Boat clubs, peer-to-peer offer alternatives

Whether it be Millennials, Hispanics or any other underrepresented group, there are many obstacles to bringing new potential boaters to the industry.

Two of the biggest, though, are affordability and experience on the water. That’s where boat clubs and peer-to-peer rentals come into play.

“When we started this, we said our goal was to make boating more accessible, activating boats that sit in marinas unused and giving people … easy access to these boats,” said Aaron Hall, CEO of Boatbound, a peer-to-peer boat rental company based in San Francisco.

While boat clubs have been around for decades, they’ve grown in the years since the recession. Peer-to-peer, on the other hand, is a recent phenomenon with several companies jumping into the space in the last few years with the growth of the so-called “sharing economy.”

GetMyBoat-Key-TradeoffPeer-to-peer rentals are exactly what the name implies: the renting of an item (in this case a boat) from the owner to someone else. Companies like Boatbound are looking to capitalize on the fact that most boats sit unused for good portions of the year and owners will be looking to make money by renting them to users.

The most prominent examples of the category are Uber for ride sharing and Airbnb in the lodging industry.

“We are seeing a tremendous amount of new boaters,” said Bryan Petro, CIO of GetMyBoat, another peer-to-peer company. “It’s vacationers and out-of-towners, as well as local [residents]. We’re seeing a wide variety of people going out there.”

So far, GetMyBoat has seen the most success in San Francisco and Florida in the United States, and the Caribbean, Spain, Croatia and Turkey internationally.

“It correlates to where you would assume a lot of the top boating locations would be,” Petro said.

Like boat sharing, boat clubs offer another alternative way to boat. Boat clubs help fill the gap between ownership and occasional rental for many boaters. Some dealers see boat clubs as competition, but anything that brings more people to boating is good for the industry, said John Giglio, CEO of Freedom Boat Club.

Potential boaters “hear about us and they realize there is an alternative,” he said. “They can test the waters and see if it’s something they are interested in.”

With locations all over the country, Freedom’s members tend to reflect the demographics of the local community. In Florida, that means a lot of retirees and former boaters who don’t want to care for a boat or have the space to store it. In other parts of the country, though, such as Massachusetts, Texas and California, there is a much younger member base.

Younger people “don’t have to own a boat anymore, they’re just looking for that experience,” Giglio said. “With the push to get [young people and Hispanics] engaged, I honestly think boat clubs are one of the main solutions to an industry-wide problem in both of those capacities.”

In fact, Freedom Boat Club is bringing a new salesperson on board who will be charged with outreach to the Hispanic market. He’ll start working in Florida and then, if the efforts are successful, start working with franchisees throughout the country.

While a relatively new entrant to the boating market, peer-to-peer got a major endorsement last year when Brunswick and Boatbound announced a partnership that included an investment from Brunswick.

For Brunswick, the deal offers access to a new group of potential boaters, while for Boatbound it is an endorsement of both the company and the model.

“This may over time help more people get into boating and therefore ultimately want to buy a boat at some point, want services, want to get more involved in the boating lifestyle,” Jeff Behan, Brunswick’s vice president of strategy and business development, said at the time of the announcement. “Downstream, that translates into customers for our dealers — an increase in participation that will drive more boaters and boat purchasers.”

That endorsement from Brunswick has helped convince many boat owners to list their boats through Boatbound. More than a quarter of Boatbound’s nearly 10,000 boats are Brunswick brands.

Boatbound and Brunswick also continue to work on several initiatives that they will roll out later this year that will “change the game as far as boating goes,” Hall said.

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