By John Morton
Joe Hewes didn’t have a business plan in mind when he decided to buy a 30-foot tritoon boat and have it customized with a 10-foot slide. No, he was just doing something fun for his family.
“We’d be out in Sarasota Bay and people would always pull up and ask me if it was available to be chartered,” Hewes said. “Eventually, I had to say ‘It will be soon.’”
He created a company in 2015, became a certified captain, named the boat Siesta Funship, and waited for calls.
And they came in a big way. So much so that it’s now his full-time occupation.
“Bachelorette parties, birthday parties, shelling and snorkeling outings, you name it,” Hewes said of his outings. “I got the idea from seeing those slides on lakes up north, especially in the Carolinas. I figured it would catch people’s eyes, and it turns out I was the first person to have this in our area.”
Others have copied him with similar boats, he said, but he’s OK with that.
“I know I was the first and that’s what counts,” he said.
The three pontoons, instead of the customary two, make for a smoother ride, Hewes said, and the ability to carry more weight.
Popular anchoring spots are the sandbar in Big Pass and Sand Dollar Island, he said. At both locations it’s shallow at the front of the boat for those hoping for just a dip, while deep enough at the other end for the sliders.
“I pump water down the slide, so you really can pick up some speed,” Hewes said.
The boat has a bathroom and the entire lower level can be completely shaded. It’s bring-your-own beverages, but a cooler with ice is provided.
Guests can also bring their favorite tunes.
“I’ve got a state-of-the-art sound system,” he said. “I’ll hook up to whatever you want to hear.”
The boat also has enough power to pull tubers and skiers.
His marketing efforts have recently increased, now that the tourists are back in droves, but he still depends mostly on being seen in action.
“I don’t know a single kid, or an adult with a beer in hand, who can resist a water slide,” Hewes said.
Full-day tours run between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., while half-day trips go from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Two-hour sunsets cruises are also available.
Locally, pick-up is at Nora Patterson Bay Island Park, 946 Siesta Drive, along Siesta Key’s north bridge. Hewes will also pull up to canal locations where he can fit.
“I get people along Grand Canal all the time,” he said.
Visit siestafunship.com or call (941) 800-1FUN (1386) for more information.