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Airbnb for Boats
The peer-to-peer economy is here, and it’s benefitting everyone. Who hasn’t stayed in an Airbnb? Or picked up an Uber? These websites help both the provider and the customer. In the example of Airbnb, someone with an underutilized room or apartment can get daily renters. They make a little cash, and vacationers can get comfy lodgings for a night or a month.
But some people own a resource that costs them far more to upkeep than a spare room. While we love boats and boating and being on the water, a boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money. And B.O.A.T. Stands for “bring out another thousand,” doesn’t it?
For all the costs, most recreational boats are only used 10 to 15 days per year. What if there was a way to make a little money flow the other way? If your boat is sitting at the marina unused, you could make some cash by renting it out. There are now several websites specifically geared to help you do just that.
What are Peer-to-Peer Boat Rentals?
Peer-to-peer, or P2P, platforms are websites that connect individuals offering a service to people looking for that service. If you’re a boat owner, you can list your boat as available on a P2P website. People looking for boat rentals can search and find you and your boat. You set the price and schedule, and you have the final say as to who can use your boat.
Keep Yourself Safe and Legal
While homeowners occasionally run afoul of city and county codes, boat owners can easily run afoul of Coast Guard regulations. When renting out your boat, it’s important to understand the difference between bareboat rentals and chartering as regulated by the Coast Guard.
A clear line must be drawn between the types of service you can offer with your boat. What you cannot do without a master mariner on board and Coast Guard documentation is offer cruises on your boat. You cannot, for example, take your customers on a trip around the bay. That would be a charter, and you would need the appropriate captain’s license, and your vessel would need to meet the requirements of a passenger vessel, be it inspected or uninspected.
Bareboat rentals are the most popular on P2P websites. You are just providing a rental vessel. The owner should not be aboard, and the customer is the skipper.
Larger and more complex boats are often packaged with the captain. For renters, it’s essential to know that your captain and vessel are licensed by the Coast Guard.
Peer-to-Peer Rental Insurance
Insurance is by far the biggest concern if you are looking to rent out your boat. Check your policy carefully. It’s possible that your policy will not cover any damages to a vessel that is listed on a P2P app. Some policies won’t cover the boat at all, while others will not cover the boat during the rental period.
You read that correctly. Some policies out there won’t even cover damage or accidents that occur when you’re the only one on your boat if you sometimes rent that boat on a P2P website. Yikes!
Coverage for P2P rentals is usually sold as supplemental coverage. You have insurance that covers the boat under all normal circumstances and the additional coverage that applies when rentals are in progress.
As the owner, you don’t want to take on the extra cost of insuring the boat for P2P rentals if no one ever comes to rent it. Most of the rental service websites offer insurance for the rental period. If there are any damages, a deductible applies. This deductible should be considered when setting your rates, and specifically when setting your deposit amount.
Insurance is vital in any boating situation. Yes, insurance covers the boat should it get damaged. This may be minimal for some older boats, which often makes owners feel that they don’t need insurance. But remember all the other things that insurance covers. Should someone get injured or killed in a boating accident, medical and legal bills are paid. Fines and fees for accidental fuel spills are covered. If your boat damages another boat, legal representation is provided on your behalf. What if that other boat is a multi-million dollar megayacht? In short, insurance is about so much more than the damages caused to your boat.
The money you can make renting out your boat varies depending on the area you are in and the sort of boat you’re renting.
Beyond your operating costs, remember that the rental service will keep their cut. According to BoatUS, this is generally between 30 and 40 percent of the total transaction amount. This may or may not include insurance and towing coverage, so you’ll want to compare websites carefully.
The good news is that there is usually minimal cost for the vessel owners. Most P2P boat rental platforms now provide supplemental insurance policies with their bookings. They also handle all marketing, and listing is usually free.
Rental Service Websites
The biggest name in the game is currently boatsetter.com. Several of the first startups have merged to form the company, including Boat Bound and Cruizin. Listing on the largest website makes a lot of sense from a marketing point of view since most customers will be funneled through this website.
Boatsetter focuses on the user experience like no one else. Their rentals include commercial charter insurance as required by the USCG, provided by BoatUS/Geico. They collect a $500 deposit, and they screen all renters. You must be 18 or over to book a captained boat and 25 or over to book a bareboat.
The owner of the vessel gets the final say before handing over the keys. Generally, owners provide a quick checkout, show the renters where everything is including the safety equipment, and provide any information the renters may need to operate the boat.
As a bonus, Boatsetter maintains an active list of licensed captains. Should renters want a charter experience, Boatsetter can provide a captain with your boat. This provides peace of mind for both the renter and you, the owner of the boat.
