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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Boston Globe describes how clubs work:
Peer-to-peer rentals differ from boat clubs where members pay thousands of dollars in entry fees and monthly dues in exchange for access to the company’s entire fleet. Freedom Boat Club, for instance, which has several locations in Massachusetts, has an entry fee of $5,900 and $349 in monthly membership fees year-round that entitle members to use boats in warmer climates during the winter. Boat clubs offer access to a fleet of boats — often smaller ones — without ownership or long-term commitments.
Here are two other examples of boat clubs:
- At The Rat Island Rowing and Sculling Club, in Port Townsend, Washington, membership fees range from $290 to $320 a year for unlimited use of rowing shells as part of a crew.
- South Florida Boat Club, with locations in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, has monthly fees of from $200 to $400. Additional sign-up fees start at $1,200, depending on the boats you’ll use.
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. Says 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:
- At Destin Charter Boats, in Destin, Florida, fees run $165-$200 an hour for up to six people, depending on the boat.
- Santa Barbara Sailing Center’s fees start at $30 an hour for a pedal boat ($23 for club members). Prices are considerably higher for a “bareboat” (you operate it) charter and still higher to charter a boat with private skipper and perhaps even with catered meals.
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 United States.
Do you have experiences to share with us about owning, borrowing, renting or chartering boats? Post a comment below or on our Facebook page.
This article was originally published on MoneyTalksNews.com as 'Buy the Fun, Not the Yacht: 4 Cheaper Ways to Enjoy Boating'.