The Internet is great for a lot of things, like finding videos of cats chasing sunbeams or someone’s pants falling down at a wedding. But it’s also been a boon to boaters and how they use their boats. The new big thing in the digital realm is peer-to-peer sharing (basically, renting). Most Internet-savvy people trace the concept back to renting real estate through a site like airbnb.com. What Airbnb does is allow people to directly offer up their property, or space in their home, for rental to the Airbnb community. Well, if people are doing that with their vacation homes, mother-in-law apartments or even the spare futon in their basement, why wouldn’t they want to do that with their boats?
A number of companies have sprung up based on the idea of peer-to-peer boat sharing, such as Cruzin, Boatbound, GetMyBoat and BoatSetter. We spoke to people who use Cruzin and tried it ourselves to find out exactly how peer-to-peer boating works. How could it benefit you? We found three obvious ways: if you’re a prospective boat buyer looking to test the waters before deciding, a boat owner looking to cover ownership expenses with rentals, or a visitor to an awesome boating destination and you didn’t bring your boat.
What Is Peer-To-Peer, Anyhow?
The peer-to-peer business is exactly what it sounds like. Boat owners list their boats through a third-party website that connects them with potential renters and streamlines the process online. A site like Cruzin pre-screens potential renters and gives the boat owners final say in all rental deals. The boat owner decides when his boat is available, how much the rental will cost and, most important, whether to allow a prospective renter to use his boat. The owner can also ask the renter to use a licensed captain.
The process seems fairly straightforward until you consider the elephant on deck: What if the renter breaks your boat?
“The biggest challenge to this marketplace is the insurance,” said Jaclyn Baumgarten, the founder and CEO of Cruzin. “I spent about a year putting in place a peer-to-peer marine insurance policy that protects both the boat owner and the renter.”
The insurance is key. Every boat rented through Cruzin is protected by a $2 million hull damage and $1 million liability insurance policy for the duration of the rental, and the company also offers towing assistance during the rental period through BoatU.S. If you list your boat through Cruzin, the company handles the contracts with the renter so that the insurance is in place and collects the payment. It’s free to list your boat on the site, but Cruzin keeps a portion of every rental to pay for its services.
As a renter, how do you know you’re not paying for some dog of a boat? Cruzin is set up to avoid any “buyer (or renter) beware” scenarios.
“All of our boats get curated and approved by an insurance company before they can be taken out through our site,” said Baumgarten. Plus, renters have the ability to rate and review their rental experience on the site. She stressed that Cruzin strives to maintain quality control over what boats get listed and the overall rental experience.
Another benefit of renting peer-to-peer is the ability to set the duration of use. Most traditional boat rental places have rigid hours, usually in half-day or full-day blocks. With peer-to-peer, renters have the ability to negotiate the time of pickup and drop-off, and even rent the boat for a number of days.
“The beauty of what we’re doing,” said Baumgarten, “is creating a platform where people can rent a boat anywhere, any time.” Is this an absolute truth? Not quite yet. As of press time, Cruzin had boats available in 27 states as well as the British Virgin Islands and the Mediterranean Sea. But that number is sure to grow as peer-to-peer catches on. Here’s why we think it will.
The Boat Buyer
Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Andy Helfan grew up in the fishing and boating lifestyle. Ever since he entered adulthood and the working world, owning his own boat has been a goal.
“I knew what type of boat I wanted, which was an open fishing boat like a center-console,” he said.
Before he pulled the trigger on a specific make and model, he wanted to literally test the waters. Getting a sea trial is not always possible, particularly if you’re prospecting and not close to making a purchase on that boat. A site like Cruzin provided a solution.
“I had the opportunity to try one of the boats I was looking at,” Helfan said. He rented a boat through Cruzin for a day of fishing. How did he find the experience?
“It’s a pretty seamless process,” he said. First Helfan signed up through the site. Then he went through a verification process. Once Cruzin approved him for renting, he was able to reach out directly to the owner of the boat he wanted to rent.
“The guy was really responsive and answered all my questions online,” Helfan said. Helfan made arrangements to use the boat with the owner and did all the paperwork for it through Cruzin. Because of that, he got to use a style of boat he was interested in buying, in real-world conditions. The peer-to-peer sea trial helped him pull the trigger on buying his own boat, a Bluewater Boats 2850 center-console.
Helfan liked the Cruzin experience so much that he now lists his boat on the site for rental. “A one- or two-day rental would cover storage in dry dock or gas for several trips,” he said. And that brings us to the primary benefit for a boat owner.
The Boat Owner
Bill Amirault has lived in Hollywood, Florida, since 1995 and has been a boat owner for about 10 years. Like a lot of boaters, he uses his boat to cruise up and down the Intracoastal and around local waters, sightseeing and restaurant hopping with the occasional run outside the inlet. Every once in a while he’ll take his boat down to the Keys.
Also like a lot of boaters, he doesn’t get to go boating as much as he’d like, because real life gets in the way — mainly his job with a software company. On average he uses his boat about three times a month.
