Boat Sharing: Dues & Doníts
Did you know that the typical owner of a 32-foot sport
cruiser puts an average of 50 hours on the engine each year?
With a boat loan payment of well over $1,000 per month and
fixed expenses for slip fees, insurance and routine maintenance
adding another $500 or $600, the expenses add up.
who would like to own a boat, but have no boating experience
and don’t know where to begin, buying a boat
outright seems like a daunting way to learn whether they’re
suited to the “life aquatic.”
Timeshares, fractional ownership arrangements and boat clubs
are options for solving these problems. They borrow heavily
from land-based vacation real estate ventures that began in
Europe and have since become a leisure-time fact of life for
non-traditional ways to have access to boats limit some of
the hassle and expenses associated with full ownership. These
plans can also make it easy for an owner to put his boat
to work when he’s not able to use it. But, are they
really viable for an experienced boater committed to the
sport? Are they a good way for novices to learn the ropes?
is a qualified yes — in the short run, at
least — according to several BoatU.S. members who shared
their experiences with us.
a timeshare, a fleet of boats is owned by a management company
and the consumer purchases a specific block of time each
year to use a specific vessel or a fleet of vessels. Timeshare
agreements usually last for one to five years.
The consumer can pay the full price of his timeshare up front
or spread payments out over the period of the agreement, while
also making monthly payments that cover the cost of maintenance,
insurance and storage. Consumers can also expect to pay a refundable
security deposit, and they are responsible for paying any deductibles
in the event of an insurance claim. Even so, start-up costs
will be well under $10,000 for most participants.
“When I moved to Seattle from San Francisco, it was
obvious that this is one of the most boating-desirable places
on the planet,” said Marty Robins of Bellevue, WA. “I’d
never owned a boat and wasn’t sure how to get started.”
The Robins family signed on with YachtLease in Elliott Bay
Marina just north of downtown Seattle.
In business for about 25 years, YachtLease maintains a fleet
of 30-foot to 60-foot power and sail boats at their Seattle
location, as well as in Bremerton and Anacortes. Customers
can buy packages of 12, 21 or 40 days of boating per year.
Each package includes about 32 hours of training on land and
on the water, as well as round-the-clock support for breakdowns,
advice and assistance.
family picked out a 2005 Meridian 368, which they could use
for 21 days each year, and paid a $6,000 security deposit
in addition to YachtLease’s initial sign-up fee
of $1,500. After that, Robins told us their monthly payment
to YachtLease was less than $1,000. “Our only additional
costs were for fuel and if you chose not to clean the boat
yourself on return, there is a cleaning service, which we always
chose,” he said.
top of Robins’ list of “positives” is
the amount of training provided by the YachtLease staff. Remember,
they were novices at the start of their adventure and the training
helped them feel competent enough to operate a fairly large
motoryacht. Next comes boat care. “In general, the boat
was cleaned and prepped for us every time we went out on it,” Robins
negative side, Robins said, “Every time you
cruise, you have to load up, then do the reverse when you return.
One of the great things about having your own boat is being
able to have it stocked and ready to go.”
spontaneity is another problem, Robins said, since their
Meridian had to be reserved weeks in advance. “Although
there was never an instance where we wanted to use the boat
that we couldn’t, the nature of the program isn’t, ‘Hey
it’s a beautiful day, let’s go out on the boat.’ It’s
more like, ‘Let’s take a trip in a few weeks.’”
though, “We had a great experience with YachtLease
and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again,” Robins said.
The Robinses have since bought a Sea Ray 280 Sundancer and
plan to move into a larger motoryacht when their daughter goes
ownerships are another way to share the cost of a boat. For
years, folks have pooled money with their friends to buy
boats — sometimes with disastrous results for
the friendship — but modern day fractional plans are
a bit more businesslike. A brokerage company in the business
of buying boats outright or handling sales of used boats for
owners, sells shares, called fractions, of a vessel to four
or five individuals who form a limited liability corporation
(LLC) and are listed on the boat’s title. Because fractionals
involve direct ownership, each user has greater control over
how the boat is used and maintained and where it is located.
Owners can sell their shares after a period of usually five
years but, boat depreciation being what it is, they shouldn’t
expect anything in the way of profit.
