-headquartered Freedom Boat Club, started boating at age six weeks on her parents' power craft. By age 22, she purchased a Wellcraft outboard. Yet, it wasn't until after a 25-year, land-locked career in telecommunications marketing that boating turned from recreation to a vocation.

"When I started selling memberships in 2009, boat clubs were in a sad state," says Almeida, noting that today, Freedom is the oldest and largest boat club in North America with nearly 90 locations, 20,000-plus members and 2,200-strong fleet. "Dealers couldn't wrap their heads around the concept and thought clubs were competition." The public didn't understand what it was all about, and no one in the industry recognized clubs' contribution. But I knew in my gut that boat clubs were the answer to getting more people on the water.

Almeida is most proud of helping to earn boat clubs a seat at the industry's table via participating in major conferences hosted by organizations such as National Marine Manufacturers Association, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Association of Marina Industries.

Looking ahead, it's the shared economy trend, evident in the popularity of Airbnb and ride share like Uber, that will drive future growth of boat clubs exponentially, says Almeida. The key for the future, she adds, is to explain what a boat club is and what it's not. Plus, delivering on promises. It's sound advice from someone who enjoys two boats. Weekend trips on a 32' Monterey and a family watersports day aboard a 22' Sea Ray Sundeck are what keep Almeida's effervescent sparkle for boating afloat.

Carl Blackwell
Boating as Part of a Health Lifestyle

Carl Blackwell knows the cure for the stress of everyday life. In fact, Blackwell, senior VP and chief marketing officer at National Marine Manufacturers Association and president of Grow Boating, Inc. (better known as the Discover Boating campaign) has spent 17 years sharing this secret nationwide. The cure? Boating. Step off the dock, cast off and surround yourself with water. It's a later in life revelation for this Illinois-raised farm boy who swapped marketing beef to boats.

"There were a lot of parallels for me between promoting the beef industry and boating," says Blackwell. Both are nationwide. "Both are industries made up of small, often family-run, businesses. Both needed widespread public contributors for the biggest reach. For boating, it was recognizing the power of people, photography and boats, and using a relatively simple and inexpensive platform like Facebook. Everyone likes to share photos. In short, we grew from 30,000 to now nearly 800,000 followers and won a national award along the way."

Looking ahead, Blackwell sees ways to make boating accessible. One way: dealerships in marinas that offer daily rentals, fractional ownerships, new and used vessel sales, and concierge services. Another is putting rentals in the palm of the public's hand via apps. This extends to businesses too, using apps like Open Table to rent a boat akin to a restaurant as a meeting venue. Blackwell dreams of these ideas when aboard his 35-foot sports cruiser on Lake Michigan with family and friends, taking time to de-stress.

Jack Brewer
The Timeless Value of Service

Twenty years ago was a great time in the boating industry, says Jack Brewer, who founded Brewer Yacht Yards in Mamaroneck, NY. This was after the luxury tax upheaval and before the recession, and Brewer rented slips as fast as he built them. Even when the economy tanked, Brewer avoided layoffs while assembling a group of marinas that spanned from New York to Maine a career achievement of which he is most proud. The secret to Brewer's success is simple and timeless. In fact, it's as relevant today and tomorrow as it was in 1879 when his great grandfather supplied boaters from his hardware store, and in the 1950s when his father anticipated customer needs at the 16-slip marina he bought next to the family's hardware business.

"Service was non-existent when I started running the marina in 1964," says Brewer, who sold his company in 2017 to Safe Harbor and now sits on the board of the Dallas-based largest U.S. marina owner and operator. "Service is how we first paid the mortgage. Detailing them, for example, when they came out of winter storage. In the recession, people kept the boats they had rather than buying new, and service became more important. Boaters want to jump in and go even more with today's time constraints, and I don't see that changing."

Two decades from now, Brewer foresees a growing number of 40- to 50-footers with outboards, more rack storage and more corporations owning marinas. To the next generation, he says, love the business and have fun.' He practices what he preaches, enjoying nothing more than dropping anchor on his MJM 34z Downeast and swimming with his grandchildren in Hamburg Cove, CT.

Duane Kuck
Boats as Life's Best Memory Makers

A boat isn't just a boat for Duane Kuck, president and CEO of Orlando, FL-headquartered Regal Marine Industries. The same held true for Kuck's parents, who cruised with him and his two siblings on the lakes near Whitewater, WI, before moving south to establish Regal 50 years ago. Fast forward, with the third generation of Kucks onboard, the sentiment is the same. That is, boats are products that offer a wonderful way to connect relationships and add value to people's lives.

