Testing Out the Surprisingly Great AirBnB of Boats

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Labor Day weekend is almost upon us, and if you’re not jacked about the prospect of another ho-hum barbecue, or seeing the same old friends and doing the same things you’ve been doing all summer, consider going out on a boat. Can’t afford one, you say? Most of us can’t _ charters are usually arranged far in advance, and day-of rentals directly from a marina can be expensive and/or risky. 

Enter Boatbound and Boatsetter. These two online boat rental companies recently merged, combining to create the largest boat rental resource in the world. Whether you want a daycruiser for your weekend in Miami or a pontoon for relaxing on Lake Havasu, Boatbound and Boatsetter can get you on the water in just a few clicks. We tried it recently, and were on the boat of our choice the very next day. It’s a bit like AirBnB. But with boats.

First, we went to the Boatbound website (there are also apps for both, but they share information and inventory) and created a profile, which requires an email address and phone number, driver’s license info, and a credit card. Next, we plugged in our destination and dates, and our budget. A list returned almost immediately, showing us a dozen or more boats available for rent by private owners — craft already in the water, docked on the lake where we were staying with friends. Now, there are plenty of filters available to check: type of boat/activity, amount of people, Captain or no, etc. So if you’re looking for a specific thing — say, a fishing boat off Montauk, a ski boat on Lake of the Ozarks, or a sailboat in Mission Bay — you can easily find it. We had no idea what we’d be in the mood for, though, only the name of the lake and the date we wanted to rent the boat (that’s right, the next day). So we left our options open and filters unchecked, and just scrolled around.

After passing the iPhone around the room a couple of times, the group decided on an 18-foot “bowrider” — a day cruiser with a powerful engine and plenty of room for two families. A few clicks and an hour later, we got a text message saying our reservation had been confirmed. All we had to do on our end was log back in to the site or app, and click a green “Confirm” button. Soon we were texting back and forth with the boat’s owner Bob who, it turned out, had the Sea Ray 180 docked about 10 minutes from our lake house.

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The next morning, we got a ride over to meet Bob at his property. After a handshake, a short tutorial, and a shove-off, we were on the water. We had a veritable blast making laps around Lake Hopatcong, jumping off for the occasional swim and towing the kids around on a raft. It was a great time, and definitely broke up the late-summer monotony of a long day in the sun.

If Boatbound/Boatsetter seems too easy and good to be true, it practically is. It only cost about $250 for a day of glorious boating, easily manageable when split between parties. (Like AirBnB, individual boat owners set their own prices, so they will vary; we saw boats for as little as $100 to well over a thousand dollars/day for a lake in New Jersey.) The rental company takes care of the liability insurance; they email a copy of the policy (ours was held by GEICO Marine, which is legit), along with some paperwork to fill out and keep with you. But other than that, you’re on your own.

Of course, if you opt to pilot the boat yourself then you should definitely have some knowledge of how to operate whatever type of craft you’re renting, and a familiarity with the area where you’ll be boating. And of course, individual bodies of water often have their own boating and sailing laws and etiquette, which you should absolutely know before you go out. Furthermore, local law enforcement often requires specific permits and or licenses to operate watercraft, so it’s a good idea to make whatever preparations are required for a safe, fun, and legal day on the water.

All in all, Boatbound and Boatsetter are doing far more than just revolutionizing boat rentals; they’re effectively making boating available to most everyone, in every location. So if you’ve never glided across a glassy lake as the morning steam rises off the water and the sun peeks through the pines or seen the euphoria in a child’s face while he’s tubing, then you owe it to yourself to try something different this weekend.

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