For many of us, there’s nothing finer than the joys of exploring new and familiar places by boat, but in the years following the recession, even the most passionate cruisers have had to reluctantly admit that the boat payments, storage fees and maintenance costs are pushing dreams of boat ownership up on the rocks. Fortunately, there’s good news on the horizon. A new breed of web-based, boat-sharing services is powering up nationwide and could be pulling into a marina near you.
Known as peer-to-peer boat rentals, these services make it possible for those who own boats to rent them out when the vessels are not in use, and for some people that can be a considerable chunk of time: Marine industry research suggests the average boat gets used about 26 days a year.
How do the services work? Boat owners log onto a peer-to-peer company’s website to fill out a profile and list their boat for rent. Renters then review boats that are available, and depending on the company, that selection could comprises all types of sizes and styles. Once the renter finds what he’s looking for, the system handles the transaction from start to finish. The renter simply shows up to the marina ready to enjoy a day on the water.
Peer-to-peer services are relatively new in the marine industry, but many strive to function like services such as Airbnb, the web-based community marketplace where people list and book accommodations around the world. Cruisers in search of the perfect platform for a weekend on the water with the family can peruse listings and compare features to select a boat from a private owner that’s equipped just the way he likes it.
Peer-to-peer services have advantages for both the boat owner and the renter. Because the reputable companies screen rental candidates, the owner knows he won’t be renting to just anyone, and the income realized through rentals will help to offset his operating expenses. As for the renter, he gets to choose from a variety of boat types and sizes that are located around the country, most of which are vetted by these peer-to-peer services to assure each model is of good quality.
The big hurdle to doing business in the U.S., say the owners of peer-to peer companies, is insurance. Private boat insurers typically don’t cover renters. Some peer-to-peer companies, including Cruzin and BoatSetter, are fully insured with policies that offer up to $1 million in primary liability protection and $2 million for the hull. Other companies are offering insurance to renters for each time they rent through third-party companies. If you’re interested in renting through a peer-to-peer company, ask about insurance. Inquire about on-water support services, too. Some companies will offer towing as part of the rental fee.
While many of the key players in this growing industry operate in a similar way, some companies offer unique options. For instance, Cruzin — with a headquarters in Florida — has partnered with major industry players, including Westrec Marinas, one of the world’s largest owner operators of marinas. “Westrec sees the value in offering Cruzin to its marina customers, as a way to help make boating more affordable. Cruzin is working closely with marina operators across the country to make boating more accessible,” said Jaclyn Baumgarten, CEO of Cruzin. “This is a wonderful way to help marina tenants, as they can often pay for their slips with one to two Cruzin rentals per month.”
Cruzin offers all types of powerboats and sailboats. It lists several hundred boats sized from 18 to 60 feet, although most of its owners have vessels under 40 feet. “We have people of all ages and lifestyles among our owner and renters,” said Baumgarten, who also stresses that rental pre-qualification and screening is vital to the success of a peer-to-peer platform. “We have one o the most thorough processes of any company in this space. Cruzin renters are pre-qualified with an Experian ID and fraud-prevention check, plus a review of any past driving and insurance issues. A minimum of two years of boating experience is also required. Owners can get further peace of mind by taking the renter on a Cruzin-insured sea trial prior to handing over command of the boat.”
A new player in the market is BoatSetter, which debuted at the Miami International Boat Show in February. It too has a marina affiliate program, and those marina operators are available to conduct inspections on boats that are listed, so renters know what to expect before they get to the dock. In addition, BoatSetter offers renters the opportunity to hire a professional, licensed captain to drive the boat. “Captains make all the difference in the world, and they differentiate our service,” said Andrew Sturner, president of Collaborative Boating, Inc., BoatSetter’s parent company.
There are benefits for the boat owner, too. “A captain gives an owner peace of mind that his boat is being handled safely by a pro,” said Sturner. “It’s a critical element of our company as it fosters trust. It’s not easy for a boat owner to get comfortable with the idea of handing the keys to his boat to a stranger.”
BoatSetter provides services to qualified captains through a web portal called www.captainswanted.com. BoatSetter’s first client went with the option to hire captain. The gentleman hired a pro to drive an Intrepid while he proposed to his girlfriend in the cockpit.
Most peer-to-peer companies are proud to say they are doing their part to help grow the marine industry, BoatSetter included. “Today, most people buying boats are baby boomers. We’ve seen the average age of a boat owner go up, and the millennials are not replacing them. One of our goals is to create a catalyst to grow boating.”