About three years ago, Frank Woeste decided to try making a little money with his Sea Ray 185 Sport. It was a 2007 model that he used on weekends in central Texas. He can’t remember where he first heard about the idea of peer-to-peer boat rentals—which are like Airbnb and Uber, only with boats instead of apartments or cars—but Woeste is in his 50s, and he thought the business might be one he could learn about now, to generate income after he retires.
He started by listing his Sea Ray through GetMyBoat, one of several companies that offer online platforms for boat owners to connect with would-be renters. He then added more advertising on Boatsetter, another company that offers a similar service. In the three years he’s been at it, Woeste says, he’s had only one lousy renter who broke a ladder and left the boat filthy. The dozens of other renters have been fine, and sometimes they wanted more time on board than Woeste was able to supply.
“I actually added a second boat,” he says, “and the year afterward, I added a third boat, so now I have three.”
Woeste’s boats are among more than 150,000 now listed for rent in more than 80 countries with GetMyBoat and Click&Boat. (Boatsetter does not release its numbers.) Like cruising clubs, peer-to-peer boat rentals are a burgeoning business: A lot of people, especially millennials, want to get out on the water without buying a boat.
GetMyBoat, Click&Boat and Boatsetter all launched in 2012 and 2013, and have since been improving their platforms along with their understanding of what people at both ends of a boat-rental deal want. Owners like Woeste want renters who will respect the boat and pay a fair fee, while renters want the ease of mobile-device research and booking.In the middle of the deal are a host of issues that the peer-to-peer companies are getting better at ironing out, including determining each renter’s level of boating experience, currency exchanges when dealing with owners and renters in different countries, and insurance coverage for renters and owners alike.
“Before us, there was no aggregated market for boat rentals,” says ValerieStreif, marketing coordinator for GetMyBoat. “You’d have to call a marina, nobody would answer, you’d have to go in. We started with a website platform and then moved into the mobile app space, and then made it easier and easier to use and filter the results. We just relaunched with all these new photo layouts and listing details that help renters make a decision. It’s easy with the app: You can search by the location you’re in, or in any location, and see everything that’s available to you.”
Alex Katsomitros, marketing manager for Click&Boat, says his company’s app has evolved to the point of allowing pre- and post-boating condition surveys as well as contract executions. “You can take pictures of the boats when the rental starts, and you sign an inventory that we can use later if there’s some kind of damage,” he says. “With the app, you save the pictures, and when you return the boat, you take pictures of the condition of the boat. You also rent the boat with the app, and you have to sign a rental agreement online.”
None of these companies charge a dime to owners for listing their boats, but each earns a percentage fee on the rentals. GetMyBoat takes 7 percent each from the boat owner and renter; Click&Boat also takes a cut on bookings but does not disclose the figure. Boatsetter takes a 35 percent fee from the owner on each booking—an amount that includes a 10 percent cut for the company and a 25 percent cut for built-in insurance, which is something other companies let boat owners figure out for themselves.
Boat rentalsare not like charters, where operators carry insurance. Wiht rentals, “individual boat owners have insurance that may not cover them when they lend the boat,” says Julien Geffriaud, chief growth officer at Boatsetter. “That’s where we come in. We’re the only company with the insurance. Our competitors list boats from individuals on their sites, but with most peer-to-peer boats, there is no insurance.”
Woeste says that after three years, he’s getting about 30 percent of his rentals from GetMyBoat and about 70 percent through Boatsetter. While some of the companies offer recommended pricing, he sets his own rates. For his 2007 Sea Ray 185 Sport and his 1998 Sea Ray 210, he charges $65 an hour apiece. For the newest addition to his fleet—a 2007 Sea Ray 210 with a wakeboard tower—he charges $100 an hour. He trailers and delivers each of the boats to the renters from his garage or from a covered storage lot that he pays $110 a month to use.
“If I had a $60,000 boat, I don’t think I would rent it,” he says. “But my boats aren’t that expensive. They’re older. You have to expect that somebody’s going to put a scratch on one of them. That happens to me sometimes when I take a boat out. So, I don’t see it as a big risk.”
Last year, to help augment his income, he increased his rental-time minimum to five hours, having learned that most renters want half instead of full days. “It’s very hard to rent the same boat twice in one day, and you’re limited in the times that you can offer to people,” he says. “A lot of people want it for five or six hours anyway.”
His rental fee for each boat includes wakeboards, water skis, tubes and noodles. Other companies and boaters rent those kinds of goodies in addition to the boat’s fee.
“It’s not just boats,” Streif says. “Our focus started with boats, but we really expanded quickly into any experience that’s on the water. It can be parasailing, scuba diving or snorkeling tours.”
Woeste says he finds the GetMyBoat and Boatsetter online platforms easy to use. He can change his advertising anytime he feels the need to do so, the platforms make sure he gets paid on time, and when he’s reached out to the companies for customer service, human beings have been there to help.
He also likes that he can turn down renters who seem unqualified to take the helm. “The Boatsetter renters seem to be more experienced,” he says. “If they’ve never had any boat experience, then I don’t like to rent to them. I tell them to go to a marina and get a captain.” Those types of commercially registered boats are also on peer-to-peer platforms; Strief says the “vast majority” of business at GetMyBoat is charters with licensed captains.
“We don’t just rent out a boat to anyone,” she says. “We verify that they are qualified to drive a boat. I think that sometimes, with the sharing economy, it can get a little murky. People think, ‘Oh, I can rent somebody else’s boat.’ Well, yes, but in the majority of cases, it’s chartered with a captain.”
Katsomitros says Click&Boat has found that peer-to-peer rentals come at a price as much as 40 percent lower than a traditional charter with a captain. “For private owners, this is something they do on the side,” he says. “It’s a boat they use for themselves and they rent it out for a few days. For professional boat owners, it’s their bread and butter, just as with hotels and B&Bs.”
And in addition to price savings for some renters, the speed with which boat-rental bookings can be made through peer-to-peer platforms is astounding, especially when compared with the task of calling around and finding a skippered boat at a marina.
“We had a booking request made, the captain responded in eight minutes, and within 30 minutes, they were out on the water,” Strief says. “That’s how fast these things can happen. We’re not as quick as Uber, but as more and more people use the technology, it’s possible to plan a boat outing for the same day.”
Geffriaud, with Boatsetter, says that owners looking not just to rent, but also to sell their boats, have new opportunities within the peer-to-peer platforms. “For boat owners, when they want to sell their boat, usually there’s a broker and somebody is interested, and that person wants a sea trial,” he says. “The broker will ask for an unrefundable deposit. That can be hard for the buyer if he doesn’t know if he’s going to like being on the boat. So we want owners to know that if they want to sell their boat, they can list it on Boatsetter. They can’t sell it there, but they can make money off it for rentals, and if somebody’s interested in buying it, you can have them rent it through the platform.”
Woeste, at least for now, is focusing only on renting out his three boats. “I will definitely continue to do it,” he says, adding that he’ll even drive out in one boat to meet renters in another who forgot something.
Strief says the GetMyBoat team is seeing more owners like Woeste, who are learning not only to embrace the idea of the sharing economy, but also to maximize their financial potential by offering service that feels professional to the renters. “We have owners who will drive their boat to a certain point on a lake,” she says, “that type of thing, just to make the renter’s life easier.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue.