The Mission to Make Custom Boat Gear Convenient, Easy & Fun

Meet the young entrepreneurs behind The Custom Captain’s meteoric rise.
The Custom Captain apparel on anglers
When boaters want quality apparel and gear customized with their boat, they turn to The Custom Captain. Courtesy The Custom Captain

If you’ve attended a boat show or walked through your local marina recently, chances are you’ve seen someone sporting a shirt that was custom made for them by The Custom Captain. Designed to be a one-stop shop for boat owners to create custom boat artwork, logos, and custom merchandise, The Custom Captain has quickly become the leading destination for customized boat gear in the US.    

Recently, we sat down with company founders, Nick Parente and Connor Gross, to learn the story behind The Custom Captain.

Nick and Connor met at Northeastern University in Boston. Both had grown up in boating families and shared a passion for entrepreneurship.  By the time they had graduated, Connor had successfully launched and sold an ecommerce company, and Nick built a marketing agency serving automotive brands like BMW and Michelin.

Founders of The Custom Captain
The Custom Captain Founders, Nick Parente (left) and Connor Gross (right). Courtesy The Custom Captain

“A few years ago, my dad was planning a guys trip to the Keys and wanted to get custom shirts made for everyone to wear on the boat (a SeaVee 36).” said Connor.  “When I saw how tough it was for him to get the artwork he wanted, we figured there had to be an easier way.” They began brainstorming during the pandemic, ultimately launching The Custom Captain website in 2021.  Word spread fast in the boating community, and by the end of 2023, customers had placed over 100,000 orders.  Customers raved about the process, product quality, and customer service. “We are thrilled with how our artwork turned out, and the team was great to work with.” says customer Bill Stewart, a dentist based in Ft Lauderdale who placed his first order last year. “We’ve had to reorder a bunch of tumblers because our guests keep taking them for themselves.”  

Today The Custom Captain creates high quality boat artwork, boat logos, and custom merchandise for boaters of all types. The process is simple, and starts with the purchase of digital artwork.  Customers upload a photo of the boat, provide the boat name and port of call, and the company’s team of artists take it from there.  Artwork is created in as little as 48 hours, and customers can make unlimited revisions to ensure they are satisfied.  “We really focused on making the artwork creation process easy and fun…we know owners are really attached to their boats, so it’s important that our artists capture what is unique and special about each customer’s boat.” Connor said.

Custom digital artwork
The Custom Captain converts your photo into digital artwork, then creates custom merchandise for you and your crew. Courtesy The Custom Captain

Ordering merchandise is even easier. With their finished artwork, customers can customize any item in the catalog, which includes everything from drinkware and dock mats to a variety of apparel. For Nick, living on the coast of Massachusetts was a great way to test new products.  “I remember one month I went out on my Boston Whaler and tried 20 different shirts to see how they would perform. We needed to make sure the quality was there before offering it to customers.” said Nick.  The company recently expanded to include brands like Pelagic and Columbia PFG.  Customers also love that there are no minimum quantities for orders, which makes it easy to get exactly what they need.  Merchandise is printed to order out of Stuart, Florida, and ships around the world.

The founders are committed to serving any type of boater, in any geographic location.  The company operates with a distributed team, with at least one employee in every US time zone.  Many of The Custom Captain’s employees share a passion for boating as well.  Ashley Noonan, the company’s Marketing Director, grew up as part of a multi-generation saltwater fishing family.  Her father and grandfather hold over 20 fishing records and citations in the Outer Banks area. “My dad goes offshore pretty much every day.” said Ashley, “Last year he outfitted the entire family – even my 6 month old daughter – in matching gear for Christmas.” Earlier this year, Ashley’s Dad got his dream boat – a Sportsman Open 282 – and returned to The Custom Captain for new artwork and a whole new set of merchandise.  “He is so into his new boat, he added our family dog to the artwork.” said Ashley. 

The team has tons of ideas for expanding the business over the next few years – many of these coming directly from their customers.  “We’re excited to continue growing The Custom Captain. We love our customers and love being a part of their boating lives.”