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Can You Lease a Boat and Is This The Best Decision?

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When adding up the costs of buying and maintaining a boat, you might be wondering if it’s possible to lease instead. The short answer: Yes, but boat leasing typically looks more like a long-term rental and less like the more familiar car lease.

We’ll explore boat leasing as well as alternatives: charters, boat clubs, boat sharing and, of course, buying. Leasing can be expensive, adding up well over the cost of buying over time, but someone else may be in charge of — and pay for — storage, insurance and more. Whether it’s right for you depends on your budget and how often you plan on being on the water. Prices mentioned are accurate as of the date of publishing.

What’s the difference between leasing, buying or renting a boat?

Like a car lease, a boat lease involves making payments during a set term while you get to use the boat whenever you’d like. Also like a car lease, you could have the option to buy it when the lease is up. But that’s where the similarities end. Boat lease terms can be quite short, starting on Memorial Day and ending on Labor Day, for instance, while a car lease may last up to five years. You could lease a boat again next summer or decide to purchase one, but then it would be up to you to maintain and store it during the offseason, depending on where you live.

Renting

Although a boat lease may sound like a good idea in theory, it’s relatively rare, says Scott Croft of the Boat Owners Association of the United States and Maggie Maskery of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

That may be because of the expense: At Strong’s Marine in New York, a lease or long-term rental for a 25-foot boat during the summer months may cost about $30,000, says Tami Byrne, who handles boat rentals, leasing and boat club memberships. “There are very few takers,” she says. “It’s not financially advisable, but some clients choose to do that.”

On the other hand, buying that same boat new might cost about $100,000. However, this figure wouldn’t include the cost of winter storage, spring conditioning, maintenance or dockage fees — expenses that could add up to about $8,000-$10,000 annually, Byrne said.

Short-term rentals

A short-term rental might be an option for those looking for a boat for days, not months. “Renting a boat is a gateway to boating. It’s a simple process where you can enjoy a boat for a half or full day and return it once you’re done,” says John Giglio, executive director at Freedom Boat Club in Venice, Fla.

Once you give the rental company your credit card and driver’s license, and watch a short video or take a brief boating test, you’ll be out on the water, Giglio says. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere between $250 and $300 for a half-day rental and in the $350 to $450 range for a full day.

Alternatives to boat leases

In addition to boat renting, there are several alternatives to formal boat leasing or rental programs you may want to consider. Let’s dive deeper into ways to take a boat on the water, including the different types of boat charters as well as boat clubs and peer-to-peer boat sharing.

Bareboat charter

Pros Cons
  • Complete control: Since you’ll be planning your boating adventure and operating your boat, you’ll have complete control of the experience.
  • Privacy: There won’t be a captain, chef or crew on the boat so you can expect optimal privacy.
  • Boating knowledge is necessary: If you are new to boating, a bareboat charter won’t make sense as you have to know how to operate and care for a boat.
  • Managing a boat requires attention: Depending on the length of your trip, you may get exhausted from operating the boat and wish to hand off your duties to an actual captain.

A bareboat charter is similar to a boat rental because you pay for a boat and take it out on the water on your own. You’ll reserve the boat from a charter company and act as the captain. You’ll be responsible for essentially everything, including creating the itinerary, sailing and caring for the boat.

While a bareboat charter is typically a sailboat or catamaran, some companies offer motor yachts. The greatest benefit of a bareboat charter is that you have complete control of the boat since you’ll choose where you go and how long you’ll stay.

When it comes to drawbacks, the most significant one is that you must have the knowledge to sail, manage and dock the boat. “A bareboat charter is a good option for someone who is skilled in boating and likes the freedom of hopping onto a nice vessel and returning it when they’re done,” Giglio says.

Costs for bareboat charters vary widely and are based on location, boat type, season, passengers and amenities. At Horizon Yacht Charters in the British Virgin Islands, for example, it’s $586 a day in the high season for a monohull boat that can hold up to six passengers. Sunsail offers a bareboat charter in St. Martin for up to two passengers for $620 a day in August with a five-night minimum.

Crewed charter

Pros Cons
  • A luxury boating experience: If you like the idea of lounging around a boat without a care in the world, a crewed charter is the way to go. It’ll give you a luxury boating experience because everything will be taken care of on your behalf.
  • Access to a variety of conveniences: Many crewed charters come with chefs, meals, drinks, watersports and other amenities you may find convenient.
  • Lack of privacy: There will be other people on the boat other than your loved ones so you won’t have too much privacy.
  • A hands-off approach to boating: If you are excited about the idea of controlling a boat, a crewed charter may not be a good fit as the captain will plan and execute your entire boating trip.
  • Expensive: If you decide to go with a crewed charter, you can expect to dish out some serious cash.

With a crewed charter, a captain, chef and cleaning crew will handle all of the boating, cooking and cleaning for you so you can sit back, relax and enjoy the water without any responsibility. The captain will take you to the most popular areas and be held accountable in case anything goes wrong.

