Monday, September 23, 2019

Boat Rental

If it floats or flies, rent it.

A reader turned me on to that philosophy, claiming that owning intermittent-use vehicles like airplanes or boats is really pointless, as the cost of ownership, including depreciation, will be staggering - and thus the cost per hour will be much higher than rental.  Over the years I've come to realize he has a point.  Unless you use your boat or airplane almost every day - or at least once a week - chances are it's probably cheaper to rent it then to own it.

And that's the problem with things like boats and airplanes. You may buy one and then use it a lot and think you're getting good value for it.  But over time you lose interest and use it less and less.   Only the most moronic of people find doing the same thing over and over again to be fascinating.  As one boater in Ft. Lauderdale put it, "once you've been to every restaurant up and down the ICW two or three times by boat, the novelty wears off!"  Oddly enough, he kept his boat years after that point.

One day, you realize that you haven't been to the hangar in over a month or been to the marina in two months.  Internal combustion engines don't like to sit for long periods of time unused, and this can be very expensive with a boat - and fatal with an airplane.

On a recent trip we had a chance to rent two boats. We were down in Fort Lauderdale and rented an electric boat and went down the New River.  The man renting the boats kept them in immaculate condition and it was the perfect vehicle for cruising the canals and gawking at the mansions and fancy yachts.

It cost a few hundred dollars to rent, I believe around $250, and that might seem like a lot of money.  But it was much less than the cost of owning a boat and taking it out once a month.  I figured this out right before we sold our last boat, that with the storage costs and insurance costs, not to mention fuel and oil and maintenance, it was costing us $100 an hour to own our own boat, particularly if we didn't use it that often.  This was not even counting the staggering depreciation.   The more often you use a boat, of course, the lower the cost per hour is.  But if you reach a point where you are only going out once a month, the cost would be hundreds of dollars per trip.

As one wag on a boat discussion forum put it, "if you're tracking the cost per trip, then it's time to sell the boat."   And we did.

In addition to the cost mentioned above, there is the convenience factor as well.  If we wanted to take our boat on the New River or on a lake here in Kentucky, we would have had to trailer it all this distance and then launch it.  And of course, since it's your own boat, you want to wax it, clean it, and keep it in top condition.  In fact, it seems like half the "fun" of owning a boat is in washing and waxing it.  In both Cayuga Lake and in Fort Lauderdale, people would take their boats to a shallow beach area and anchor them in four feet of water and then get out with buckets and soap and wax to spend all day polishing their boats.

It's kind of fun, for a while, having a nice pristine shiny boat.  But of course, as boats get older they can become less and less shiny, just because of age. Also, they become hopelessly out of style, and eventually you have a laughably old boat and there's really no point polishing it so much. Besides, the joy of boating isn't in waxing your boat, it's in using it.

So boat rental has the additional advantage of having boats when and where you want them, without the hassle of having to tow your boat to the location which can cost hundreds of dollars in fuel not to mention the time and hassle.

We rented a party barge on a lake in Kentucky that seats 12 people and actually has a water slide that projects from an upper deck. It was a nice boat in reasonable condition, although many rental boats sometimes or a little worn around the edges. The overall cost was under $200 including the boat rental fee of $125, $35 for the insurance, and another $24.50 for gasoline.

Once we were done, we handed the keys to the nice boy at the gas stock and walked away. We don't have to haul the boat out of the water and rinse out the engine or polish the fiberglass or do anything else.  Not only is cheaper it's far more convenient.

Of course, not every place has boat rentals. And of the places that do have boat rentals, often they only have a few boats for rent, so if you got a busy weekend they might not have one available.  Many years ago we tried to rent a boat at The Cloister north of Fort Lauderdale.  When we got to the dock we saw a party barge leaving filled with people.  I asked the dockmaster about my boat rental and he stared at the party barge and said "Oh, right, I forgot you had reserved that!"  I was going to get upset but he promised me to get us a bigger boat and we waited a few minutes and he came trucking around the breakwater in a 55-foot Sea Ray.  I told him, "I can't drive that thing!" and he replied, "Oh, don't worry, I'll drive it for you!"   As a result, for a few hundred dollars we had a guided tour of the canals of Fort Lauderdale in a mega-yacht that I didn't have to pay for.  It was pretty sweet.

Of course, not all boat rentals go that way.  At another franchise in Fort Lauderdale, we rented a runabout it was in pretty piss-poor condition.  They hadn't even bothered to clean the boat and the life jackets were mildewy.  We have also rented party barges that were pretty run-down, including one in Fort Myers Beach where the power tilt didn't even work, which is really essential in that area is it's prone to shallow water.  We returned many years later, and a new owner had taken over the boat rental business and had state-of-the-art pontoon boats with built-in stereos with Bluetooth no less. There is competition in the business and there's no excuse for shoddy rundown boat rentals.

But for that reason, it's probably a good idea to go a day ahead of time and check out the boats in question before committing to renting them. If they look a little sketchy, maybe you can try a different outfit. And since most of these boats tend to be rented on the weekends, you can try time-shifting your rental to the weekdays or Sundays as we did, when over six boats were available for our selection, whereas on Saturday all of them were rented for the day.

We are also able to time shift another way, on a less popular day. Most places charge for a half or full-day rental usually for 8 hours. If it's very busy the 4 hour rental period runs from 8 a.m. to 12 or 12 to 4 pm. Those might not be convenient hours for you.  But since no one was renting these boats on a Sunday, we were able to rent them from a 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. - the prime time for boating.

If they offer optional insurance, it is probably a good idea to get it. Because boats can be very expensive to repair and for a few dollars it's worth the peace of mind. This is one instance where "peace of mind" can be purchased for a small amount of money.  Usually though, boat rental places don't cover the cost of propellers and sometimes even lower units.  So if you drive the boat into a rock you're still liable for the cost of damages which can run into the hundreds, maybe $1,000 or so.

If you have any qualms about the legitimacy of the boat rental place, it's probably a good idea to video the condition of the boat before you take it out, and again when you return it. I have not heard of any boat rental places trying to scam their customers by claiming damages that existed prior to the rental.  But rental car companies have tried this in the past, particularly after the last recession.  You can protect yourself by video making a video of the boat including the propeller before and after the rental period.

But most of the places we rented from are pretty relaxed.  The people operating the rental operation are just clerks or gas jockeys and really don't care about the condition of the boats.  One of them confessed to us that they used to have anchors on all the boats, but that people lost them and claimed the boat never came with an anchor, and they never really pursued the matter.

And the reason for that is that these can be very profitable enterprises.  Like I said before, boats like to be used, and the cost per hour drops the more you use them.  A boat that is rented out gets used almost every weekend and possibly every day of the week.  While this creates a lot of wear and tear for the boat, it generates lot of income as well.  And probably their largest expense is liability insurance - in case some drunken boater runs somebody over.  In fact, I suspect half the cost of renting a boat is in the liability insurance, and the other half in the depreciation and maintenance expenses of the boat itself.

Again, renting makes sense for things that you use intermittently.  Renting a car to drive to work everyday doesn't make any sense, as the cost of owning a car outright is far less than the cost of renting one, if you are driving every day.  If you only go boating or flying once every few weeks or months, renting might make more sense than the staggering cost of ownership.