Charter guests are at the helm as the 49-foot S/Y Galen Diana navigates toward Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Capt. Rodney Mayer keeps an eye on the course. Mayer, a charter captain who makes his living running his sailboat as well as other boats, is on a trip with a new option for part-time employment.
Capt. Mayer joined Boatbound as a captain for hire. The peer-to-peer boat rental company is free to members and matches people who would like to get out on the water with boats and licensed captains.
“It’s a great opportunity being part of the captains fleet and it’s good exposure,” Mayer said by phone from his charter. “It offers flexibility and the chance to continually brush up on my skills.”
Capt. Alexander Tracy works with another peer-to-peer boat rental company, Sailo.
“Any time the boat is on the hard for work or if your owner lays it up for the season, Sailo is an easy chance to get some business on the side while doing what you love anyway,” he said by e-mail from New Zealand. “Also, it’s a blast to run a smaller center console around after operating some of the bigger yachts … feels like you can take it anywhere.”
There are many peer-to-peer boat rental companies but not all include a list of captains like Boatbound and Sailo do. As business expands both companies are adding more licensed navigators including megayacht captains who would like a change of pace in their off time.
The business model has been compared to other industry share programs such as Airbnb and Uber for its ability to link boats (owners), boat renters and captains. The program is driven by peer reviews with both the owner and renter rating trips.
Connor Vliet is program coordinator and customer experience specialist with Boatbound in San Francisco. Launched in 2013, it also has an office in Miami. Vliet works with captains who have signed up online. Once approved, they are added to a regional list and Boatbound connects them with boat owners in their area.
“We are looking for captains with a variety of backgrounds,” he said. “We have some recently graduated from a licensing program and we’re reaching out to captain’s schools. This is a way mariners can get more sea time. For captains, this is an option while in between trips.”
Magda Marcu is co-founder and head of operations of Sailo. The company was launched last September in New York and now has an office in Miami.
“A lot of people don’t understand how this works for captains,” Marcu said. “Simply, captains can go online, call, e-mail, go to a live chat or create their captain profile online. They can post photos, experience, expertise, and add things like sailing lessons or secret place to visit.”
Captains, owners, and renters access both companies by the Internet. When someone chooses a boat and location online, they get a list of captains in that area, Marcu said. Then the captain decides price and availability.
“The owner can or not be involved,” she said. “If the boat owner wants a certain captain, he can recommend one, but the renter is still the one to make the final choice.
“Usually captains are recommended by someone else in the program,” she said. “It is very much like a community and most of the captains know each other.”
Peer-to-peer boat rental companies differ from commercial rental companies in that commercial usually own and maintain a fleet and have designated staff and crew. Boatbound has a diverse list of boats for hire. Its 16-foot aluminum fishing boats and runabouts are not required to have a captain, but larger launches, trawlers and ocean-going boats require a licensed master.
Rules in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) affect how these rental companies work in the United States. Bareboat charter operation is defined as an agreement where the charterer has use of the vessel for a period of time and is considered the owner.
With Boatbound, captains are paid in person by the charterers as independent contractors. Sailco uses an online payment platform similar to Amazon, Marcu said.
“The payment is all online and secure and we don’t handle that part,” Marcu said. “The captain can deny the charter if he doesn’t want it for some reason.”
Captains with Boatbound and Sailo like that they are in charge of which boat and dates they work.
“Sailo works really well for me, because these are people ready to sail,” said Capt. Todd Amelung, who is signed up with Sailo in the Miami area. “It’s my prerogative to say no if I’m booked or committed. When I get a notice, I just confirm with renters and check their peer reviews.”
“As a captain working freelance it’s often hard to find short-term work to fill your days,” Capt. Tracy said. “I can set my calendar on Sailo and the work comes to me. Connecting with owners who don’t use their boats often leads to side jobs and a good relationships.”
In response to people who say boat rentals increase the number of bad boaters on the water, Boatbound’s Vliet said it’s just the opposite. Boat rentals include insurance liability protection and support from BoatUS.
“It increases the access to a network to keep the waters safe,” Vliet said because owners and captains have final say on rental details. “You would not lend your boat to an idiot.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.