"Yes, you need to make a profit. However, what's great about our industry, and it's not just a marketing slogan, is putting people first. It's focusing on relationships, from our team here at Regal, to our dealers, our owners, and their family and friends, it's all about what a boat enables a family to do. That vision is what gives us the grit, defined as passion plus perseverance, to face inevitable challenges. For us, this is remaining true to our mission, continuing as a private company in a time of increased consolidations, and focusing on long-term rather than short-term goals over the next 50 years," says Kuck.

Technology is a great example of how Regal has combined tradition and trends. Kuck tests new products himself against the benchmark of making boating easy and enjoyable. For example, gyro stabilizers that help prevent sea sickness, joystick controls that enable boaters to dock, and an auto-routing chartplotter that Kuck installed on his new Regal 42 Flybridge for a first-time cruise around New York's Thousand Islands last summer. Exploring, he says, is his favorite way to spend a day on the water. It's also how Kuck employs his own crafts to make life's fondest memories.

Bob Denison
Bringing Yacht Sales into the 21st Century

Bob Denison was a student at Florida's University of Miami Business School in 1999. His biggest worry? Convincing girls he was cool. Two years later, after brief stints in E-commerce and aerospace, which provided him with Internet, marketing and management skills, Denison founded Denison Yacht Sales. On one hand, he saw this career move as a family obligation. His grandfather, Frank Denison, started Broward Marine and his father, Kit, launched Denison Marine. On the other hand, Denison grew up with a deep passion for the industry and saw opportunity on the horizon.

"Let's be honest, lots of people think our industry is full of sharks and cut-throats. We're always delighted to prove that theory false," says Denison, who also founded Denison's Super Yacht Division in 2014. "Providing a great client experience is what really matters. That usually means sacrificing something to make it happen. In our industry, it means your time. To make a difference, you must be willing to wake-up early, sweat a lot, give up Saturday afternoons to show boats, and always hit the green 'answer' button on your phone."

In the future, Denison hopes technology will make buying and selling yachts better, simpler and definitely cooler. I'm rooting for more brokers to leverage technology to take better care of their clients, he says. People who buy boats are also buying cars and homes and sadly receiving a much better experience in those arenas. Let's hope we catch up by the year 2039.

Marcia Kull
Launching Women on the Water and in Industry Boardrooms

Boating was simpler, significantly less costly due to less technology, and a universal activity for people from all walks of life back in 1999, says marine manufacturing industry veteran, Marcia Kull. Yet Kull, who was born into a boating family and has held legal and operational leadership positions for more than 20 years with big name companies like Genmar, Volvo Penta and Torqeedo, admits that boating back then was still mostly a man's world. Not anymore.

"The creation and introduction of the Women Making Waves initiative at Genmar is my favorite accomplishment," says Kull, president of marine business consultancy, SheGoes, Inc., in Minneapolis. In 2003, "I was the only woman on the executive team. Genmar's management decided they needed to expand their customer base. A logical focus was women. Extensive market research revealed two points. First, women wanted lessons in the skills that often intimidate all boaters backing up a trailer, launching and loading, and driving and trimming. Secondly, they wanted these lessons in the company of other women. From this, we developed a turnkey kit that was available to all 2,000+ Genmar dealers to conduct hands-on women's boating classes at their local public boat ramp."

Women still make up only about 10 to 15% of new boat owners by warranty registration data, according to Kull, who today enjoys her time on the water self-propelled on a surfboard, SUP or kayak. Looking ahead, she'd like to see more women in design, construction, marketing and selling to prospective boat owners.To those following her, Kull throws down this gauntlet: I've always believed that boats need a head design that allows women to use it comfortably and inconspicuously. When the bladder problem is solved, women will spend more time boating. It's time for a great female designer to tackle this issue.

David Rockefeller Jr. | Marine Visionaries | Marinalife

David Rockefeller, Jr.
Protecting the Oceans

Years ago, many equated marine conservation to saving the whales. In the early 1990s, the Atlantic cod fishery collapsed, and a series of reports came out showing that similar downfalls were happening around the world. The U.S. Sustainable Fisheries Act in 1996 stemmed the tide. Overfished stocks in federally managed fisheries dropped two-thirds since 2000 when rebuilt fisheries soared from 0 to 45. In this era David Rockefeller Jr., a keen sailor, environmentalist and philanthropist, realized many sailing and boating friends who deeply loved the oceans were unaware of the issues and not involved in marine conservation.

