Buy the Fun, Not the Yacht: 4 Cheaper Ways to Enjoy Boating

You don't have to own a boat to get out on the water. And if you do own a boat, there are new ways to cut your costs.

Recreational boaters have been through good times and bad in the last decade. The Great Recession and high fuel prices pushed boating out of reach for many. In fact, when some broke boaters couldn’t sell them or give their vessels away in the recession, they dumped them in harbors, rivers and waterways, causing costly environmental damage.

Now, though, rock-bottom gas prices and a full-employment economy have weekend sailors back on the water. Sailboats and powerboats, once toys of the rich, are middle-class possessions. In 2014, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association:

  • 72 percent of recreational boaters had household incomes under $100,000.
  • 95 percent of boats in the United States were towable boats 26 feet long or less.

But the experience of the recession laid bare the often ruinous cost of boating. The total price of owning a boat can be too steep for many. If you’re fantasizing about buying, first investigate the total cost:

  • View prices for new and used boats in the NADA boat guide, published by National Appraisal Guides and on Craigslist.
  • Calculate the whole cost of ownership, including fuel, moorage, storage, insurance, repairs and maintenance, with Bridge Marina’s (in New Jersey) free boating costs calculator.

Affordable solutions

Fortunately, if buying a boat is a stretch for you — or simply too large a commitment — a solution exists: boat sharing. Sharing a boat makes perfect sense. There were 11.87 million boats registered in the United States in 2015, and the average boat was used only a few days a year, according to Statista, a statistics portal.

Boat sharing comes in a variety of shapes and forms. You can:

  • Rent through one of the new peer-to-peer marketplaces like Boatsetter, Boatbound and GetMyBoat.
  • Share ownership costs through a time-share arrangement.
  • Join a club so you can use its fleet of boats.
  • Charter a boat, with or without the skipper and crew.

1. Peer-to-peer boat sharing

The newest of boat-sharing options does for boats what Airbnb does with homes: One party owns and shares the vessel, for a price. Renters find an array of options, from yachts to rowboats. For example, with one of these boat-sharing services, Seattle’s Boatbound, renters pay a fee of 10 percent of each rental payment. Recreational boat owners also pay — 35 percent for each listing. So, if you are an owner and rent your boat for $300 a day, you receive $195. The company’s fee covers insurance, towing, listing, promotion and support services.

Sharing makes boating more affordable for owners. Gary Jefferies in South Florida tells CBS Miami that offering his boat on Boatsetter lets him cover the cost of maintenance, storage and insurance. “It’s paying for itself. I have a great boat. Don’t have to pay for anything,” he says.

Another owner, Maury Collins, of Brighton, Massachusetts, rented out his 22-foot Boston Whaler eight times in 2015 through Boatbound, earning about $2,400, he tells The Boston Globe. Note: If you offer your boat for rent, clear the details of the arrangement with your insurance company.

Some owners would never give a stranger the key to their boat. Others are happy to let a company manage the risk. The Miami Herald writes of Boatbound:

All potential renters go through a vetting process. Every boat gets checked out before it is listed, and for boats over 10 years there may be additional underwriting requirements, Boatbound says. And if something should go wrong, Boatbound carries Lloyd’s of London insurance — $1 million for liability and $2 million for hull.

For renters

The popularity of peer-to-peer companies like Airbnb and Uber help boat renters understand what to expect. A renter browses online listings and reads user reviews to find a boat and price. Renters and owners rate their experiences and each other.

Depending on the company, the inventory of boats might be huge, including kayaks, yachts, powerboats and sailboats, from 15-footers to 50-footers or larger. Some boats come with a captain. Most you operate yourself.

Prices range greatly, depending on the boat. A high-end boat might cost $1,200 for an afternoon’s rental. On the more affordable end, you might find a runabout for a few hundred dollars. Be prepared to pay extra for things like a late return, dirty boat, no-show, damage, refueling and rental reservation. Some larger companies provide the insurance. Others offer it through third-party companies.

Due diligence

With peer-to-peer renting and the other options below, basic due diligence will prevent ugly surprises. Policies, fees and rules vary by company and sometimes by state. Ask questions before hopping aboard, including:

  • Will I need a license or proof I can handle a boat?
  • Do you provide training? If so, what does it cost?
  • Who pays for the gas? If I buy it through the company, what’s the price?
  • Who will I call if the engine breaks down or something goes wrong?
  • Does the rental fee include insurance for accidents and damage? If so, what’s the deductible and who pays it?

Would-be sailors have several other ways to get out on the water. These include chartering a boat, joining a boat club and even time-share boating. Here’s more about each:

2. Time shares

With boating time shares, customers buy a block of time in a company-owned fleet of boats. Time-share agreements typically run for one to five years, says BoatU.S. magazine. Approach time shares carefully and do not join impulsively or sign a contract you don’t thoroughly understand. If you feel pressure from a salesperson or receive an offer good for one day only, back away.

Some companies make it hard to learn the details of how their deals are structured. One exception is Spinnaker Sailing, a boat dealer, charter company and time-share operator in the San Francisco Bay area. Here are costs for its time-share membership program:​​

A rental share in these high-performance sailboats, including insurance, maintenance and all the rest, runs from $295 to $1,295 a month, plus training fees and a deposit, Spinnaker President Drew Harper told Money Talks News by phone. Owning a similar, 35-foot, $250,000 boat costs (after a $50,000 down payment) about $2,570 a month, including loan payments, slip fees, maintenance, insurance and other fees, Harper said.

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