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Peer-to-peer boat rentals latest 'share' opportunity

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Getting out on the open sea, wind in your hair, enjoying the ride with your family and friends.

Then there's the boat payments, storage fees, fuel, maintenance and repair — these costs can quickly sink the dream of boat ownership.

Ahoy, mates — a new breed of boat-sharing services is entering the hot South Florida boating market.

San Francisco-based Boatbound.co set up its East Coast headquarters on the Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne and opened nationally in June. About the same time, Cruzin.com finished a pilot program in Dania Beach and went live with its site, and there are a handful of other national competitors. Startups Fun2boat.com, Boatyard.com and Boatsetter.com are getting ready to start variations on the concept.

These companies make it possible for boat owners to rent out their boats when they aren't using them — for many people, that's a considerable chunk of time. There are 12.2 million boats registered in the United States, yet the average boat gets used just 26 days a year, according to boating industry statistics. Renting the boat just a day or two a month can negate all the costs of ownership, these companies say. “It allows people to essentially boat for free,” said Aaron Hall, CEO and co-founder of Boatbound, one of the first companies taking the plunge to shape the emerging industry.

These peer-to-peer companies aren't the first to address the high costs of boating or offer alternatives to rental fleets. For example, Freedom Boat Clubs, with fleets of boats available for members to use, have existed for decades, and there are chapters in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. But these new companies aren't clubs — finding a boat using these websites can be similar to using Airbnb.com or VRBO.com for a vacation rental. A user can peruse the listings, comparing features and star ratings, to choose a boat in good condition equipped exactly the way he or she wants from a private owner.

It's all part of “the sharing economy” that surged after the depths of the most recent recession. A slew of technology companies connect owners of underused assets, like extra rooms, household items, cars and bikes, with others willing to pay to use them. Now the concept has hit the water.

“As a boat owner and in the marine industry, I've been waiting for something like this my whole life — I just didn't know it,” said Aabad Melwani, owner and president of Rickenbacker Marina. He invests in Boatbound and has listed his own open fisherman boat on the site. “The owner knows he is not going to be renting to just anybody, that person is going to be vetted. The renter knows he is getting a quality product, and if you think about it there is almost infinite inventory,” pointing to the hundreds of boats sitting idle at his marina as an example. “Once the experience catches on, I think it's a game-changer.”

It's still early, but Boatbound, a venture capital-funded startup, is furthest along with this concept in South Florida. Within about three months of its soft opening, it has signed up 252 boats in the state and more than 1,500 nationwide, from kayaks to yachts with captains, Hall said.

All potential renters go through a vetting process. Every boat gets checked out before it is listed, and for boats older than 10 years, there may be additional underwriting requirements, Boatbound says. And if something should go wrong, Boatbound carries Lloyd's of London insurance — $1 million for liability and $2 million for hull.

The owner sets the pricing and selects the renter from among the requests. Boatbound's cut is 35 percent, which covers insurance, on-water support and concierge services, Hall said. In South Florida, rentals with Boatbound have typically ranged from about $200 to $8,500 a day, Hall said. On a recent day, there were several 21-foot power boats listed for around $400 for a day, a bit less than a sampling of rental companies.

On a recent Friday, Matias Aguirre of Miami rented his 21-foot Cobia for the first time. He said he was comfortable doing so because Boatbound is fully insured. He liked that he could (and did) check out the full profile of the potential renter on Boatbound.

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