The real benefit of a fractional ownership comes up front
because the brokerage company, which may get a discount for
buying several boats at a time, can pass some of the savings
along to shareholders. While the brokerage company profits
by charging the owners a monthly fee for managing, scheduling,
maintenance, repairs, storage and insurance, the costs are
still a fraction of what a single owner would pay.
only four or five people share the boat, scheduling is more
flexible. Owners are more likely to get their fair share
of the “good days” each boating season. Fractional
ownership plans are probably most user friendly and cost effective
in places where it’s possible to boat year-round.
member in Portland, OR, owns a quarter share of a 40-foot
Mainship kept in Florida. The other three owners live in
Tampa. “Since they only use it in the summer
and we only use it in the winter [during Portland’s rainy
season], it’s a great setup,” he told us. “I
paid $45,000 up front and just one quarter of the expenses
Ownership costs can be defrayed even more by putting the
boat into charter service for a portion of the year.
a BoatU.S. member in Spartanburg, SC, told us that he and
his wife started sailing in 1971 as newlyweds. Their first
boat was a 12-foot daysailer. After moving into progressively
larger boats during the next 25 years, he said, “We
wanted a trawler but decided we really couldn’t afford
one, so we researched putting a boat in charter service to
help defray the costs.”
bought a 35-foot Senator and put it in charter service in
North Carolina. “The trawler cost me $1,000
each month. I earned $10,000 the first year,” Nicholas
said. “The trawler was not abused by the folks who used
her, but we started having trouble getting money from the charter
company. I finally sold the trawler and came out in the black
despite problems with the management side.”
Consult your tax advisor before putting your boat into charter.
Federal tax laws apply when recreational boats are used commercially.
boat club, the consumer has neither equity in a specific
boat nor a fixed schedule for boat usage. Instead, he or
she pays for access to a fleet of vessels in a specific port,
as well as boats owned by the club in other locations. Usually,
scheduling is pretty flexible because club members can choose
from a number of vessels, rather than being locked into one.
Unlike timeshares and fractional ownership, boats can be
reserved only a few days before they’re used. Boat
club memberships are less expensive than timeshares or fractional
ownerships, but the vessels in the fleet might be smaller
in size and overnight boating time may be limited.
Boat Club, which began in Sarasota, FL, in 1989, now consists
of 45 franchises and 10 other “store” locations
on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
“We have about 4,000 members and over 500 boats,” said
Jeremy Kelley, the Club’s franchise development manager.
He said Freedom Boat Club’s members consist of avid fishermen
who want to fish in different parts of the country, the “aging
demographic” that doesn’t want the responsibility
of maintaining a boat and families that participate in many
different recreational activities.
member Don Cotton, his wife and two young daughters of Vero
Beach, FL, are one such family. “My wife, our
two daughters and I bought a membership with Freedom Boat Club
in West Palm, FL. The three-year deal was something like $4,900
up front and then it was about $500 a month thereafter with
less expensive renewal fees after the three years. We thought
it was a fair deal.
“The club had 38 boats and on most days you could be
certain of getting a boat,” Cotton recalled. Even so,
he says, “Our family wants to ‘camp’ on our
boat two to three nights per month and take some week-long
cruises. The club allowed overnights, but only from Monday
to Thursday. Not so good for a working family. Also the cruising
range did not allow for trips to the Bahamas, or even the Keys.
“Some people would ask, ‘Well, how often are
you really going to go to the Bahamas anyway?’ That is
very true, but you want to know that you can, if you want to,” Cotton
said, adding that his family is now shopping for their first
The Bottom Line
boat access arrangements like timeshares, fractional ownerships
and boat clubs are excellent for novice boat owners or for
individuals with limited time to devote to the sport. Families
that enjoy outdoor recreation and don’t
want to commit to one activity are also good candidates.
boating enthusiasts are probably less likely to appreciate
their benefits. One BoatU.S. member in Alexandria, VA, summed
it up this way, “Anytime I want to use my
boat 24/7 it’s ready to go. I don’t have to make
a reservation, I just go. The only positive I can see is that
you get to try out different styles of boats before you actually
Copyright BoatU.S. Magazine, July 2007