Business & Real Estate

Firms battle for boating rental business

Longtime boater Aaron Hall had an “aha” moment after a failed family excursion in Dallas.

There he found a marina full of unused boats, but not one available for rent.

“I thought ‘There has to be something like Airbnb for boats,’ ” said Hall, referring to the home-sharing site.

Hall launched his peer-to-peer rental service Boatbound in San Francisco in 2013. It has since expanded to provide options from sailboats to jet skis in major U.S. markets. Hall said he’s currently working to expand the fleet of boats available in the Sacramento area and the Delta.

But Boatbound is not alone. GetMyBoat and Cruzin are also trying to carve out a profitable niche helping boat owners safely rent their babies to strangers.

Peer-to-peer boat rental is just the latest industry in which entrepreneurs seek to take advantage of technology to expand what is being called the “sharing economy.”

Visit any Sacramento marina and you’re bound to see a scene similar to the one that inspired Boatbound. Graced by two major rivers, Folsom Lake and numerous other waterways, the Sacramento region has plenty of places for boaters to play, but few opportunities for people to use one without owning it.

“There are very few places that you can rent a boat in this area,” said Bruce Moneymaker, a Sacramento area boat broker and commodore of the Sacramento Yacht Club.

He said while the difficulty of navigating moving water may dampen the market for large yacht rentals in Sacramento, there is a strong market for powerboats and jet skis. Big boats will do better in the Delta, where there are more destinations within striking distance, Moneymaker said.

Boatbound, GetMyBoat and Cruzin offer relatively similar services, allowing renters to book available vessels online. Each service also offers options to select a “captained” boat or the boat alone. And each – like other sharing economy websites and apps – allows both parties to rate each other.

But Cruzin and Boatbound include a supplemental insurance policy in their fee, covering the boat owner and the renter, as a key extra. Supplemental insurance is extra with GetMyBoat.

“It’s important that the boat, the boat owner and the renter are protected,” said Jaclyn Baumgarten, who founded Cruzin in south Florida.

Baumgarten and Hall agree extra insurance is a must.

“If you take money for a boat rental, your insurance is void,” Hall said.

While they all seek to screen out inexperienced and otherwise risky boaters, the level of background checks vary. San Francisco-based GetMyBoat does not do background checks on renters. Cruzin, which has offices in Florida and in the Bay Area, works with Experian for identity verification and fraud prevention. Boatbound performs a criminal background check. Boatbound and Cruzin also offer free emergency on-the-water assistance.

Boatbound currently has fewer than a dozen boats in the Sacramento area – from a captained 24-foot Enzo Centurion powerboat for $1,500 a day to a 17-foot bass boat tracker for $170 a day. Boatbound takes 35 percent of the rental cost.

Cruzin has fewer options in the Sacramento area, but does have a 24-foot MasterCraft powerboat “starting at” $500 a day. Cruzin takes 40 percent of the rental costs.

The offerings from GetMyBoat are the most extensive. It lists more than a dozen boats – mostly less expensive fishing craft and jet skis renting for around $150 a day. Owners get 100 percent of the rental cost with GetMyBoat. Company officials said they plan to make money by charging a fee for “premium listings.”

“Right now the focus is on building a great product that creates value for users,” said Kira Maixner, a spokeswoman for GetMyBoat.

Maixner said most owners use their boats roughly 8 percent of the time. Peer-to-peer rentals can help owners defray the cost of owning a boat while allowing more people enjoy boating.

“We are helping people get on the water,” Maixner said.

Once customers find a boat and an owner they like, they’ll often come back again and again, Hall and the others said.

Broker Moneymaker said he recently received a flier about Boatbound from one of its corporate partners, Bayliner.

“I think there is quite the need for it,” he said, but seemed more keen on using the service to find a boat while traveling, rather than giving strangers access to his 43-foot Bayliner yacht. He spoke of stories about Airbnb homeowners having their places trashed. There also have been stories about people tricked into sending money but who never got a rental. Insurance-mandated background checks help mitigate the risk of fraud.

“The insurance is probably the biggest sticking point,” he said. He also questioned how many people he’d trust with his boat to navigate the tricky Sacramento River.

Mark Werder, commodore of the Folsom Lake Yacht Club, said he also had concerns.

Still, the service could be useful when traveling, he said.

“If I wanted to take the family out for a day in the bay, it would be a pretty cool option,” Werder said.