Click and Boat
This website began serving the French market. It still focuses on the Mediterranean, but they now have over 230,000 members with vessels in 450 ports. Due to their international flair, you might find more yachts here than small runabouts. But a quick search of Florida shows that you can find everything from 20-foot open-decked party boats to 40-foot sailboats. The site focuses more on long term rentals over a period of days, whereas Boatsetter focuses on half-day or full-day type rentals. This is, of course, up to the owners and varies by boat.
Get My Boat
Getmyboat.com focuses on water experiences all over the world. There is a mix of listings to be found here, from renting kayaks and paddleboards by the hour to dive trips and sleep-aboard charters. They also have a section for watersports listings like wakeboarding or tubing. One of the neatest features of the website is how international it is. Water adventures can be found the world over, meaning you can easily add something fun to nearly any vacation.
Tips for Successfully Renting Your Boat
Do Some Business Planning
Pretend to be a customer and browse the web for boat rentals near you. Figure out what you would have to pay, and what sorts of boats are available. If you’re the only game in town, you will have more leeway than if there is a lot of competition.
Furthermore, look at how your boat stacks up. Are there are other similar vessels already available to renters? How much do they rent them for, and how booked up are they?
Another critical part of setting up your rental business will be figuring out what costs you are going to incur. Chances are, you will have to do some things to get ready for customers, and those things are going to cost you money. If the engine is running more often, it will need maintenance like oil changes more frequently. You may also need to upgrade your insurance policy. You might need to invest in a regular detailing service.
The most important reason to do all of this is to set your own expectations. While it’s impossible to get a real idea for how much demand there will be, knowing your business’s potential will make it easier to manage in the long run.
Focus on providing an outstanding customer experience
Your best customers are repeat customers. With that in mind, make sure your customers enjoy themselves and enjoy your boat. Provide tips for places to go and things to do. Answer any questions about boating in the area. Are there any dockside restaurants where they can stop on the way home?
Use the Ratings System to Your Advantage
As the renter, there are two primary ways you can use user ratings. The obvious thing you can do is screen your renters. A renter with bad ratings is likely bad news, and it makes it easy to say no.
But consider your user rating as one of your most powerful marketing tools. Keeping the highest rating possible it vital if you want to make any money renting out your boat. Just like you don’t want to rent to low-rated renters, renters don’t want to rent from low-rated providers.
Set your Schedule Realistically
According to Boats.com, most P2P boat rentals are last minute bookings. Since you will be expected to meet the customers to show them the boat and provide any tips, you will want to make sure that you can do it. Most private owners don’t have the time to do hourly rentals. Instead, most do half-days, full-days, or weekend-long rentals. Be ready for the last minute requests.
Keep Your Boat in Top Condition
Renters aren’t going to expect showroom-new boats, but they are going to expect them to work. Mechanically, keep all engine and generator maintenance up to date. Make sure all the lights work and replace all lines at the first signs of wear or chafe.
Boat Instructions and Preparations
Try to imagine all of your customer’s needs and meet them in advance. In addition to making sure the boat is reliable and safe, make sure it is well equipped. Have all required safety equipment onboard and make sure it is in good shape. Nothing is more disheartening than seeing sun-bleached and ratty-looking lifevests!
There are also many small touches you can do to make their rental experience outstanding. Provide charts with notes and routes that they might find helpful. Make sure your chartplotter has local waypoints marked, like sandbars for partying and reefs for snorkeling. Likewise, include a handbook with menus from restaurants and instructions on how to get to all the local hang out spots. Cover as much as you can when you check your customers out on the boat.
It’s also not a bad idea to stock a cooler with bottled water, sodas, and light snacks. Have some dry towels on board, and maybe some sunblock and bug spray. You don’t have to go overboard but show that you’ve considered their comfort and want them to enjoy the day. Think about what you use on the boat and what you often forget to bring.
Lastly, keep the boat as clean as possible. While they aren’t expecting a showroom new boat, it will pay off to have the stainless sparkle and the decks clean.
When you meet your customers for the first time, consider taking the boat for a quick spin just to ensure that they are comfortable operating it and comfortable getting in and out of your dock. Even experienced boaters can be intimidated by working the controls of a new-to-them vessel. Make the experience fun, and be sure to show them the tips and tricks along the way. It doesn’t have to be a long trip, just a quick few minutes.
Be sure to let your renters know when their rental is over and how to return the boat. Be specific to avoid confusion.
Both providers and renters are here for the same reason. We all love being on the water, and we love boats. P2P sites allow more people to get on the water, and that’s a good thing. Even for boat owners, the websites allow you to connect with people in different towns and different cruising areas. Will you become a millionaire renting out your boat? Not likely. But you just might cover some of your costs while sharing the joys of boating with a few new friends.