A thriving new marketplace for instant pay-to-play boating will shake-up how we go afloat. Toby Hodges explains the four different types of yachting renting platforms
Picture this: you’re on holiday and find yourself in a new area where, like most sailors, you are drawn to the water. Wouldn’t it be nice to get afloat for a few hours or a day or two, you ask your partner or family?
You click on an app on your phone, search for a yacht to sail, a RIB to play on or a motorboat to stay on overnight, and you’re handed the keys that same day. You may not yet know it, but these kind of instant, accessible yacht renting experiences are already available.
People increasingly seek easily accessible, hassle-free, pay-to-play experiences or memberships rather than own products. To an increasing number of younger sailors, the traditional route into ownership, running costs and marina fees seems archaic and completely nonsensical.
A host of new companies has recently exploded onto the marine scene to help address this growing desire to rent, borrow, or share boats. These also appeal to those who own boats yet still seek something or somewhere different to try, or alternatively want to make some money back in rent while their yacht sits idle.
The more I looked into the yacht renting options available, the more I realised just how much I had already been missing over the last couple of years.
How it works
The plethora of start-ups in this sector are founded on the same notion: that boating is too expensive and has a reputation of serving only the wealthy. These accommodation/rental/sharing schemes are devised to help open up the availability and attractiveness of boating and offer potential income to existing boat owners.
The marine industry in general is increasingly under threat from a declining number of boat buyers. It is well documented that, while the baby boomer generation may still be buying, and buying increasingly larger yachts, such owners are not being replaced.
When it comes to boats, cars, houses or phones, the millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 2000) is less likely to buy anything. Instead they seek instant services, quick thrills and the ability to share their experiences easily – an economy that has exploded thanks to services such as Airbnb and Uber.
“There is a whole new generation who wouldn’t think of buying a boat, but they are using the sharing economy all the time and are hungry for new experiences,” explains Matt Ovenden, founder of Borrow a Boat, one of the rapidly growing peer-to-peer (P2P) yacht renting rental platforms. Experiences, he says, are the new ownership.
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These new marine-based rental sites use similar marketplace platforms to Airbnb, in that they list boats available in a variety of locations together with prices and filters to narrow your search.
The renter then contacts the boat owner through the site to arrange the terms and details and can soon be staying aboard or sailing a different boat in different waters every trip or holiday. They use booking processes that are quick, interactive and familiar to the digital generation.
It’s the boat owner’s responsibility to insure the craft for this purpose and to code it according to their country’s regulations. As with Airbnb, a contract is agreed directly between the boat owner and the renter, using the platform as the medium.
And in a similar way to the search engines and websites we have become accustomed to relying on, such as Amazon, Tripadvisor and booking.com, ratings and reviews are also a key criterion to these yacht renting marketplaces.
Alex Katsomitros, from Click&Boat, one of the largest new P2P boating platforms, estimates this form of rental is up to 35% cheaper than traditional yacht charter. “P2P boating turns what used to be a mainstream, run-of-the-mill tourism service into a personalised experience with a whiff of adventure and originality,” he maintains.
Boataffair’s founder, Adrian Walker, describes the trend as an ‘experience economy’. “That’s what millennials are looking for. They are not necessarily even renting, but they want to share their experiences, to have a fantastic time with friends or family.” Their companies offer tangible appeal to the masses who consider boating to be too expensive, elitist or too difficult.
“The new generation of owners is very different,” Beneteau’s general manager Gianguido Girotti agrees. “They are used to buying everything online. So boat clubs, charter and fractional ownership are very important.” Groupe Beneteau, often seen as leading the way in the production yacht sector, recently purchased Band of Boats, a charter and community platform offering boats to suit all levels of budgets.
So what’s on offer? We’ve broken down this plethora of new marine marketplace companies into four sectors.
Those who travel for work will likely seek reliable hotel chains where they know they’ll have a comfortable bed, a quiet room and a good night’s sleep. Come holiday time, however, they may instead yearn for escapism, something totally different from the reliable/monotonous norm – the ice hotel, the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, the gypsy caravan.
Yachts present another imaginative form of accommodation and, as the vast majority sit empty, the potential to sell dockside cabin space has appeal. Many of the new boat rental businesses also offer accommodation only, but there is only one dedicated marine site in the UK.
Beds on Board is the brainchild of brothers Jason and Tim Ludlow. The idea came to Jason while he was working at a sailing events management company and crewing on Sir Peter Ogden’s mini maxi Jethou in 2015. Following a race at Palma Vela, Ogden asked Jason what could be done with all the empty boats sitting in the marinas. ‘Beds’ was the obvious answer.
The Ludlows quickly saw the demand, especially with ‘non boaty people’. “There are no new customers without new experiences,” says Tim. It soon became obvious they needed to work closely with marina companies such as MDL in the UK, which Tim believes benefits the industry. “Who doesn’t want new customers and who doesn’t want a more vibrant marina? We’re helping boat owners to stay boat owners.”
Beds on Board now has 1,700-2,000 boats listed, of which around half are yachts, with around 80% in the UK. As well as a trend for ‘boat savvy clients’ the company typically sees families looking for celebratory occasions or mini breaks and couples looking for ‘affordable, unique experiences’.
