Be Your Own Boss: Former fire chief leaves for new career on the water

A fire chief turned boat captain.

Tony Carli led the Everett Fire Department for five years, but after the pandemic, he had a change of heart and realized his passion was the water.

For Tony, it’s no days off, but he doesn’t seem to mind. His Red Top Boats are out in Boston Harbor every day.

“I’ve always had a passion for the water, the whole time I was on the fire department I always worked on boats and owned boats,” said Carli.

After spending four years with the Coast Guard, Tony’s first career was a firefighter. The Everett native quickly worked his way up to chief in 2016. Tony loved his job and the community he served, but after losing his mother to the COVID-19 pandemic, he had a change of heart.

“I used to tell people it’s the best job in the world for somebody that loves it, but if you don’t, you should look for another career,” said Cali. “I started to listen to that, and think about, maybe it’s time for somebody else to take the reins.”

Tony headed to the docks at the East Boston Shipyard Marina. He bought three boats, hired four employees, and set sail on his new career.

“I do on-demand water taxi service, which means you can call us very similar to an Uber,” said Carli of his new business, Red Top Boats.

From water taxi service to private tours and charters, Tony’s Red Top Boats have only been in business for about a year, but he says he’s busier than ever.

“I also am the exclusive provider for the Institute of Contemporary Art for their water shed installation here in East Boston,” said Carli.

You can spot his Red Top Boats cruising back and forth in the Harbor. But this small business owner isn’t relaxing and listening to Yacht Rock all day.

“It can be stressful,” said Carli. “It’s a different type if stress than being fire chief, I’ll tell you that. There are engine problems, scheduling issues, there’s weather.”

And making a career switch at 49 years old with a wife and two teenage boys, Tony admits it was a little scary at first.

“When you realize that I could have stayed there until I was 65, it’s a very secure job,” said Carli. “Even today you know you get those little bouts of did you do the right thing? It’s not like you can just sit back and relax now, every day is a grind to make this better, to support my family and continue to support them.”

From his changing views on life to his stunning views from his front office, Tony is going full steam ahead on his new venture.

“I think I’ve made the right decision time will tell but I know, right now this is what I really enjoy doing,” said Carli.

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