Tampa's Pirate Water Taxi adds boats, more options for rides

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

In the classic movie “Jaws” that famous line is a warning of brewing doom. For Pirate Water Taxi, it’s a sign of success.

Building on 3½ years of customer growth, the Tampa business is in the midst of a $1.6 million expansion of its fleet of pirate-themed water taxis that will add a 100-passenger boat, the company’s largest to date, and two 20-passenger boats by late 2019.

Like the 2016 decision to open the long-planned water taxi business, the expansion is spurred by the surge in activity along Tampa’s Riverwalk and the influx of restaurants, bars, and events to downtown.

Pirate Water Taxi President and CEO Troy Manthey says the idea for the water taxis was in place since parent company Yacht StarShip Cruises & Events first launched its dinner cruise business nearly 20 years ago.

“When we signed our lease here in 2001 for the dinner boats, we put a water taxi component in that lease thinking we would be opening that in 2006,” Manthey says “However, the Riverwalk wasn’t complete and there was not yet enough development along the route to support a water taxi service. That stuff goes hand in hand with a successful water taxi business. It wasn’t until 2016, when the Riverwalk was complete and there was the activation of the upper end of the Riverwalk with Ulele restaurant opening and Water Works Park, that there was enough to do along the water taxi route.”

Since setting sail in February 2016, the business has seen year-to-year passenger growth since with a mix of tourists and locals out for day trips, Manthey says. He says passengers will often spend a full day hitting stops along the route, enjoying lunch at one restaurant and dinner at another stop.

Today, the water taxis operate on a 7-day a week schedule and a single fare provides customers “hop on, hop off” boarding at 15 stops along Riverwalk, the Channel District, Harbour Island, and Davis Islands.

Manthey says the original fleet of four boats was always intended to last three to five years before Pirate Water Taxi introduced new boats designed to meet customer needs and the unique requirements of the Tampa route.

In response to customer demand, the 100-passenger boat will have a full bar and an indoor climate-controlled seating area where passengers will have heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. It will also meet the surge in demand on weekends and special events, Manthey says.

The 20-seat boats will be specifically designed to fit under the Meridian Bridge adjacent to the Tampa History Center -- the lowest bridge along the route -- to access stops at Sparkman Wharf and the Florida Aquarium.

This is likely just the beginning of a planned fleet expansion. Pirate Water Taxi has purchased a total of 12 former San Antonio river barges and the two 20-seat boats are the first of those being rebuilt and converted into water taxis. Manthey says the company may also have a second 100-seat boat built in 2020.

For more information, visit these websites: Pirate Water Taxi, Yacht StarShip Cruises & Events.

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry is a freelance writer living in Clearwater. Chris spent more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys our local music scene, great weather and the wealth of outdoor festivals.
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