“A crewed charter is the ideal choice if you want to enjoy yourself without worrying about anything. It’s a great way to pamper yourself and your loved ones,” Giglio says. The noteworthy disadvantages of a crewed charter is that you don’t get the experience of driving a boat and there may not be much privacy.

While costs for crewed charters vary widely as well, you can expect them to be significantly higher than those of bareboat charters. Sailing Directions offers all-inclusive charters that include a captain, chef, meals, drinks, air conditioning, watersports, fuel, cruising permits and on-deck amenities. A crewed charter trip for seven nights in August ranges from $11,600 to $59,950 for seven nights, or $4,995 to $28,475 a person. 

Boat clubs

Pros Cons
  • Can go boating whenever you like: If you become a boat club member, you can take out a boat as frequently as you wish (with a reservation). There are no restrictions on how often you can use your membership.
  • Access to a variety of boats: Boat clubs typically carry a wide array of boats so you can test out different ones and find which boats you like best.
  • Can’t boat at night: Boat clubs rarely permit nighttime boating so you can only boat from sunrise to sunset.
  • No guarantees on boat availability: If you want a specific type of boat at a certain time, it may be taken or reserved by another member.
  • Can be expensive: Since the costs of joining will add up over time, you may be able to buy a boat for the price of a monthly membership.

If you join a boat club, you’ll pay a membership fee and enjoy access to a fleet of boats. You can use the boats as often as you’d like for a fixed cost as long as you make a reservation in advance. Membership costs for boat clubs vary and are dependent on the location as well as the types of boats that are available.

However, there’s usually a one-time fee that’s an average of $5,500 and monthly fees that range anywhere from $200 to $700. Most boat clubs don’t have contracts so you can make monthly payments and remain a member for as long as you wish.

“Joining a boat club allows for hassle-free boating at a fixed cost. Unlike a rental where you pay by use, a boat club can give you the opportunity to go boating as often as you’d like,” Giglio says.

Giglio notes a couple of disadvantages: Boats typically can’t be taken out at night and there are no guarantees you’ll get the boat you want when you want it. In most cases, boats are available from sunrise to sunset. However, some clubs may split the day into two-reservation slots — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

“We retain 92% of Freedom Boat Club’s membership on an annual basis. When members do leave our boat club, it’s usually because they graduate to ownership or realize they don’t like boating as much as they thought they would,” Giglio says.

While Freedom Boat Club is one of the most popular boat club organizations, others include the Carefree Boat Club or Your Boat Club.

Boat sharing

Pros Cons
  • No membership fees: You don’t have to commit to paying fees every month like you would if you joined a boat club.
  • A plethora of boats available: You can choose from a plethora of boats owned by folks all over the country.
  • May not get what you expected: Just like with house rentals, boat rentals may have great descriptions but not live up to them. You may get stuck with a boat that is different than what you thought it would be.
  • Limited availability: Since the idea of peer-to-peer boat sharing is relatively new, it’s not an option in every location. It’s more common in various parts of Florida, like West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa and Fort Myers.

Peer-to-peer boat sharing gives boat owners the opportunity to make their boats available to others when they aren’t using them. It may be a good choice if you like the idea of having a wider range of boats at your disposal than those available through a boat club or charter provider and don’t want to pay monthly membership fees.

Of course, if you go with peer-to-peer boat sharing, what you see may not be what you get and boats aren’t available everywhere. Boatsetter, GetMyBoat and Click&Boat are a few examples of peer-to-peer boat sharing sites that make it easy for you to connect with boat owners who are willing to rent out their boats.

Pricing for peer-to-peer-boat sharing varies widely and is dependent on factors like location, boat size and features. A 40-foot catamaran out of Barcelona that can fit up to 28 passengers and comes with a captain will run you $2,831 for a full day. A 24-foot center console out of Miami for up to eight passengers and no captain will cost $500 for four hours.

What’s better: Buying a boat or leasing a boat?

Does it make more sense to buy a boat or take advantage of one of the alternatives we mentioned above? The answer: It depends. If you are new to boating and want to test out the waters and determine whether you enjoy it, a bareboat charter, crewed charter, boat club, or peer-to-peer boat sharing may make sense.

Cost Availability Choice
Buying $60,000 to $75,000, plus maintenance (~10% of purchase price) and insurance (avg $429/year) Always available 1 boat, unless you buy more
Leasing ~$30,000 for the summer Always available during the lease term 1 boat, unless you lease more
Renting $250-$300 for a half day and $350-$450 May not be available during busy times A variety of options
Bareboat charter $586+ a day May not be available during busy times A variety of options
Crewed charter $11,600+ for 7 nights May not be available during busy times A variety of options
Boat clubs One-time fee of about $5,500 and $200-$700 a month May not be available during busy times A variety of options
Boat sharing Varies widely May not be available during busy times A variety of options
 

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