"I've always been passionate about the sea, says Rockefeller, who owns an IMX 45 racer-cruiser, International One Design day sailer, and MJM 38' powerboat, on which he enjoys cruising the Maine coast. Then, I served as a member of the Pew Oceans Commission and learned from leading scientists, policymakers and others about the issues facing our oceans. The commission issued a comprehensive report in 2003 and outlined a proposed national agenda for protecting and restoring the seas. I realized that we needed to get more sailors, like me, activated and passionate about making this agenda a reality. With David Treadway in 2006, I co-founded Sailors for the Sea, which today is part of Oceana, the largest international organization dedicated to ocean conservation."

Going forward, Rockefeller hopes the boating community will be a true force for marine conservation. He recommends to his boating friends to directly connect to policy campaigns that impact boating, such as marine plastic pollution and oil spills. Because they are so intimately connected to the water, boaters are essential advocates for the seas and can make a huge difference.

Related Articles
The Fishy Side of Ocean City, MD

With its sandy beaches and boardwalk attractions, Ocean City is the quintessential family summer vacation destination. It’s also a popular spot for sport fishermen and boaters traveling up and down the East Coast. But it wasn’t always that way. 

Ocean City was established on a barrier island called Assateague that extended 60 miles from the Indian River Inlet in Delaware to Chincoteague, VA. The section of the island belonging to the State of Maryland had no outlet to the sea, and early visitors came to bathe in the surf and take in the fresh ocean breezes. These travelers arrived by ferry boat from the mainland until 1876 when a wooden trestle train bridge was built. 

In its younger days, Ocean City was half resort town and half fishing village. The fishing was “pound fishing,” a style I’d wager few people today have ever seen. It was practiced originally by Native Americans and became popular in the 19 century along the East Coast from Maritime Canada to the Carolinas.

Pound fisherman used wide nets attached to wooden poles to catch fish. They drove these tall poles into the ocean floor about a half mile from shore, creating permanent structures called pounds. When fish entered the open end of a pound, they were then corralled by the nets and couldn’t escape. 

With no passage into the Atlantic, crews of Ocean City fishermen needed to launch 40-foot boats from the beach directly into the ocean and row out to the pounds. To harvest the fish, the crew would remove the ends of the nets from the poles and pull them up by hand. The fish were then brought back to shore, carted across the island, packed in barrels of ice and shipped via railroad to fish markets in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.

It was laborious work, and for years local businessmen petitioned state and federal agencies to create a manmade inlet to connect the bay directly to more fertile fishing grounds farther off the coast.

A Fierce Storm Carves Out a New Inlet

In August of 1933, a hurricane came ashore in Norfolk, VA, and then tracked up the center of the Chesapeake Bay, bringing up to 10 inches of rain per day and flooding the back bays to the west of Ocean City. Oceanside, wind and waves destroyed homes, hotels and businesses on the town’s boardwalk. 

When the storm subsided, the railroad bridge and fish camps had been washed away, replaced by an inlet 50 feet wide and eight feet deep that formed when built-up water driven by high tides rushed east over the barrier island from the swollen back bays to the ocean. Mother Nature did what governments wouldn’t do, and it changed Ocean City forever.

It didn’t take long for officials to take advantage of this event and enlarge the inlet to ensure its permanence. As a result, a commercial harbor, marinas and docks began sprouting up around the inlet and across the bay on the mainland. Most fishing was commercial in those immediate post-hurricane years, but a few captains realized the recreational fishing potential in the shoals and fertile canyons offshore that were teaming with billfish and other species. During World War II, a lack of fuel and the presence of German U-Boats in the Atlantic virtually shut down offshore fishing. Things picked up after the war, and by the late 1950s and 1960s more and more fishermen were coming to Ocean City. 

But it was the white marlin that really put Ocean City on the sport fishing map. A challenging fish known for its beauty, the white marlin wows anglers with its speed and jumping antics. These fish travel in packs and are prevalent in Maryland waters in late summer and early fall. 

Sport fishermen have been chasing white marlins off the coast of Maryland since 1934 when President Franklin Roosevelt visited and caught two of the feisty billfish. To celebrate this exceptional fish and attract more attention to Ocean City, local fishermen launched the White Marlin Open in 1974. Fifty-seven boats entered that first year. By contrast, the 2021 Open drew 444 boats, more than 3,500 contestants – including NBA superstar Michael Jordan – and awarded $9.2 million dollars in prize money making Ocean City the undisputed “White Marlin Capital of the World.”

