Boat Loans

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

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If you’re 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 take care of — and pay for — storage, insurance and more. Whether it’s right for you depends on your budget and how often you plan to be 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 during which time you get to use the boat whenever you’d like and may have the option to buy when the lease is up. But that’s where the similarities end: Boat lease terms may be quite short, between Memorial Day and Labor Day for instance while a car lease may last as long as five years. You could lease a boat again next summer or decide to buy, a one-time cost, but then it would be up to you to maintain it and store it during the off-season, depending on where you live.

Renting

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

That may be because of the expense: At Strongs Marina in New York, a lease or long-term rental for a 25-foot boat during the summer months may cost about $30,000, said Tami Byrne, who handles boat rentals, leasing and boat club memberships. “There are very few takers,” she said. “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, a figure that 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, president of 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 anyone else 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.
  • May get tired: Depending on the length of you 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 as 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,” explains Giglio.

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 $556 a day in the high season for a monohull boat that can hold up to 6 passengers. Sunsail offers a bareboat charter in St. Martin for up to 2 passengers for $650 a day in August.

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.

A crewed charter offers a different experience than a boat rental from a rental company or a bareboat charter. 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,” says Giglio. The most 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. Island Life Charters offers all-inclusive charters that usually start at about $12,000 for up to 7 nights or about $1,700 per person. These prices include a captain, chef, all meals, beverages, fuel, watersports equipment and all of the fees that come with operating the boat.

All-inclusive charters are also available at Sailing Directions and include a captain, chef, meals, drinks, air conditioning, watersports, fuel, cruising permits and on deck amenities. A crewed charter trip for 7 nights ranges from $14,000 to $27,000 for 7 nights or $2,333 to $4,500 a person. While both Island Life Charters and Sailing Directions operate in the Caribbean and British Virgin Islands, Sailing Directions is also available in the Virgin Islands, Leewards, Grenadines and Bahamas.

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 out 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,” explains Giglio.

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 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,” explains Giglio.

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

Fractional membership vs. fractional ownership

If you want the use of a certain boat versus whichever boats might be available through a club, fractional membership is a way to lease a share of a boat through a company like SailTime. Fractional ownership is typically offered on more expensive boats, including yachts. The yacht may be owned by a limited liability company with owners splitting the boat into increments — the greater the percentage, the more time you could use the yacht.

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 such as 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 may 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. While a 47-foot catamaran that can fit up to 12 passengers and comes with a captain and first mate will run you $1,710 for a half day, a 24-foot center console for up to 8 passengers and no captain will cost $375 for a half day.

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 is: 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. Here are the pros and cons of these options.

Cost Maintenance Insurance Availability Choice
Buying $60,00-$75,000 for new boats ~10% of purchase price Avg $429/year Always available 1 boat, unless you buy more
Renting $250-$300 for a half day and $350-$450 None None May not be available during busy times A variety of options
Bareboat charter $500-$600 a day None None May not be available during busy times A variety of options
Crewed charter $12-$27,000 for seven nights None None 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 None None May not be available during busy times A variety of options
Boat sharing Varies widely None None May not be available during busy times A variety of options

The bottom line

A boat leasing alternative can help you get a feel for what it’s like to own a boat. If you’re new to boating or unsure of whether you’d like to commit to boat ownership, it’s a great investment. It may show you that you are ready to take the next step and buy a boat or save you from making a purchase that won’t be worth your time and money in the long-run.

 

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