4 Cheaper Ways to Go Boating Without Buying a Boat

Boating can be a blast, but the price for that fun can be high. 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 15.8 million boats in use in the U.S. in 2016, according to Statista, a statistics portal. That means there should be a lot of boats available to share.

If boat sharing sounds interesting to you, you have several options. We highlight four of them below. With all four, remember that 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?

Now, here are the four options:

1. Peer-to-peer boat sharing

The newest boat-sharing option does for boats what Airbnb does with homes: One party owns and shares the craft, 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 a fee to Boatbound: 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.

Options for renting through one of the new peer-to-peer marketplaces include:

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.

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. Go to the company’s website to learn more about how time-share agreements work there.

3. Boat clubs

Boat clubs are yet another option for keeping costs low. Club prices and setups vary widely. Fees may be charged for sign-up, training, monthly maintenance and refundable security deposits. Nonprofit small-craft clubs often offer training. They make rowing or sailing accessible and affordable. Ask at colleges, community centers and city or county recreation departments.

As with any club, read contracts closely and make certain you understand all benefits, obligations and costs.

Here are two examples of boat clubs:

4. Charters

Boat owners often fantasize about become charter boat captains. But one former charter boat captain told BoatU.S. that he managed to just break even. According to the magazine:

Consult your tax adviser before putting your boat into charter. Federal tax laws apply when recreational boats are used commercially.

For consumers, the price of chartering a boat ranges greatly, depending on the boat type, size and amenities. A couple of examples of charter businesses are:

For referrals to trustworthy charter companies, ask at local yacht clubs, marine supply stores and bait-and-tackle shops. The American Sailing Association has links to charter companies across the U.S.

Do you have experiences to share with us about owning, borrowing, renting or chartering boats? Post a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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