Working on Fishing Boats

Updated on April 2, 2017
Glen Kowalski profile image

Fishing, whether recreational, charter, or commercial fishing, has been a way of life for Glen since he was little.


So You Want to Fish for a Living?

Fishing for a living sounds like an ideal job. After all who wouldn't rather be fishing than working, right? Well, the realities of a career in the fishing industry are quite different than what you may expect. There are many different types of fishing jobs available and each provides a unique set of challenges and experiences. However some things are consistent across the entire spectrum of fishing jobs.

Very Long Hours

Regardless of your chosen path in fishing you can expect to work some really long hours. A typical deckhand on a charter boat works about 14-18 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 7 months a year. This is on an established boat with a good customer base, but if you aren't working on a boat like that you aren't making a living fishing. The fishing part of the day is typically less than 10 hours, the rest is spent prepping the boat, cleaning fish, and cleaning the boat. More on that in a bit.

On a longline boat expect to work between 14-20 hours a day, depending on conditions and the catch. Longlining trips typically last between six and 28 days, though 60 day or longer trips are possible on some of the largest boats. Depending on what you are fishing for will determine when you work. Sword fishing for instance is a nighttime bite, so you will set gear in the evening, sleep for a few hours, and wake up at dawn to retrieve the days catch.

Working on a bandit boat means 16-20 hour days are the norm, and sometimes, if the bite is really hot, you will fish for over 40 hours straight. When you work depends largely on when the fish are biting. Because of the gear used much of the bite is a nighttime bite, meaning you will start fishing a couple of hours before dusk and fish through the night until a couple of hours after dawn. Then you have to gut the fish, pack them in ice, and clean the boat before sleeping. Oh and someone has to cook as well! Typically a bandit boat will be out for a week to ten days each trip.

Shrimp boats and crab boats are so varied it is difficult to give a true 'average experience' since every boat is different. Some boats are day trippers, they leave out either in the morning or at night and return the next day. On these boats you can easily work 24-36 hours straight! On larger boats that stay out for extended periods of time (normally up to 90 days at a time) you can expect to work at least 18 hours a day.

Fishing Jobs in TV/Movies

Perfect Storm, The (DVD)
Perfect Storm, The (DVD)

This movie is based on a true story, embellished for sure but still gives you some idea of what to expect. Plus it is nearly required viewing for anyone who wants to work on a longline boat.


Hard Physical Labor

No matter what type of fishing boat you work on you will earn your check. Or you won't be on the boat long. From icing the boat before a trip to cleaning the boat afterwards to any of a thousand things that can happen in between all fishing jobs exact a toll on your body and mind.

The least labor-intensive position on the boat is normally the Captain. However the Captain is under immense mental stress that can be just as if not more draining than actually doing the dirty work on deck. The captain is responsible for the vessel and crew's well-being and with making the trip a success. When the bit is on it is great feeling but if the bite is slow or non-existent then the stress builds and builds. If the captain is also the owner of the boat these stresses are multiplied even more by boat payments, dock fees, license fees, and routine or emergency maintenance issues that can quickly cost the captain his boat.

Deckhands have more physical demands and less mental demands. It really varies depending on what type of boat you are working on, but these tasks include baiting and deploying lines, cleaning the boat, retrieve lines and removing the catch from the hooks/nets/traps and then storing the catch in a way to ensure the fish is in peak condition when you get back to the dock.

Something as simple as baiting a hook becomes a chore when you do thousands of times each day. Think it is easy to land a fish? Try landing a pissed-off tiger shark you caught accidentally while longlining for grouper. Gutting a fish and packing it on ice is easy, until you have to process a thousand pounds of 3-5 lb fish after working through the night. And unless you are on a freezer boat (boat that has a freezer hold) then you have to pack the fish in ice. Which means you have to move several thousand pounds of ice to one side, pack the fish, and then shovel all the ice back on top of the fish you just stored. Then rinse and repeat.