Ocean City today counts eight marinas, 20 fishing tournaments and numerous charter boats. According to the city council, boating and sportfishing are significant economic drivers bringing tens of millions of dollars annually to the local economy. 

So, whether you’re a hardcore sport fisherman, casual angler or a boater who simply enjoys a cocktail dockside at sunset, there’s something for everyone “Goin’ downy O, Hon!” as native Marylanders like to say about a visit to their beloved Ocean City.

Check Out Three World-Class OC Fishing Tournaments

Ocean City Tuna Tournament
July 8-10, 2022

Entering its 35th year, this has become the world’s largest tuna tournament with more than 100 participating boats and a record payout that eclipsed $1 million in 2021. 

White Marlin Open
August 8-12, 2022

First held in 1974, the WMO is inarguably the highlight of the Ocean City fishing tournament calendar. Now the biggest and richest billfish tournament in the world, the WMO drew 444 boats and 3,500+ contestants last year.

Poor Girls Open
August 17-20, 2022
Launched in 1994, this is the largest ladies-only billfish release tournament benefitting breast cancer research. Despite its charitable overtones, the tournament is all about the fishing, and the hundreds of boats and hundreds of competitors take it very seriously.

The Orange Crush: A Cocktail Born on the OC Docks

Orange Crush | Susan Elnicki Wade

The Orange Crush is a staple cocktail in most Maryland bars. It’s basically a screwdriver with a shot of triple sec and a splash of lemon-lime soda. The secret to a good one, though, is fresh-squeezed orange juice. And there’s no place better to try one than the Harborside Bar & Grill in Ocean City where the cocktail is said to have originated on a slow night in 1995 when a couple of bartenders were bored and playing around with a bottle of orange-flavored vodka.

Harborside is a wooden establishment whose backside opens onto the commercial harbor in West Ocean City. Gritty is the word that comes to mind. As you would expect, the sign out front boldly announces the home of the Orange Crush, as do newspaper articles framed on the walls and t-shirts for sale. Inside, people pound crabs and watch the Orioles play baseball. Ceiling fans whirl, and it smells of Old Bay and French fries. White lights strung across the ceiling add a festive touch. It doesn’t get more Maryland than that. 

To try your first Orange Crush, visit Harborside Bar & Grill, in Ocean City, MD, 410-213-1846.

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There Once Was a Basket from Nantucket

For many reasons, boat lovers and landlubbers love Nantucket. The well-known island 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast has great maritime history, picturesque scenery, unspoiled beaches, boutique shopping, a nice marina and seafood galore.

It's also home to a unique basketmaking tradition developed in the second half of the 19th century by manly men who manned the lightships that warned of dangerous waters around the island.

Today, the Nantucket baskets they wove are ubiquitous to the island as both a popular souvenir and a highly collectible object that reflects the island's fascinating history and heritage.

Baskets Born of Necessity and Boredom

In 1820, the United States began building and converting ships into lightships in coastal waters and the Great Lakes. These vessels served as floating beacons to identify perilous shoals, reefs and shifting channels in places where lighthouse construction wasn't possible. The ships housed bright and navigational light beacons atop their masts to guide maritime traffic.

basket - history - marinalife
Friendship basket purse made by José Formoso Reyes in 1950 | The Nantucket Historical Association[/caption]

The waters around Nantucket were well traversed and very treacherous. In Nantucket Sound, sandbars muddled traffic, so the U.S. government placed a lightship there in 1823 to help mark a safe path by the island along a popular commercial route between New York and Boston. It became known as the Cross Rip Lightship.

The Nantucket South Shoals off the island's southeast coast proved hazardous for transatlantic shipping. In some locations, the water can be as shallow as three feet. The shoals were a notorious shipwreck site, so the government stationed a lightship at the South Shoals in 1854. A lightship operated at the South Shoals until 1983 when it was replaced by a large navigation buoy. It was at the time America's last working lightship. By 1985, new technologies rendered the old lightship program obsolete.

Lightships were manned vessels, and many Nantucket men were hired to work on the ones around the island. Some of these men had been whalers from back when Nantucket was the epicenter of the whaling industry. Rough coastal weather made the lightboat service perilous. For example, they had no onboard electricity, and the crew's only warmth was furnished by manually tending coal-burning stoves always at risk of breaking loose from their mounts and spilling hot coals during fierce storms that churned up mountainous waves that crashed over the ship.

