Dave McKeague and his wife loved their 24.5-foot 2006 Bayliner cruiser at first, but in time they outgrew it.
The couple bought a 1967 40-foot Chris-Craft Constellation and were suddenly the owners of two boats. McKeague wanted to keep the Bayliner for his brother to use during summer visits, but the cost of two boats was prohibitive.
So he listed the Bayliner on Boatbound, a peer-to-peer boat-sharing site that allows owners to rent out their vessels. McKeague, who keeps his boat at a drystack facility near the locks in Seattle, has so far rented it out twice for $475 a day. Just three rentals a month, he said, would cover his moorage, insurance and boat maintenance.
“My wife and I are happy about it,” he said. “What we’d like to see is just more renters.”
Billed as the “Airbnb for boats,” the San Francisco company was launched in June 2013 and now has close to 3,000 listings around the country in markets including Miami, New York, Chicago, Boston and Seattle — where there are currently close to 50 listings ranging from a 17-foot canoe for $75 a day to a $2,750-a-day 1959 custom motoryacht.
There’s no fee to join or list boats, and owners decide when to make their boats available and for how long. Boatbound prescreens potential renters, and owners can turn down any rental request.
Rentals are covered by $1 million in liability protection and up to $2 million in damage through Lloyd’s of London, plus on-water towing through BoatU.S. There are some stipulations: Boats aren’t insured after sunset, and the policy limits renters from traveling more than 12 miles offshore (and no more than two miles for manually powered boats). Trailerable boats are covered for no more than 250 miles from the vessel’s principal location, and renters must have previous trailering experience. Racing is not covered.
Boatbounder founder and CEO Aaron Hall said there haven’t been any problems with rentals — no collisions, boat fires or other mishaps, aside from an engine problem that the boat owner was able to explain to the renter how to fix.
“So far we haven’t had a single issue,” Hall said. “Nothing at all. We know it’s going to happen at some point. It’s inevitable.”
But Hall said he’s been surprised at the level of care shown by renters.
“Psychologically, when you interact in a marketplace like this, you’re renting from real people,” he said. “It’s not like you’re renting a car from Hertz.”
Hall got the idea for the company while visiting his family in Texas in the summer of 2012. It was hot, and the family wanted to rent a boat to take out on a lake. They checked a nearby marina, but its limited fleet of rental boats were booked. Meanwhile, hundreds of other boats sat at the docks unused.
A fan of peer-to-peer rental platforms, Hall was surprised to learn that there was no equivalent of Uber or VRBO for boats. He and his partners back in California had been working on a wedding e-commerce company at the time, but quickly decided to shift their focus to a boat-sharing enterprise. They worked with BoatU.S. over the next six months to survey its members about the idea and got an enthusiastic response.
They also discovered that the average boat owner uses their vessel just 14 days annually, and that boat owners spend a collective $10 billion-plus on storage and maintenance fees a year, with few ways to offset those costs. A solution was born.
Hall and his partners are tapping into a potentially massive market. Record numbers of Americans are taking to the water, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Almost 38 percent of adults nationwide — 88 million — went boating in 2012, the largest number since the NMMA began collecting that data in 1990. Not surprisingly, other boat-sharing companies have sprung up, including GetMyBoat, Fun2Boat, Cruzin and BoatSetter.
Boatbound has been ramping up over the past year, opening an office in south Florida and expanding its reach into new areas, including Seattle, which Hall expects to be a core market. The company has raised more than $4.2 million in investment and has about 10 employees.
Hall thinks the company has the ability to lower the barriers of getting into boating and attract a younger demographic looking. Taking a page from Lyft’s pink mustaches, Boatbound gives each boat owner a captain’s hat to leave for renters to wear. The company aims to create a fun, accessible “Ahoy Culture,” encouraging renters to take photos and videos of themselves and post them on social media channels to earn rental credits and swag.
The goal to create repeat customers who will form relationships with owners and regularly rent their boats, thus offsetting the cost.
“It doesn’t take someone who’s a boater to understand that boats sit there unused a lot,” Hall said. “From an asset standpoint, it’s a prime asset to share.”
For his part, McKeague is hoping to see as many rentals as possible this summer, and plans to set his rate as high as $650 a day for the Fourth of July and Seafair.
“Since I have two boats, I’d be happy if this thing rented every weekend,” he said.