Speaking of ice-not all ports are created equal. I've fished from some ports that had an ice blower machine that let you put ice straight into the hold with the push of a button. What a luxury! More often than not you will have to manually load tens of thousands of pounds of ice by the trashcan full. Icing a boat is its own special hell in these conditions.

Deadliest Catch: Season 1
Deadliest Catch: Season 1

Crabbing on the Bering Sea is an 'extreme' version of fishing.


Harsh and Hazardous Conditions

The recreational fisherman generally have the luxury of only fishing when the weather is nice. Some diehard fishermen will go fishing in bad weather but most have more sense than that. Too hot outside? No worries just wait till dusk. Raining all day? We'll just go next time. Seas are at 3-5 ft? No thanks I'll just wait until the seas calm down before going so I don't get beat up. Working a fishing job is different.

There Is No Such Thing as 'Too Hot to Fish'

The sun will take a lot out of you, and it is on you to take the proper steps to keep yourself healthy. The most important thing is to make sure to stay hydrated. This means drinking plenty of water each day and especially the night before! Mix in an occasional electrolyte containing beverage to replace salts lost to sweating.

It is also important to wear proper clothing for both protection from the sun and avoid overheating. You want to wear something close fitting that breathes and a hat to protect your ears.

Finally always wear sunscreen. Skin cancer is no joke and many fisherman who don't properly protect themselves will end up having to have painful surgeries to remove malignant tumors from their skin. Skin cancer can also result in death-you've been warned!

Cold Weather

Extreme cold will kill you even faster than extreme heat. Even if the cold isn't enough to kill you outright it is never fun to deal with. Your hands stop working right when you get too cold, and your thinking slows. Combining this with sleep deprivation and fatigue can easily lead to mistakes that can cause injury or death. Frostbite is another worry for the cold weather fisherman. Frostbite is the death of tissue due to the tissue being exposed to extreme cold for long periods of time.

The same steps you would take to prevent cold injuries on land apply to fishing. Wear cloths in layers, always cover you head and ears, and wear gloves. One Caveat though-while you need to layer your clothing the risk of falling overboard is always present on a fishing boat. So layer loose fitting (but not too loose) clothing that you can remove easily if the worst should happen. Otherwise the weight of your clothing could end up dragging you straight to the bottom.

Rough Seas and Storms

When you fish for a living you have to fish the conditions. This may mean going out in rougher weather than the recreational fisherman would like to. Most boats fish unless the weather is so bad that fishing is physically impossible or the risk of injury and or death is too great. Everyone has probably seen the show 'Deadliest Catch' on Discovery Channel. Thankfully, most fishing isn't that extreme, but bad weather is a constant consideration for professional fisherman.

Rough weather can be anything from larger than normal seas due to steady high winds to a hurricane. Most boats don't fish in hurricane conditions but it is not uncommon for a boat to get caught in one because the storm changed track or developed more quickly than expected.

Any type of storm at sea, whether its an afternoon thunderstorm or a hurricane, will be accompanied by large seas, possible torrential downpours, possible hail, and usually lightning. Lightning normally means a suspension of fishing activities until it has passed as the risk of a lightning strike is elevated on a fishing boat.

Fishing on a commercial boat and many charter boats will continue even if there is a steady rain so long as there is no lightning. When I worked on a head boat that was open to the elements customers used to ask me "What do we do if it starts raining?" and my answer was always "get wet." A good set of rain gear is vital for anyone serious about working on a fishing boat.

Some other 'Fun' Things That Happen to Fishermen

These three things—extreme heat, extreme cold, and bad weather—are the most common detrimental conditions you will experience on a fishing boat. There are many, many possible things that can and will affect you while you are fishing.

Ever been stung by a jellyfish? Well imagine a 20-mile long stretch of longline gear that drifted through a school of man-o-war jellyfish in the night. Now imagine that 'hot jelly' (what we call the stingers that stick to the line) striking you on the face, arms, neck, maybe even in your eye as you retrieve your gear.

