Boatbound, the fastest growing peer-to-peer boat rental company in the country, plans to officially launch its service in the Chesapeake Bay region this summer. The addition of similar rental operations could improve boating access in the region while making boat ownership more affordable.
Boatbound co-founder Aaron Hall lived in Arlington, VA, for nearly a decade before launching the startup venture out of California last year — and he’s been wanting to bring it back to the Chesapeake ever since.
Long before the web-based service was to begin in the Chesapeake, the region “was already the seventh most searched on the site,” Hall said.
What makes Boatbound’s online platform unique is the insurance it provides to boat owners — allowing them to lease their boats directly to other consumers — Hall said. Most boat owners’ insurance policies do not cover rentals, and some markets still allow boat renters to assume the risk while using the vessel.
“It took us putting together this insurance program to make it possible,” Hall said.
Boatbound.co was launched in 2012 with a focus on markets in San Francisco, Miami and New York. National news outlets have called it “the Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) of boats” after a popular portal that allows homeowners to rent out their houses when they’re away.
A boat owner in any market can list his or her boat on Boatbound, but the platform has focused on growing its selection of boats one region at a time.
The company has been working its way up the Atlantic Coast this spring with plans to launch in the Chesapeake region — where about a dozen boats are already listed — this summer.
Launching means spreading word about the service and getting boat owners to list their vessels so that the service can offer renters a wide selection. Nationwide, Boatbound already has more than 13 million registered boat owners.
“The Chesapeake is definitely one of those areas that, unless you own a boat or have water access, it’s a really challenging place to just get out on the water,” said Sara Swenson, Boatbound’s San Francisco-based chief operating officer, whose mother lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Just 2 percent of the Bay’s shoreline is in public ownership, making it difficult to find a place to dip toes in the water, let alone rent a boat. (See “Report identifies 320 potential access sites along Bay, tributaries,” March 2013.)
Several programs in the Chesapeake Bay allow non-boat owners to charter vessels. Some charter companies own their own vessels, while others operate and charter vessels owned by private owners. The charters can be manned by captains, or not, and can last from a day, a weekend, or for extended periods.
There are also boat-share programs and boat clubs where the members own a portion of a boat, or where they can use one of a fleet of boats.
Newer national programs like BoatSetter.com also connect boat owners with consumers and provide a network of captains to go with each vessel. GetMyBoat.com is a portal (still operating in beta mode) that facilitates peer-to-peer renting or the chartering of watercrafts. A handful of other companies are beginning to enter the market.
Boatbound’s Hall said this bodes well for renters as well as owners, who can use renting to defray the cost of boat ownership.
The company worked with BoatU.S., a boating insurance provider, to survey its members across the country before launching the new platform. The survey found that the average boat owner uses his or her boat about 14 days a year. Collectively, boat owners spend more than $10 billion a year in storage and maintenance fees, with no way to offset those costs.
Owners set the price for their boat rentals, with the average boat running around $425 per day. Boatbound takes a fee from that price that helps pay for insurance and boater support, like sending help to the boat renter if a battery dies, for example.
The online portal works much like those for peer-to-peer house rentals, showing a potential renter a calendar of dates when the owner says the boat is available. Owners can choose to meet renters at the dock their first time for any training that may be necessary.
Hall was a member of a boat club in the District of Columbia for several years when he lived in the area, which allowed him to share the cost of boat ownership. But he said the club left him confined to boating in only one region, and some come with high enough costs that “you might as well own a boat.”
In Boatbound’s initial markets like San Francisco, the company reports that 65 percent of its renters are younger than 45, while most boat owners are older than 50.
“We’re getting the younger population out on the water, and people who enjoy boating on the Chesapeake will be a lot more interested in environmental efforts,” Swenson said.
Boatbound spokeswoman Sarah Morgan pointed out that keeping a boat in one region — to be rented out there or used by the owner — can be good for water quality as well.
Keeping boats in their respective regions prevents them from carrying invasive species, like zebra mussels, to other watersheds.
Visit www.Boatbound.com to learn more about renting or listing a boat on the service as it launches in the Chesapeake Bay.