It was lonely, too. I've read how life on a lightship was likened to a term of solitary confinement combined with the horrors of seasickness. It's no wonder these men began making baskets to while away the time.

Cross Rip Lightship - history - marinalife
Cross Rip Lightship on station, circa 1930s | The Nantucket Historical Association

According to several sources, it is likely a man named Thomas James introduced basketmaking to men on the lightships. James, the story goes, had worked in the whaling industry and during his voyages supposedly made baskets in his spare time. When he began working on the South Shoals Lightboat, he took up his old pastime while on duty and sold his work on leave in Nantucket town. It wasn't long before he taught his skill to his fellow lightship men.

Though the classic Nantucket basket is attributed to men aboard lightships in the mid-19th century, it's important to remember that its distinctive design was probably inspired by baskets originally woven with ash wood by the Wampanoags, the island's indigenous people.

Lighthouse baskets typically were round and built on a mold with flat wooden bottoms to which staves (ribs) were attached to form the basic shape. Cane, also known as rattan, was then woven in and around the staves from bottom to top. Each basket was finished with a wooden handle. Tops and decorative elements weren't added until later. These baskets became popular with locals and tourists and thus became known as Nantucket lightship baskets. They're very desirable today among collectors.

Basketmaking Enters the 20th Century

By 1905, the last man from Nantucket manned a local lightship. Shortly thereafter, the federal government banned basket-making aboard lightships to end moon-lighting commerce. The craft then moved on island where it was taken up by a new generation of basket weavers who began personalizing their work and looking for ways to make them stand out and appeal to the growing tourist trade.

Nantucket basket lamp - history - marinalife
The author and Nantucket basket lamp

One of the most significant of this new generation of basket makers was José Reyes, a Filipino with an Education degree from Harvard, who served in the U.S. Navy fighting the Japanese and then after the war immigrated to Nantucket where his wife's family had a home. Unable to find a job in education, he repaired cane furniture and learned to make Nantucket lighthouse style baskets.

Reyes is credited in 1948 for adding a top to the lightship basket and turning it into a purse for women. These purses, later known as friendship purses, quickly became de rigour for well-to-do summer residents. Reyes later included ivory carvings to adorn the purse tops. Rumor has it the name originated when a woman carrying one of Reyes' purses while visiting Paris noticed another woman with the same purse. She yelled out Friendship! and the two strangers became lifelong friends linked by their shared love of Nantucket.

Paul Whitten, another basket maker, helped elevate artistic appreciation for the Nantucket basket when he was invited in 1974 by the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery to submit one of his pieces in a national arts and crafts competition. His basket was selected to appear in the gallery and then tour the country with other competition winners as part of a traveling exhibit. Whitten's basket was purchased by the Smithsonian for its permanent collection. Whitten also wrote extensively about Nantucket baskets, which has been important to preserving the history of this unique craft.

Today the lightship basket influence can be seen in jewelry, cribs, bike baskets and all sorts of decorative pieces sold on and off island. Yours truly even owns a pair of tall handsome lamps modeled on the classic Nantucket Basket. There's even an auction market for exceptional baskets woven on Nantucket. A recent piece went for more than $100,000. Who'd have thunk it?

Nantucket Lighthouse Basket Museum

If you're visiting Nantucket and want to delve deeper into the history of these unique baskets and learn more about their makers, you won't want to miss the Nantucket Lighthouse Basket Museum. It features a permanent collection of baskets, special exhibits and basket weaving classes. The museum website also has a variety of fascinating videos, including an interview with noted basket weaver José Reyes.

Location: 96 Main St.,Nantucket, MA 02554

Hours: May 28 - October 17, open daily 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.


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The Origins of Fish Capture Flags

I've never had much luck saltwater fishing. My first outing as a young boy was holding a handline over the side of my grandfather Pop Hunter's motorboat in the shallow bay behind Alligator Point east of Apalachicola, Florida. Pop and my father were after redfish, and I wasn't expected to catch anything. Sit and be quiet, they said. So I did, until something grabbed my line, and I let out a scream.

