Are you one of those people who looks out at all the Bayliners and Boston Whalers, the MasterCrafts and Malibus that begin to dot Lake Michigan’s harbors this time of year and think I wish I knew someone with a boat?
Boatbound — a rapidly growing, 2-year-old start-up that has dropped anchor in Chicago this summer — is betting you are. It’s like Uber or Airbnb, only for boats. You want to go out on a boat. Somebody is happy to take a fee to help you do that. Boatbound hooks the two of you up.
“In July-sh of last year, we sent a team to Chicago to start to build the market,” said Aaron Hall, the 36-year-old tech and boating aficionado who founded the San Francisco company. “We found a lot of demand. This year, we have a full launch plan. We’ll be in Chicago the whole summer.”
Looking particularly to the success of the space rental/sharing marketplace Airbnb, Boatbound has grown from a few listed Bay Area boat owners to 10,000 of them nationwide who make their boats available through the service. It handles promotions, payment and insurance.
Entrenched in the boating hubs of Miami, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and New York, company officials hope to increase the 312 boats currently listed in Chicago to 1,000 by summer’s end.
Launched with $4 million in investment funding in June 2013, Boatbound — takes a 35 percent cut of rental fees — says it had $15 million in bookings last year. Its top listers made $30,000 a year, on average, by renting out their boats, according to Hall. He said boats typically rent out for $300 to $600 a day, with larger yachts running into the thousands. Up to $3 million in liability insurance is provided to owners by Boatbound.
“I’m a big user of Airbnb for my business travels and knew how successful it was, so when we learned a company was doing what Airbnb did with boats, we jumped all over it,” said boat owner Lucciano Berninzon, 38, a Loop resident and founding partner of the marketing firm Industry415 Creative.
Berninzon and his business partner have owned “Dream Catcher,” a 25-foot Sea Ray, for five years and were among the handful of owners to list with Boatbound in its initial foray here.
“We were literally booked solid, at least once or twice a week, all the way through October,” Berninzon said. “The boat literally just went into the water last week, and we have bookings all the way through September. We have a lot of repeat customers and new people, too. It’s great because you basically subsidize maintenance of your boat’s overhead and also get to connect with others coming in to Chicago who share your hobby.”
Boatbound touts itself as a way to offset the sometimes-high cost of keeping a boat — the storage, slip and maintenance fees.
Using a searchable list of Chicago boats at http://www.Boatbound.com, experienced boaters can rent the vessel alone. Non-boaters can request an accompanying captain. Each party can accept or reject a pairing; and reviews of owners and renters are posted afterward.
According to Hall, problems have arisen with under .5 percent of its rentals.
“We do get some issue, and that’s what the insurance is there for,” Hall said. “We’ve had very few incidents because of the way people behave in a sharing economy. It behooves one to be a good citizen because you want that 5-star rating so you can rent again.”
Chicagoans have shown a greater interest in boat-sharing than expected.
“South Florida is no. 1, and it’s between Chicago and D.C. for the second-highest demand in the country,” Hall said. “Chicago’s funny. It’s one of those cities that you know has a great boating culture, but it’s so cold most of the year you don’t expect it to be so robust for a three-month window. In Chicago, they boat from when the snow stops until when the snow starts.”