As Amazon changed our shopping habits with some help from the COVID restrictions, these same rules that kept us at home away from other people moved new boat sales into the fast lane. The lockdown problems affected the supply of new boats because boat building and parts production were considered non-essential businesses. The number of new boats dwindled with each sale and was not immediately replaced with new stock. New boat customers still saw boating as a way to get out, do something different and keep a safe distance from others.
The short supply of new boats at a time of high buyer demand helped promote another sector of the marine industry – boat rental businesses. Peoples’ need to get out after working in close quarters at home with other family members while their children attended virtual classes from home was a good fit for boating and boat rentals as a way to leave home space that had become crowded with computers and other work technology and get into some fresh air and different space.
There were other reasons the boat rental businesses flourished. Customers who were able to keep their jobs by working at home had money they formerly spent on transportation to work, clothes for work and babysitters for their children. No travel meant no money spent on vacations. Children missed their summer camping experiences, but that also saved the family money. Some saw boat rentals as a novelty, something to tell their friends about and put their boating adventure pictures online. For those considering buying a boat, families could find a similar model to rent for a day and see if it was what they really wanted. Just being on a boat for a day can help you decide if everybody in the family is onboard with making the financial commitment of having their own boat.
Maybe the boat rental experience came with a captain and you really liked turning over the responsibility of the trip to someone else so you could party with friends and family without worrying about the trip home. If you rent a boat for fishing all your energy can go to catching fish and it’s easier to divide up the costs when you have a bill at the end of the day.
There are other plusses to renting a boat. After a day in the sun you put your belongings on the dock, do a quick cleanup, the boat is inspected, you pay and you’re finished – no waiting your turn with the trailer to haul the boat out, drive it home, set it up at home and then clean the fish. When you consider the add-on costs of insurance, slip fees or towing costs, a place to store the boat when not in use, the average boat owner spends a lot on unseen extras.
In the summer of 2014, I was looking for male boaters to interview for an August 2014 article, Men and Their Boats. Kenny Hilderbrandt came out of his office and after interviewing him as a boat owner, we talked and he said he had a boat rental business too. I filed that away for a later time.
You might just want to give boating a trial run by renting. When I asked Kenny Hilderbrandt who his average customer is, the typical renter, he didn’t see a typical renter but rather two significantly different age groups that like to rent. The Jet Ski people are usually the younger people and the renters of bigger boats are usually a little older. “Years ago they just wanted to get out on the water,” he said, “but now they want a captain – they want to be able to drink.” He has no problem supplying captains – “You can always get as many as you need,” he said. He also noted that over time since he started renting twenty years ago, both younger and older renters have become more responsible than they were earlier. Since those who rent their boats and those who use the boats all live by the reviews this is not a surprising outcome.
Since the sharing experiences of Zipcar and Airbnb started, renting vehicles and sleeping space as an alternative to higher-cost car rentals and higher-cost hotel rooms have become part of our culture. Renting out the family boat on a daily or weekly basis was not a big step from a room in the house. If you do it yourself you absorb the risks and costs. If you join a larger group, they will have a larger market for your boat but will assume part of the rental fee as a commission or percentage. The backup of a larger boat rental firm seems like a logical way to start renting your boat. If you can see yourself not using your boat every weekend, renting it is an option that can help pay the bills that accumulate whether you use the boat or not.
Often a business startup happens as a result of recognizing an unfilled need. About twenty years ago Kenny needed to rent a boat in Montauk. He and his family and his mother-in-law from Colorado wanted to go out on a day there were no boats available.
By 2004 Kenny had started an online boat rental marketplace that connected owners to renters. He bought six new 16-foot Bayliners and started his website. He already had the Beaver Dam Boat Basin. Adding a boat rental business was a logical step. He now owns 3,000 boats and hears from people in Texas, Georgia, and California – all over the country and foreign countries.
In 2006 boat owners were getting comfortable with the concept of peer to peer individual owners renting their boats to other individuals and Kenny incorporated peer to peer into a system that would rate owners and renters by their experiences that gave owners a chance to describe their boats, add pictures, set their own price and control their own reservation calendar. The most active area of Kenny’s boat rental business has been the Jet Ski rentals. They are so popular he has had to have someone who just takes care of personal watercraft.
How about insurance? Your own marine insurance company needs to know if you plan to rent your boat. Most boat insurance companies will not cover your boat if a renter was using it at the time of the claim. When you ask about insuring a rental your insurance company will probably offer to upgrade what you already have. Kenny gets “bare boat” insurance – “No problem,” he says.
You want to be sure you have adequate insurance, more than you think you’ll need. In Florida recently a licensed captain took a group out on a 39-foot SeaVee. Midday they went through extreme fog and instead of slowing down and using the navigational equipment the boat had, he gunned the four outboards, doing 50 mph it was estimated, out of the water, up on the beach and into a busy restaurant serving lunch. That only two people were hurt had to be some kind of divine intervention. They expect the captain to be brought up on charges and there’s a good chance he’ll lose his license.
Depending on the location of the boat you rent or rent to someone else, you need to know the laws of the state the boat will be used in. If it’s New York, it’s a matter of age whether you need to have taken a boating course. Check before you go out if you don’t know what the law says.
If local marine police or the Coast Guard stops you, they may come aboard and search the boat and do a safety check. There are things that really upset them when they do a safety check and can’t find enough life jackets for each person on board. They also want to see an adequate number of fire extinguishers and signaling devices.
I asked Kenny what he does about bad weather and reservations and he has mostly current reservations but there is one for the 4th of July made in January. His policy is 100% customer satisfaction. You can cancel for bad weather.
As Kenny saw it, the pandemic left boat renters in a good position – water parks, sightseeing and excursion vessels, dinner boats and cruise ships were all closed down but charter boats seemed to slide through the cracks. The Derecktor Shipyard in Dania, Florida is swamped with work, mostly painting and refurbishing charter boats that have full calendars
If peer-to-peer boat renting interests you, some “how to” information is available from the Chief Operating Officer of GetMyBoat. He shares tips in his article “How Boat Owners Can Turn Their Watercraft Into A Side Hustle – Advice from Bryan Petro” online. You would also want to spend a little time with your accountant and financial planner before agreeing to a financial obligation you’d need to control
For those who worry that a renter won’t take good care of their boat, there’s technology you might want to look into. A device installed on your boat can communicate to the Cloud, which is then available to you through an app. The Siren Marine MTC Device can monitor your battery voltage, bilge activity and temperature, monitor entry alarms and motion sensors and if that’s not enough, it can track the boat’s GPS location, all this for less than $1,000 plus your monthly Cloud connection.