Fish flags - history - marinalife
Fish flags | Jodi

My grandfather snatched the line and began battling a strong fish with just his tough freckled hands. That fish turned out to be a small hammerhead shark! When he finally pulled it onboard, he tossed it at my feet where it thrashed about, and I began screaming again certain it was going to bite me until Pop threw it back in the bay. He thought it was hilarious and told the story repeatedly that summer. Somewhat traumatized, I didn't go saltwater fishing again for years. When I finally did, all I managed to hook was a four-inch starfish. Like Pop, the fishing boat operator laughed. It was a first, he said, and he lamented that he didn't have an appropriate starfish flag to hoist for our return trip to the dock.

Spend time around harbor docks and marinas, especially in the afternoon when the fishing boats come in, and you'll undoubtedly notice rectangular flags featuring different kinds of fish fluttering on outrigger halyards. Though they might look decorative, they're not. These fish flags, more formally referred to as capture flags, are colorful signals to let others know which fish were biting that day. It's a tradition born in the days before daily fishing reports began to appear in newspapers and on radio.

The earliest capture flags on record are attributed to The Tuna Club of Santa Catalina Island, California, a private fishing club started in 1898 by Los Angeles Times editor Dr. Charles Holder for the southern California and Hollywood elite. The Tuna Club refers to itself as the oldest fishing club in the United States, and it's still going strong.

Charlie Chaplin, Bing Crosby, Cecil B. DeMille, William Wrigley and George S. Patton were among its early members. Teddy Roosevelt was an honorary member. Members flew large colored flags on their boats to alert their fellow anglers when they caught tuna, swordfish and marlin. The practice quickly spread, and sport fisherman and charter boat captains on both coasts began hoisting flags to announce their catch as they pulled into the docks.

In Florida, the West Palm Beach Fishing Club (WPBFC) added a different twist to the fish flag. Founded in 1934 during the Great Depression, the WPBFC's mission was to promote fishing to lure visitors to the Palm Beaches and stimulate the local economy. Given the proximity of the Gulf Stream and its big game fish, the club initiated the Silver Sailfish Derby fishing competition, a celebration of one of the world's most elegant and iconic sport fishes. The Derby was the first serious billfish competition in the country. It quickly became the in thing to do for wealthy tourists. And it still occurs every January.

red sailfish capture flag - history - marinalife
Derby Queen with red sailfish capture flag | WPBFC

Here's the twist. Club members soon became concerned that too many sailfish were being caught and not consumed or mounted as trophies. As a result, WPBFC established new rules to restrict the number and size of sailfish captured and brought aboard boats during the derby. To help incentivize the policy, they encouraged contestants to raise a triangular red pennant to signify smaller sailfish that were caught and released so they could still be given their proper due. The national media seized on it with vigor. And in turn, the red pennant inspired other contests geared toward catch-and-release fishing and helped change the nature of big game fishing. It also furthered the practice and the prevalence of flying fish flags.

As sport fishing became more popular and accessible to Americans in the 1960s and 1970s, so too did fish flags. This was driven in part by a growing number of game fishing tournaments with affordable entry fees and guaranteed prize money. Competitors wanted to show off their fishing prowess, so flag companies were more than happy to begin making and supplying 12"x18" canvas and nylon flags featuring the most popular varieties of sport fish marlin, swordfish, sailfish, tuna, mahi-mahi, wahoo, etc. that we still see on boats today.

Sharks, by the way, merit a capture flag. You can't miss it. It's usually a vibrant red color and features a white shark. To the best of my knowledge, there's still not a starfish flag.


white marlin - history - marinalife
White Marlin | Lunamarina

You need not worry about official regulations for displaying fish capture flags. Protocols vary from location to location. That said, more experienced fishermen tend to follow some informal rules of thumb.

  • Fish flags are generally flown on the port or starboard outrigger halyard and in order of merit, meaning game fish with bills (marlins, swordfish and sailfish) go at the top and others follow in order of size from largest to smallest. Shark flags are often flown on the bottom.
  • It's appropriate to fly a flag for each fish caught, though some say you should only fly one yellow mahi-mahi flag no matter how many you land. In Hawaii, some boats will run a black pirate flag beneath the mahi-mahi when more than 20 are caught.
  • Never run flags all the way to the top of the rigger; keep them about three quarters up the rigger and spaced at least six inches apart as this is optimal for visibility.
  • Flying a fish flag upside down is the most common way to signal a successful catch and release. Some fishermen, however, prefer to fly a fish flag right side up with a smaller square red flag beneath it or a red T-flag to indicate a fish was tagged and released. Red pennants are still sometimes used.
  • A fish flag should never hang on the halyard for more than a few hours, though charter boats might fly them for 24 hours to help attract clients.
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