“We pour people into the marine funnel,” says Tim Ludlow. “The question is what the industry can do to convert them.”
This recent sector of peer-to-peer rental – as opposed to the traditional types of bareboat charter – is already booming, so much so, it’s tricky to know which site to choose to start searching for your ideal rental break.
Each platform tends to allow renters to customise their sailing holiday/trip to their liking. “Peer-to-peer ultimately has the power to bring choice and availability to the market,” says Borrow a Boat’s founder Matt Ovenden.
Ovenden has four young children and was looking for a boat he could afford a couple of years ago, but could not justify the expense of buying one. He recognised the problem of boats being under-utilised assets.
A serial entrepreneur, he was looking for a new innovation at the time. “The sharing economy is one of the biggest areas of growth but no one in the UK had brought it to the marine business,” he explains.
So instead of buying a boat he set up Borrow a Boat, as a direct marketplace for yacht renting. “We now have 17,000 boats [in over 60 countries] from RIBs to yachts and superyachts… and have also launched a section for dinghies and paddleboards.”
Two types of listings are now offered: instant booking or request to book. “You can wake up in the morning and find the nearest boat to you,” he continues. “The owner sets the rules and price [including being able to choose the minimum sailing qualifications needed]. They’re the seller and we’re the marketplace.”
Click&Boat, Europe’s largest peer-to-peer yacht renting site, was set-up five years ago by Paris-based entrepreneurs and has already managed over 60,000 rentals and €40m in earnings by boat owners. It says 40% of its global users are millennials.
“Among the million boats in France, very few are used for more than ten days a year… with the annual expenses representing, on average, 10% of the price of the boat every year,” says François Gabart, who invested in the company in January and has listed his own RM yacht on the site.
Competitor brand Getmyboat in the US describes itself as the‘ world’s largest rental and water experience marketplace.’ It lists 130,000 boats in 184 countries and caters for all craft and boating ventures. Established in San Francisco in 2013, it has already seen 100,000 downloads of its messaging app.
Borrow a Boat’s Matt Ovenden says typical clients are experienced charterers, millennial groups in their twenties (short notice, with skipper), families wanting to do something adventurous, and groups of people coming back to boating.
A house exchange scheme often sounds tempting. A couple of months in a wood cabin in the South Island of New Zealand would be pretty appealing at any time. But it can be argued that houses tend to be very personal, get used a lot more than boats and come with more attachments and clutter – so a boat swap sounds ideal.
Adrian and Natalya Walker founded Boataffair two years ago in Switzerland as a boutique platform for yacht renting experiences. While it started as a website for owners to list or rent boats, much like the platforms already mentioned it has grown to include boat swapping.
“Our boat swapping is really getting traction from across the globe because it gets boat owners afloat easily and helps them get more value out of their boats,” Walker tells me. He explains that coding and insuring a boat for charter can be a costly process, so the process of a straight swap of private boats via his company’s site is comparatively simple.
Boataffair also has appealing VIP experiences, which ranges from a one-hour trip to a two-week bespoke cruise. Walker says boat owners appreciate the chance to be able to show what they’re able to offer, from weddings aboard, to cave diving and exploring deserted beaches.
This is a more established avenue for boat owners looking for some financial returns, or for those looking to rent more consistently. Fractional ownership or membership schemes, which provide a certain amount of guaranteed sailing (and potential income), have existed for years now.
The largest is SailTime, a US-based fractional boat membership franchise founded in 2001. The model offers both membership and a taste of ownership ‘without the constraints’. So those looking to buy a boat can hand over the management to SailTime to help offset purchase and maintenance worries and costs.
Yachts are professionally managed at local bases and used by only six to eight competent members. Typically, an owner’s annual net income ranges from 4% to 6% of the boat’s base price. It’s a similar model used by most large bareboat charter companies, which manage boats to rent through buy to let programmes.
One of the largest charter companies, Dream Yacht Charter, recently launched Dream Fractional Ownership, calling it the world’s first five-year fractional sailing programme. The scheme enables four joint owners of a 45ft catamaran to enjoy five weeks of sailing time each on that boat, or the option to sail on a variety of yachts within the group’s worldwide fleet.
The owners each receive a guaranteed income of 5% of the selling price paid annually for five years, giving back the original buy-in share of 25%. At the end of the five-year programme, the owners can sell the yacht and split the profits.
Both Dream Yacht and Sunsail, meanwhile, have ‘sail by the cabin’ offers as a way to enjoy a sailing adventure without needing any experience or having to book the entire yacht.
Groupe Beneteau has partnered with SailTime in the US and also launched its own Boat Club in Les Sables d’Olonne, which focuses on boats under 30ft and involves a monthly membership fee to access a range of craft – both investments aimed “to show that boat sharing is part of our strategy,” says Beneteau’s general manager Gianguido Girotti. “We are undergoing a cultural change from a provider of products to a provider of services. It’s the biggest shift since leasing, which has already completely opened up the market.”
Other yacht renting sites
- Flexisail – Solent and East Coast UK-based, founded in 2004, offering ‘ownership without buying’.
- Pure Latitude – Annual membership with flexible bookings available in the Solent, Plymouth and Sardinia.
- Fairview Sailing Boat Club – Solent-based partners with Dream Yacht Charter to give access to 1,000+ charter boats for a £495 monthly fee.