“I travel a lot for work,” he said, “which is one of the motivating factors for renting through Cruzin.”
Amirault owns a Dusky 233 center-console with twin outboards that he had repowered in 2007. Making it available through Cruzin helps him in two ways. “The old engines on my boat broke down because they sat too much,” he said. “Now I’ve got the engines running more often than I can keep them going on my own.” Also, it helps him burn through the gas in his boat, so it doesn’t sit in his tank for long stretches at a time.
For Amirault, though, the key benefit is that renting through Cruzin helps offset the cost of ownership: fuel costs, maintenance, storage fees and insurance. By renting his boat twice a month, he can recoup some of those expenses.
But how does he feel about handing the keys over to a stranger?
“Every boater I’ve had on my boat has been qualified and has experience,” he said. “An inexperienced boater is not someone I want on my boat.” Some of the renters he has approved have come back. Some have come from other parts of Florida, some from northern states like Minnesota, and one boater even visited the area from Canada. That renter keeps a 47-foot cruiser on his home waters, which is not practical for him to bring down to Florida. And that’s the third reason we think boaters will embrace peer-to-peer platforms: They don’t always want to bring their boat with them.
The Wandering Boater
There’s nothing sadder than going on a vacation to a great boating destination and not being able to boat. Sure, there are traditional boat rental places that are worth considering, but often they are inflexible with rental times and rates and have strict restrictions on where you can take them. Charter services are great too, but many have a minimum requirement of days. Why pay for a five-day charter if you want to use a boat for only three days? (And charter services tend to be geared toward sailboats, trawlers or luxury yachts.)
By signing up for a service like Cruzin, you may be able to rent the exact type of boat you’re looking for, and for the exact amount of time you want. A lot of that depends on what’s available through the site in your area.
To get firsthand experience, our West Coast editor, Jim Hendricks, rented a boat in Cruzin’s home waters in San Francisco. And there are plenty of boat types available in certain boating hot spots like Florida, where this is a natural fit. But what about elsewhere?
A quick visit to cruzin.com lets you explore the possibilities. Simply type a destination into the search box and see what’s available. As of press time, Cruzin had no boats listed for prime destinations like Montauk, New York, and only one boat listed for Cape Cod, Massachusetts (a 21-foot Grady-White: cruzin.com/boat_rentals/766). But it had several boats listed in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego.
As peer-to-peer boating sites like Cruzin grow, we expect the inventory of available boats to grow with them. So the next time you find yourself in Las Vegas and want to get away from the slot machines, renting someone else’s boat on Lake Mead could be a much better bet.
We Go Cruzin
Our firsthand experience with peer-to-peer boating.
I’ve rented boats before, but this was my first experience with a peer-to-peer service. It began with a desire to visit McCovey Cove outside the right-field bleachers at AT&T Park during a San Francisco Giants Sunday baseball game, 375 miles north of my home waters near Los Angeles.
To get started, I visited cruzin.com and looked for boats in the San Francisco area. I found a 1989 Invader 1901 runabout powered by a MerCruiser 4.3-liter V-6 with an Alpha drive, starting at $250 a day. The site spelled out that I would also need to pay a $37 insurance premium and a $75 cleaning fee, as well as for the fuel I burned. Also, the owner laid down his stipulations, including no drugs or alcohol.
After a few clicks to register, secure insurance, reserve the boat and present my credit card, I was all set to meet the owner, who agreed to bring the boat to a launch ramp near AT&T Park before the game.
One glitch came when the boat owner called to say he would be an hour late. Once he got there and launched the boat, we went through a formal checklist and he showed me around the boat, including the safety gear. The interior was a bit worn, as you might expect of a 25-year-old boat, but it started fine, though the shifter was stiff. Not a big issue for me, but I wondered how a less-experienced captain would deal with this.
The boat was the perfect size for idling amid the throngs of boats in McCovey Cove, but late in the day the engine began running hot. I knew from experience to get out of the cove and run the boat to cool it down. I returned to the ramp at the appointed time and called the owner, who was there within an hour. Rather than accompany him to the gas dock, I paid him $30 for fuel, which seemed fair to both of us. — Jim Hendricks
Whatever Floats Your Boat
The lowdown on three other peer-to-peer boat companies.
This site focuses on affordable captained rentals. BoatSetter keeps a national database of licensed captains and helps boat owners pair prospective renters with their boats, as well as hire a licensed captain. The company provides per-use hull and liability insurance and pre-screens both owners and renters.
This site is similar to Cruzin in that it provides rental access with or without a captain. It also provides per-use hull and liability insurance and on-the-water assistance through BoatU.S. Boatbound also will send a professional photographer to your boat so it looks great in its listing.
(getmyboat.com) GetMyBoat allows listings from both boat owners and rental and charter services and offers three insurance levels for renters at costs ranging from $29 to $66 per day. The site boasts access to 24,000 boats in 110 countries (mostly through listing charter services abroad).