If you don’t have a boat, but you want to experience a fun-filled day out on the water, renting a boat might be exactly what you need.
Renting a boat is a great way to get the enjoyment out of the boat without all the care, upkeep, and cost that comes with owning a boat.
If you do not want to buy a boat and incur all the work and cost that comes with it, you can still rent a boat for you and your group to enjoy a sunny day out on the water.
Before you rent a boat, there are a few things you should know so I have compiled a list of tips for anyone considering renting a boat.
1. Plan in Advance
It is wise, especially if you live in a location where boating is seasonal, to make sure you make a rental reservation in advance.
Boating season usually kicks off around Memorial Day weekend and runs all the way through Labor Day weekend. Summer weekends are very busy for marinas and they may not have any boats available if you plan to just walk in and secure a rental.
It is a good idea to make your plans as early in the season as you can. This will ensure that you have a boat to ride when you want it.
2. Get There Early
In addition to making early reservations, you will want to make sure you arrive early the day of.
Getting there early will allow you to get all the paperwork and checks accomplished and you will not have to waste any of your reserved time. This can be a big deal if you are going out for a day trip and you have to be back by a certain time.
If you are paying for a certain amount of time, you definitely want to make sure you are out on the water the entire time.
It is recommended that you show up at least 30 to 45 minutes before your scheduled time. This will help ensure that you are out on the water on time.
3. Get a Smooth Check-In
The best way to keep check-in smooth is to read any details in the confirmation letter and to know what you need.
If you carefully read the confirmation letter and come prepared, check-in should go smoothly for you. Most companies will outline any documents you need, when you should arrive, what accessories or other equipment will be included, and any other important information.
It is also a good idea to have a copy of your confirmation to provide when you arrive. That way it is easier for them to look you up and get you started on the check-in process.
4. Make Sure You Get the Right Boat for You
When you are renting a boat, you will want to make sure you rent the right type of boat.
In this regard it is important to know your limits. You likely will not want to take out a full size sailboat if you have never sailed before.
You will also want to make sure you choose a boat that will fit the needs of your party.
Make sure you keep passenger count in mind when choosing a boat so that you do not overcrowd the vessel.
If you plan to do watersports you will want a boat with enough power to pull your sport equipment.
5. Make Sure Your Boat is in Good Condition
Even though your rental boat is not something that you are purchasing and they are often well maintained, you will still want to make sure that the boat is in good working condition.
There is nothing worse than being stranded out in the water due to engine issues. Before you go out on the water, you will want to make sure everything is in properly working order and bring it up with the rental company if you notice any issues.
It is also a good idea to do a thorough check of the outward appearance of the boat as well. Often time you will go over the appearance of the vessel with the company that is renting it out. This will allow you and them to take note of what condition the boat is like before you leave.
Make sure if you do notice anything, you make them aware of it before you head out so that they do not try to use it against you when you get back. Unreported damage ahead of time could mean damage charges for you when you get back, even if you did not cause the damage.
6. Be Prepared for the Weather
Because you will likely have made your reservation in advance, it will be hard to predict what the weather might be doing that day.
Make sure you keep an eye on the forecast and prepare for anything that can happen, weather-wise. This includes keeping an eye on the radar to determine if it is safe to travel out on the water.
Another consideration to make in regards to weather is what to wear. Make sure you bring a backup layer of clothing in case the weather gets colder. Remember it is better to have and not need than to need and not have.
7. Have a Plan
Having a plan in case something goes wrong is a great idea before you go out on the water.
This tip is great no matter if you are going out on a rental boat or your own boat. Having a plan and letting someone know that plan is a great way to stay safe while out on the water.
Having a plan can include:
- Knowing the contact information for the marina.
- Letting someone know how long you intend to be out so they can check on you if you do not return.
- Making sure you have a way to tell time so you know when you will be back.
Safety is the number one concern any time that you are out on the water. Even with the most cautious boat operators, accidents can happen and you want to make sure there is someone on land that is keeping you in mind.