Or handle a lionfish the wrong way and get pricked—lots of fun, trust me. Or have lines get wrapped in the propeller and have to dive into the water to cut it free. Think sea turtles are 'cool' or 'cute'? Wait until the first time one gets tangled in your gear and you have to free him. Here's a hint: stay away from his mouth. The list is nearly endless of things that will go wrong and make what is already a tough job even tougher.

Swords Season 1: Life on the Line
Swords Season 1: Life on the Line

This show is about long lining for swordfish. Fairly accurate, though many of the more 'fun' parts like butchering the catch (preparing the swordfish for market' are skipped.


Time Away From Home

One of the biggest things you will have to accept when you start a career as a fisherman is that you will be spending a lot of time away from home. This means missing your children's sporting events or class plays. Not being home for the holidays. Not being there when the car breaks down and your wife/significant other needs your help.

And don't think, "Oh I'll be a charter fisherman so i get to come home every night.: Sure you come home at the end of each day. Generally you come home, eat, and go to sleep. Maybe you get to spend a few minutes playing with your kids or watch tv or talk to your loved ones. But if you are on a good boat that runs steady, you have no life. In fact a commercial guy may have the edge during the spring/summer/fall period since most commercial boats usually have a few days downtime between trips.

If You Haven't Been Scared Off Yet...

If you've read all this and have decided that fishing for a living sounds like a job for you, congrats. You may have what it takes to make a living fishing. I know it sounds like I was trying to dissuade you from getting a job in the fishing industry but that wasn't my intent. I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting into.

Fishing definitely has its perks. The pay is usually pretty good. You get to do something you love. And you will see things that the majority of the population never gets to see. I could probably write a few dozen articles describing some of the cool/crazy/unusual things I have seen while fishing. And who knows, maybe I will.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • profile image

        Sive magranya 

        5 months ago

        I like and I need this work anyone can help me to find out to get this work docksn fishing please

      • profile image


        13 months ago

        Awesome article!! I spent a summer on a boat in Kodiak - much like you described, although at the beginning of the season we were working back-to-back 22 hour days. We'd offset this with 5-15 minute naps that we could sometimes steal between sets or during short travel. The longest 'day' i worked was 60 hours long. At hour 58 or so of that day I was told to drive to our storage unit and get something. I told my captain I was hallucinating from lack of sleep and didn't feel right driving. He said I'd better go and better not scratch/dent his truck. Gotta love Alaska. Different way of life up there. Oh yeah, and the jellyfish! Our nets used to go up through the winch and then drop down to the deck. So the jellies we'd get would come dropping down and smack you in the face with the force of a fist. And if you're lucky, they slide off to the side. If you're unlucky, they slide down the neck of your shirt! You can't stop until the net is in, so that's up to 15-20 minutes of working with a jellyfish INSIDE your shirt. Fun times.

      • profile image


        14 months ago

        This article just makes me want to do it even more. ☺

      • profile image

        aron jorge 

        17 months ago

        A few things you forgot to mention: nasty as all hell, Most fishing boats I have been on had little to no hygene facilities on board, so plan on days or weeks without a warm shower...just a salt water shower. Motion sickness get to most everyone from time to time. Shrimp boats has to about the worst of all. deheading shrimp, injuries to hands and they swell to twice their thickness. The salt water is ice cold much of the time, depending where you are working. We worked 20-22 hrs a day, 7 days a week.

      • profile image


        18 months ago

        How fast is 2 tons a mile in longlining boat when hauling

      • profile image


        18 months ago

        Im realy intrested i love fishing

      • profile image

        Richard Makelim 

        2 years ago

        I was watching the fishing boats from shore and dreaming of a more exiting life. I admire the toughness of the sea, people and the boats. I looked up this article and WOW! I will continue to watch and admire from shore.

      • Glen Kowalski profile imageAUTHOR

        Glen Kowalski 

        5 years ago

        Fishing is a great career if you can dedicate yourself to it. If not, best to just go fishing for fun :)

      • esmonaco profile image

        Eugene Samuel Monaco 

        5 years ago from Lakewood New York

        Very interestring and informative, but I think I'll just stick to fishing for fun. Thanks :)


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)