“The two best days of owning a boat are the day you buy it, and the day you sell it.”
This quote can be attributed to every single boat owner who had to deal with busted engines, frayed lines, winterizing, and barnacle removal. Since boaters are not without humor, boat is now an acronym — bring out another thousand.
But what if you could enjoy your time on the water without the drydock time at a marina or another trip to West Marine? There is now, quite literally, an app for that!
Let’s dive into the newest trend in boating: boat-sharing.
Boat-Sharing: The Airbnb for Boating
Boat-sharing companies like Boatsetter or GetMyBoat connect boat owners with boating enthusiasts through an online platform. They decentralize access to the water by directly connecting boating supply with boating demand. As with all things, the devil is in the details, but boat-sharing apps are often equated to the Airbnb for boating experiences.
These boat-sharing platforms offer a seamless user interface, akin to the other experience economy apps like Uber or Amazon. You want to rent a boat for a family cruise on a Friday afternoon? Prefer a fishing trip with your buddies in the Gulf? Just plug in your details and location and the apps can connect you with boat owners willing and able to supply you with the boat that best fits your needs. When you are done, hand back the keys and walk away. Simple as that.
However, there are some notable cons to boat-sharing for the customer. The biggest, quite simply, is cost. If you are booking a single trip, then have at it. But, if you start booking boats as though it’s your daily commute, the per-trip cost will quickly outweigh the benefits.
There are other important considerations at play, too. Just as you wouldn’t try to fly the 747 for your trip back home to see your grandmother, you wouldn’t want to rent a boat that is above your ability on the water. Some boat-sharing sites may require either on-water training or proof of boating ability before you can access their platform.
Similarly, insurance is an exceptionally important consideration. You need to be insured in order to operate a vessel on the water. Some companies build this into the cost of the rental, while others expect you to find and fund your own insurance.
Boat-Sharing Versus Yacht Clubs
But what about yacht clubs (like Judge Smails’ in “Caddyshack” (1980))? If boat-sharing is on one side of the boat experience spectrum and boat ownership on the other, boat or yacht clubs are in the middle. They offer access to a wide range of boats, typically with up-front and monthly fees. You can take boats out with, or without, a captain (an option also available with some boat-sharing sites). Many also offer country club-esque amenities, as well as opportunities for social events and community.
Similar to boat-sharing, the maintenance and ownership headaches go away when you join a boat club. You, in theory, have the pick of the yachting litter as long as you are a member. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a nice dinner at sunset by a marina with your boating compatriots?
There are a few negatives, however. The main headache we often see is that boat availability can be less than stellar at peak times. Want to take that family Saturday cruise on the 38-footer? So do five other families. Likely with kids stomping their feet on the docks.
Another negative, at least when compared to boat-sharing, is that you are often locked into a single location. There are boat clubs that offer multilocation memberships, but the majority are single marina, what-you-see-is-what-you-get. That may or may not be an issue for you, but it’s a small strike when compared to the ease of boat-sharing apps.
Boat-Sharing Versus Boat Ownership
Here’s the heavyweight battle. Boating-by-app versus your family name on the back of your vessel. Who wins?
Boat ownership is a dream. A dream that can occasionally be a nightmare. The obvious pro is that it’s yours. No one else can use it, tear the seats, or bump the dock a little too hard. Anytime you want to go, you can go. Everyone loves the gal or guy who owns a boat (hint: they may be the smarter ones).
The downsides are well-documented. Constant maintenance, more than occasional engine issues, expensive upkeep. Insurance. Registration. Paperwork. The list goes on and on.
So which is better? I’ll answer with my favorite response to that question — it depends. If you are new to boating or only envision taking it out a few times a year, perhaps boat-sharing or yacht clubs are a nice stepping-stone to eventual boat ownership, if indeed your family takes up the hobby. If you are an avid boater out on the water every weekend, then the freedom it offers comes with the price of maintenance and repair.
Here’s an interesting idea — why not buy a boat, then rent it out on the boat-sharing sites?
One If By Land, Two If By Sea, # If By App
We’ve covered the basics of boat-sharing and how it stacks up against yacht clubs and boat ownership. Any way you choose, just know that spending time on the water is some of the best time you can enjoy.
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