If you do not have anyone in the area to do this for you, you can leave your plan and contact information with the rental company or marina.
8. Pack Properly
When you go out on your rental boat, you will want to take special care when you are packing.
If you are going out on your own boat, you will likely know everything that is onboard, but this is not the case with a rental boat.
Because you do not know what will be onboard a rental boat you will want to make sure that you pack everything you will need while out on the water.
This can include:
- Clothes for all weather
- A Cooler
You will also want to pack anything that you plan on doing while out on the water. This can include fishing supplies or watersport equipment.
If you are going out for more than a day you will need to pack much more than you would need to for a day-long journey.
Some things that you might need for a longer journey include:
- Bathroom toiletries
- Additional clothing
Make sure that you bring whatever you think you will need no matter what the length of your journey is and do not depend on it being onboard your rental boat unless it is listed.
9. Don’t Overpack
You will want to make sure you properly pack and get everything that you need, but you will want to make sure you do not overpack. Whatever you bring with you will both have to be loaded and unloaded, likely in the same day.
This means that you won’t want to bring anything that is unnecessary and save yourself some time and hassle.
You also will want to avoid overpacking to prevent overcrowding on the vessel. It is not ideal to be constantly be climbing over stuff out on the deck of the boat.
10. Boating Requirements
One thing that you will need to do is to make sure you are in compliance with boating requirements.
Whether or not you need a boater’s education class varies from state to state. Some states require that you have it if you are a certain age, some states require everyone to have it, and some states have no restrictions.
These rules are very important and you could receive fines if you are not in compliance with them. Each set of rules is generally listed online and can easily be looked up.
You can also look to my previous article that provides the general rules per state in regards to boater education:
If you do need a boater’s license, make sure you have it ready at the time of rental in case they need a copy of it.
11. Know How to Operate your Vessel
If you have never been out on the water yourself, you will want to know what you are doing. Even if you are not required to take boating safety, you will want to make sure that you know what you are doing when it comes to navigating your vessel.
Like I mentioned before, you do not want to take a sailboat out if you are not comfortable sailing, but this is not the only consideration that you will need to make.
You will want to be confident that someone in your party is competent in operating whatever vessel you are taking out.
If you are uncomfortable with any part of the process you should ask the company before you go out. Some rental companies will have no problem giving you quick on the spot training and instruction to help you while out on the water.
You will also want to make sure that you know the rules of navigation. This is something all operators need to know no matter what type of vessel they take out.
You will learn the navigation rules if you take a boater education course, but if this is not required, you will want to go online and familiarize yourself with these rules.
You can also look to my previous article that provides the basic navigation rules for boat operators:
If you do not follow the navigation rules you could endanger yourself, your passengers, or even other vessels.
12. Consider a Captain
If you really do not feel confident operating the marine vehicle, you could always consider hiring a captain.
This is not always an option but some places and some types of vessels will offer a charter option that will provide a captain.
This is most often offered with large power yachts, but this is not the only way to get a captain for your vessel. You might even be able to hire an independent operator to help you out on your rented vessel.
This will allow you to still have a tailor-made boating experience without the pressure of having to navigate and control the boat yourself.
13. Age Requirements
Before you rent a boat, you might need to consider age restrictions.
If you are under 18 it is likely that you will not be able to rent a power boat. Some states even require you to be 21 or even 25 to rent a power boat. If an age restriction does exist, you will likely be asked to provide a valid driver’s license at check-out.
Age restrictions are a little more flexible when it comes to renting a chartered boat since they usually come with a captain and sometimes even a crew who is responsible for the operation of the vessel.
Each state has its own restrictions, and different companies might have restrictions of their own, so before you make a plan to rent a boat, you will want to be sure you are eligible.
14. Know What You Are Signing
More often than not, when you are renting a boat you will have to sign a waiver with the company. You will want to make sure that you are reading the document thoroughly before you sign and know what you are agreeing to.
This should be something you do every time you sign something.
The standard waiver will make you liable for the boat and the people on board. This includes any damage to the boat or any injuries suffered.
