From working in Hollywood, to serving in the Air Force, 48-year-old Amaani Lyle is making the transition to captaining charter boats


While kayaking in the Potomac River with friends at the onset of the pandemic, Amaani Lyle’s phone fell into the water. When diving into the river for the phone, the kayak capsized. Lyle came up empty-handed, but a yacht in the Belle Haven Marina came to rescue her and her friends. 

It was then that Lyle said she had an epiphany about what to do in the next chapter of her life. 

“It was like, ‘This never would’ve happened if I was on a yacht,’ and that’s how I got into boating,” Lyle said.

Lyle said her love for the water was cultivated as a child. Born in MN and raised in Los Angeles, she would ride her bike down to the beach by herself and find her own “peace and serenity,” along the Pacific. She said she was never afraid of the water, and knew she wanted to settle somewhere near it, which led her to residing in a condominium two blocks from the Belle Haven Marina in Alexandria along the Potomac. 

After the phone incident, Lyle took the rest of the weekend and the following week to study in hopes of getting her boaters safety card — the first step in a lengthy certification process to be the captain of a charter boat. The card says that a driver can do private leisure tours and at the very least can pilot boats and have passengers on board, but income can’t be earned from tours. The boat itself also has to be insured and registered, similar to a car, she said.

Lyle is working on obtaining her Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels license (OUPV) — also known as a 6-pack license — in order to legally carry up to six paying passengers on a charter. This license allows her to pilot boats that are 25 tons or less — usually in the form of deck boats, speed boats, fishing boats and pontoons — while yachts are typically classified as more than 31 feet and might require a 50- or 100-ton license. Eventually, Lyle said she wants to get the 100-ton master captain license, which is the highest attainable license, allowing her to carry six or more paying passengers.

Hands-on training is also required to captain charter boats, with a required time commitment of 360 four-hour stints. Lyle said she’s at times finished up to three “days” of required sea time in one day — or 12 hours — and is more than halfway complete of her hands-on training duties. Sometimes, for Lyle, this training has included running lines, deck-hand cleaning of the boats and helping clients on and off charters that were run by charter captains. “I was just making myself available to anyone that had me aboard,” Lyle said. 

Lyle trained in a Galeon 560 Skydeck yacht by the name of “Azimuth” July 18. She said it was so nice that she could practically “move into” the boat — this training session was courtesy of the private owner and the owner’s master captain trainer who allowed Lyle to pilot the vessel, which she said is one of many ways to get hands-on training. 

To officially become a charter boat captain, Lyle also needs to become CPR certified — which she said she already is — and join a consortium where you must comply with random drug and alcohol tests as well as receive character-reference letters that attest to her being a “good human.”

Being a personable human, Lyle said, is important as a charter boat captain, just as the trait is in any service or hospitality industry occupation. She said it’s like being a bartender because it’s about making your clients feel comfortable by getting to know them. Customizing specific charter tours to groups’ personalities or to special occasions is important too, Lyle said, so she can make the tour as special as possible if someone is celebrating a wedding anniversary or a birthday. “It’s being able to read the room,” Lyle said about captaining a charter boat. “One thing or one element that maybe goes for one party may not go for another.”

Lyle — who is currently finishing up an online degree certification for the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications Advanced Social Media Strategy Course on track to be completed in November — said she plans to retire next year and move to Florida. On her Facebook page — Cap’n Maani Cruises — she is documenting her journey and said there are producers interested in doing a reality show based on the trials and tribulations of a captain in training. 

There have been more than a few reality checks during her time training to be a captain — whether it has been running her boat aground or crashing when the wind picks up. The glamor of the boating industry that’s depicted on social media can be a façade, Lyle said, and being in the industry for the right reasons is paramount. 

“[It’s] not just be some kid with a lot of money who has a boat, and takes their friends out, and you just throw on your sunglasses and captain’s hat and look cool,” Lyle said. “There’s a lot more that goes behind the scenes to make people safe and get to your destination safely.” 

One of the reasons Lyle said she’s in the boating industry is to start a charter business with her friend, Kim Weaver, who was stationed in the military with her. Weaver is an aspiring dive master, and Lyle said she wants to be the driver of the boat during her tours — potentially on a boat called “The Write Stuff,” which Lyle said is a play on her career as a writer. Most notably, Lyle has worked as a writer’s assistant for Nickelodeon and on “Friends,” and was one of the first bloggers in the U.S. when she started working for America Online in 1995. 

Diving in the Potomac isn’t ideal, but Lyle said she appreciates the landscapes and views that D.C. offers — she said there’s a scenic trail that runs from Georgetown to Mount Vernon along her condominium complex that offers views either by land or sea. Lyle said she’s also big into mountain biking, but she sustained an injury in 2017 that has steered her off the wheels. However, sunset cruises and jogs are an alternative for her on the trails, she said. 

“This is a unique region of the country where you’re so steeped in culture and history and you have such brilliant landscape to complement that,” Lyle said. “I really want to take advantage of that for as long as I’m still living here.”

Kristin Rutkowski is a photographer who has taken the time to meet with many women and tell their stories of the journey to captain, sailor, or boat owner.

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