Long before he entered state politics, George “Chip” Campsen III went to work for his father’s maritime business at age 15 as a deckhand.

By 19, he had his captain’s license.

Now in his mid-60s, the lawyer and veteran state senator from the Isle of Palms has helped steer the sale of Fort Sumter Tours, which for more than six decades has navigated Charleston Harbor shuttling “millions” of passengers between the mainland and one of South Carolina’s most historic Civil War landmarks.

The new and only second owner and operator of the company and its other transportation businesses is Aramark Sports & Entertainment Services LLC, a Fortune 500 global hospitality giant with 280,000 employees and nearly $19 billion in revenue last year.

“It is very rare for a small family business to make it to the third generation, and it just wasn’t a big enough business for the entire third generation to be involved in it,” Campsen said.

“It was time,” he added.

The low-key deal, which was never formally announced by either the buyer or the seller, was finalized about six months ago, right before Christmas. Word of the transaction began to surface publicly only recently. Financial terms were not disclosed.

“As the new operator, Aramark Destinations continues to provide a world-class hospitality experience on the Charleston Harbor with sunset dinner cruises, ferry service, sightseeing tours and private charters,” a representative of the Philadelphia-brd company said in a written statement. “Both companies share a passion for hospitality and national park and destination stewardship, which made it a natural transition.”

Aramark also said it retained the newly acquired company’s hourly and management employees.

The Ohio-brd investment banking firm ArkMalibu represented Fort Sumter Tours in the deal. Campsen said family members feel they landed “the right buyer.” He added that it was a decision he believes would have pleased his late father, George E. Campsen Jr., who died in 2010.

“Aramark is well-capitalized, in it for the long run, has extensive park concession experience and a commitment to retain our key employees …,” he said.

Fort Sumter Tours was founded in 1961. Campsen said it was born out of his father’s love of fishing and his plan to build a pier for saltwater anglers along the edge of the jetties in the harbor, not far from the National Parks Service monument. It was around that time that he submitted a proposal with the federal agency, which was soliciting bids for the Fort Sumter ferry contract. He won an exclusive five-year deal, effective Jan 1, 1962.

Campsen said he and other family members became involved in their father’s company in their early teens, from “the engine room to the board room.”

“It was always a family business,” said Campsen, who recalled his sisters working in the ticketing office and how he and his brother captained boats during summer school breaks once they were old enough.

He also noted that two of the company’s oldest vessels — the Major Anderson and General Beauregard — were named after two prominent Union and Confederate leaders in the Battle of Fort Sumter in April 1861.

“There is a tremendous history in Charleston Harbor and sharing that history over the years has been a great delight,” Campsen said. “It’s always been about the history that we help interpret and preserve of not just Fort Sumter, but Fort Moultrie and Fort Johnson.”

The business branched out in the 1980s and 1990s by adding SpiritLine Cruises, which offers dinner outings, harbor excursions and charters, and Gray Line of Charleston, a bus tour company. They were part of the sale, which came to light more than a month ago, after Aramark was found to have violated a South Carolina statute and local zoning rules by allowing one of its tour boats to ferry passengers from an anchored cruise ship to state-owned Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.

The company acknowledged it happened once, in April, and it promised to “work closely with local and public officials if there needs to be any modifications to these trips moving forward.”

With more than six decades of memories to look back on, Campsen said Hurricane Hugo sticks out in his mind. After the 1989 storm ravaged the area, the swing bridge between Mount Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island became stuck in the open position, cutting off vehicular access to Sullivan’s and the Isle of Palms. The company’s Spirit of Charleston tour boat, which survived largely unscathed, provided free rides to and from the islands for the first two weeks before assessing a $3 fee to help cover the overhead.

“We’d shuttle people back and forth from Patriots Point to the Wild Dunes Marina, now the Isle of Palms Marina, because, for many of them, that was the only way they could get to their homes,” Campsen said.