Boatsetter’s Peer-to-Peer Boat Rentals Help Bring New Life to Boating

As the world of technology has become more mainstream with everyone now owning computers and smartphones, and voicing commands to Siri or Alexa, there has been a steady rise in the use of personal property for financial gain. Where previously to rent a home or start a car service meant a large initial investment and ongoing marketing costs, now anyone can build a website, communicate digitally, and be up and running.

It isn’t quite that simple, but as Uber, Lyft, AirBNB, and similar services have become multimillion-dollar ventures, there’s proof that sharing personal property can have significant returns.

Not to be outdone, the boating industry launched peer-to-peer boat sharing to run alongside long-standing boat charter and rental operations and the success of those ventures has been growing by leaps and bounds. On the leading edge of this phenomenon has been Boatsetter, launched in 2012 and now making new waves by expanding into the luxury yacht market. Anyone who has dreamed of cruising aboard a 100 plus foot yacht while the captain and crew cater to every whim, can now make that dream a reality.

A Leader Gets an Idea
The company is led by Jaclyn Baumgarten, co-founder and CEO, whose previous experience ranged from creating technology divisions in Fortune 500 companies, turning start-ups into billion-dollar businesses, and starting one of the largest commercial real estate developments in Los Angeles, California. Her past and current success have skyrocketed her to an internationally recognized tech entrepreneur and innovator responsible for creating and building the peer-to-peer boat rental venture into a global enterprise. However, she never saw herself getting into the world of boating.

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“It’s kind of funny that I’ve become one of the leaders in the boating industry. There’s nothing boaty in that resume! In retrospect, I think that my outsider’s view was a big part of what allowed me to rethink how the industry could work and envision a new approach that would bring in entirely new demographics, and a whole new generation in the lifestyle of boating,” she reflected.

While her career wasn’t in boating, Baumgarten grew up boating and recognized how the activity brought people together. “I grew up in a family of driven entrepreneurs, and some of my happiest childhood memories were days spent with my dad and brothers out on a boat. I’ve always felt that boating is one of those experiences everyone should be able to have,” she said.

But she also recognized the downside of boat ownership. “In 2012, within a week, two of my brothers told me they were selling their boats, because they weren’t using them enough to justify the costs. It struck me in that moment that an “Airbnb for boats” was something that needed to be – a company that would make access to boating easy for everyone, while enabling boat owners to earn money to offset the costs of owning their boats.”

Business Start-up Challenges
The idea for Boatsetter was sparked and Baumgarten was off and running, but not without some challenges. The first problem was insurance because typical coverage for recreational boats excludes coverage for rent or charter. “I hit the global insurance markets and after eight months of grueling work and countless rejections, I convinced some leading maritime underwriters out of the UK to provide the insurance product I had envisioned,” she said.

Her next hurdle was how to build a marketplace when she didn’t yet have the cash. “I had a little bit of survival money saved up from my past few years working. I put my condo on the market and moved everything I had in storage. I used that as my seed capital and didn’t take a salary for two years. I believe that to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be fully committed,” Baumbarten said.

Boatsetter Takes Off
The idea of peer-to-peer rentals was a win-win to offset costs for boat owners while introducing a new generation to the boating lifestyle in a cost-effective manner. Nearly 80 percent of renters are under the age of 45, half are millennials, and the fastest growing demographic is Gen Z. The business took off and with the 2020 pandemic recorded a 270% increase in year-over-year traffic, boosting the company to 19,000 listings across more than 600 cities worldwide.

The Boatsetter concept is simple. Boat owners, who can earn up to $20,000 annually, place a free ad on the Boatsetter website that describes their boat, displays photos, and includes information on fees, availability, and coordination with a captain if needed. Those looking to rent explore the available fleet, connect with the owners through the Boatsetter platform, book the dates and then set sail. Through a partnership with Geico, Boatsetter offers peer-to-peer rental insurance for added safety for both owner and renter. Options for boats now range from paddle boards all the way up to a 185-foot yacht and trips can be from two hours to a week. Similar to AirBNB, renters and owners have a chance to rate their experience.

Marinas can be beneficiaries of Boatsetter as well. The program helps boaters hang on to their boats meaning marinas don’t lose slip rental, and an influx of those renting the boats boosts sales revenues for amenities such as fuel, food, and service. Baumgarten said that there are instances where marinas charge tenants an additional fee for listing with Boatsetter , which provides an added source of revenue.

Positives From the Pandemic
When the pandemic brought an influx of people from all walks of life to the water, Boatsetter saw the opportunity to expand for those wanting a more luxurious experience. With yachts in sizes from 80 feet and up, based in locations such as Florida and California stateside, or as far flung as Italy, Croatia, and Greece, there is now a boat to fit every taste and budget.
The larger yachts have the option of a catered experience. For U.S. based boats this means orders are placed from a menu of options and vendors deliver directly to the yacht. For international trips, most operators include an open bar and gourmet meals as part of the rental experience. Depending on the owner and crew, water toys, towels, extra crew and more can be included.

The arrival of the pandemic is also when Baumgarten said she recognized how successful Boatsetter had become. “At the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic I was, to put it bluntly, scared. But I firmly believe you must constantly grow and evolve to be successful and to navigate a crisis. We invested in our product, in our people, in our company, and that bet paid off. We doubled our conversions in just one month in the middle of one of the most challenging economic times. We saw that people were turning to boating and outdoor activities as a safer option to enjoy time outdoors with family and friends in a new way they may not have thought was possible before. That was the moment I realized we were unstoppable,” she said.

With a team of 55 people and growing, Boatsetter continues to innovate and change the peer-to-peer rental market. The concept of Boatsetter Fishing charters has been added to the mix. The site offers a variety of experiences from yacht cruising, sailing, watersports, sandbar hopping to week-long charters around the globe.