Sharing boats: An idea with demand in Chicago

SHARE Sharing boats: An idea with demand in Chicago

With multiple launches and thousands of slips on Chicago’s iconic lakefront and within easy distance of downtown, coupled with the multitude of options for entertainment on water during the boating season, Chicago deserves being ``No. 1 in the demand market’’ for Boatbound, the peer-to-peer sharing platform.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Boatbound founder Aaron Hall calls Chicago “No. 1 in the demand market” for the peer-to-peer boat sharing platform for good reason.

“As it defrosts in Chicago, people want to be on the water,’’ he said.

Between the thousands of slips along the Chicago lakefront, the iconic beauty of the lakefront and distinctive downtown skyline, and the multitude of things to do on the water during the boating season, his assertion makes sense.

And mirrors a changing world.

Peer-to-peer sharing makes sense and dollars and cents for both owners and renters.

The renter gets the experience of boating without the full cost of ownership. Owners earn back some of their investment. Hall said the average boat owner in Chicago makes $11,000 off rentals. The demand is here.

Peer-to-peer sharing has been around longer for such things as vacation homes or condos. Peer-to-peer (or pier-to-pier, as Boatbound puts it) for boats took a longer to set up because of concerns about insurance and fear of damage to the boat.

Hall noted that in Boatbound the boat owner assesses the renter on initial contact and, if uncertain of the renter’s skills, the owner can either decide to teach the basics of use or decline the rental. That is not an issue in rentals with a captain included.

In a review at, a salient point was made: “The peer-to-peer psychology is that renters will take care of your boat because you are someone like them.’’

Boatbound was founded in San Francisco in 2013. The Chicago market was entered the next year, more seriously in 2015. A site check last week showed some 400 options in the Chicago area.

Hall created Boatbound after a visit to family in Texas when he could not get a rental, but saw hundreds of unused boats in the harbor.

“I knew we were solving a problem,’’ Hall said. “Even in Chicago, lots of boats are available. Pretty early on we knew this would be exciting and this would work.’’

Many rentals don’t go far. Major draws are simply floating in “The Play Pen,’’ watching the fireworks on the Fourth of July or weekly off Navy Pier, watching the Air and Water Show, or listening to a concert off Northerly Island. “The Play Pen’’ is the clot of boats off Olive Beach.

“All those boats sitting in Chicago now have a chance to pay for themselves,’’ Hall said.

On the other end, he noted that “30 percent never rented a boat before. eventually those people will get into [boat ownership].’’

There are such things a a 17.5-foot Lowe bass boat for $275 a day to $1,000-a-day boats complete with captains to higher end options on the Chicago site for Boatbound.

Hall is confident that in two years Boatbound will be where charter companies are renting in a “single easy place.’’

Asked what is most in demand around Chicago, Hall said, “Cruisers [24-35 feet] by far and away. They can just take it out and drop in `The Play Pen.’ ’’

If a listing has a lightning bolt, there is an instant check out process. Renters need to be 25 with a clean driving record. Security deposits vary. On smaller boats without captains, the owner and renter communicate before the hand-off.

“It is as easy as renting a house or booking a car,’’Hall said.

A view of Chicago through the back end of a fishing cruister.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

A view of Chicago through the back end of a fishing cruister.
Credit: Dale Bowman

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