Captain Samantha Zeher, owner of KeyZ Charters, works out of Islamorada’s popular Robbie’s Marina as one of its only woman charterboat operators. She’s also been the captain of her own fate — earning her license at just 18 while still a college freshman.

Captain Samantha offers sightseeing charters that include snorkeling and sunset cruises, paddleboard, eco-tours and Everglades excursions. She’s also happy to treat passengers to island trips exploring Indian Key, Lignumvitae Key and Alligator Lighthouse (each with a history dating back to the 1800s).

Captain Samantha Zeher Islamorada

The free-spirited captain enjoys virtually all water-based pursuits — whether she’s working or during her free time.

Now 29 years old, she has operated her own 21-foot tri-hull deck boat — capable of cruising Florida Keys waters as shallow as two feet — for the last seven years.

“Robbie’s Marina was always a fun place to go for locals and tourists,” Samantha said. “When I decided to run a charterboat, I couldn’t think of a better place to put my boat.”

She enjoys showcasing the Keys’ unique environment to visitors, and cherishes her free-spirited lifestyle on the water. The only challenge she faces as a woman captain, she joked, is a lack of onboard restroom facilities.

“My office view is great!” Samantha enthused. “Even though the days are long and the sun and wind have weathered my hair and skin, I wouldn’t trade it for a cubicle 9-to-5 job any day.”

A native South Floridian, she was born in Fort Lauderdale and grew up in the city. She spent frequent vacations, with a family of three protective older brothers, in Islamorada’s Lower Matecumbe Key.

“Playing on the water and boating was in my blood,” Samantha admitted. “My mom had a hard time keeping us in school. She says her kids spent too many days at the beach and not enough in a library. All four of us have worked as captains on the water for a good portion of our adult lives.”

Samantha studied marine biology at Miami Shores’ Barry University and spent college summers working for Florida Sea Base — known as the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, a Boy Scouts of America camp with aquatic programs — as a dive boat captain.

After graduation in 2009, she worked as a mate on the Miss Islamorada party boat at Bud N’ Mary’s marina.

The boat’s “Captain Ben” allowed Samantha to drive and dock the vessel — when a Keys mariner who had told her previously that girls couldn’t captain was standing on the dock.

female boat captain Isalmorada

Captain Samantha shares her knowledge of the Keys’ waters and ecosystem with her passengers. (Photo courtesy of KeyZ Charters)

“Captain Ben told me I was going to dock the boat in front of him, so I did,” she said. “That captain was in shock.”

As much as Samantha enjoyed fishing and working as a mate, it wasn’t something she wanted to do forever. After searching for jobs without finding much of interest, she bought her boat with her parents’ assistance.

Even when not working, she enjoys on-the-water pursuits including snorkeling, lobstering, fishing, crabbing and shrimping.

Reef, her two-year-old yellow lab, “takes up a lot of my spare time but he loves the boat and the water,” Samantha said. “Just like me, he’s hard to keep out of the water.”

The dedicated captain’s future includes a possible business expansion with additional boats.

“I’d like to continue captaining as long as I can, showing off this slice of paradise to my customers,” she advised. “I like to take each day as it comes and see where it goes.”

Like most Islamorada residents, Samantha Zeher wouldn’t live anywhere else.

“I love living in the Keys for so many reasons. It is a tropical paradise,” she said. “I love the small-town feel that everyone knows everyone, and no one is shy about lending a hand when someone is in need.”