This generally does not include mechanical issues such as a blown motor.
15. Consider Insurance
Because you could be liable for injuries or damages that occur while you are using the rental boat, you might also want to look into insurance.
It is encouraged that you check with your insurance agent and see if it is possible to extend your insurance policy temporarily to your rental boat.
There is also the option to purchase temporary coverage for a rental boat.
16. Know your Costs
The cost of renting a boat can vary depending on the type of boat you are renting and for how long.
Companies often offer multiple paying options as well as hourly limits. You can also rent a boat for more than one day if you plan to get a boat for overnight use.
You can even get boat rentals for over a week if that is the type of trip you are going for.
It will also cost more money if you plan to charter a boat. This means that there will be a captain and depending on the size and type of vessel there might even be a crew. This is most common if you choose to rent a yacht.
The price will also change depending on what type of vessel you are renting. Power boats generally cost more than sailboats, but different types of powerboats also feature different pricing. An aluminum fishing boat would not cost as much as a pontoon boat or ski boat.
17. Be Prepared for a Deposit
Companies will often ask for a deposit before you check-out the boat.
This should not be a surprise as they will likely tell you what is expected up front when you make your reservation or this cost will be listed somewhere. Make sure if the marina expects a deposit you bring the amount in full.
You also will want to be prepared that the company could keep some or all of this deposit if they determine that you were negligent or somehow damaged the boat.
18. Tips to Save Money on a Rental
If you are anything like me, you probably believe that saving money is a good thing and there are ways that you can save money on your boat rentals as well.
One way to save money on your boat rental is to try to avoid renting on the weekend. Weekend rates are more expensive because there is more of a demand.
If you want to have more time out on the water you can even save money by doing a multi-day rental. If you book for more than one day in advance it is likely they will give you a deal that you would not overwise receive if you book multiple single-day rentals.
Renting a boat for longer will give you a better rate per hour. If you only rent for a short period of time, you will likely have to pay a higher hourly rate than if you rent for a full day or longer period of time.
Another way to save some money would be to split the cost with the other passengers who are going with you if that is an option.
19. Don’t Forget to Enjoy
You will be spending money to rent a boat and enjoy time out on the water so you want to make sure that you actually do take time to enjoy it.
Make sure that you get in the water to swim, play any watersports you planned for, or even fish if that was what you were intending. You will want to enjoy your day out on the water after spending the money to get out there.
20. Renting Out Your Own Boat
If you are a boat owner, you could also consider renting out your boat to renters. This cuts out the marina or rental company so you want to make sure you take the proper precautions.
Renting out your property while it is not in use is an increasingly popular idea. People rent out rooms, homes, and even their vehicles now. The market is now out there for you to rent out your boat.
Some things to keep in mind when renting your boat out to others include:
- Working with a person to person company. Make sure if you do this, you are prepared for the company to take a cut of your profits.
- Vetting your renters by asking them anything you want to know.
- Make sure you know what is average to charge. You don’t want to be undercharging your boat and be selling yourself short.
- Make sure you check for damage. Like a rental company, you would benefit from taking notice of what the boat looks like before and after so you can know if there was any damage.
- Consider a contract or deposit for your renters.
- Know that as your boat ages, you will make less money renting it out with increased use, high engine hours, and wear and tear.
Renting out your boat can be a great way to make money when you are not using it. This can help offset the cost of maintenance, slip fees, and other necessary expenses.
Pros and Cons of Renting over Buying:
There are many pros to renting a boat over buying a boat. These pros include:
- Expenses: Renting a boat is much cheaper than buying a boat. You will not be required to store it, maintain it, and make a monthly payment on it.
- Get a feel for what you want: If you are unsure about buying a boat, you can test it out with a rental. This will help you to know if boating is for you and what type of boat works best for you before you dive into the purchase.
- Time: Owning a boat doesn’t cost just money, it also costs you time. You have to clean and maintain it. If you rent a boat, you may not even be required to wash the boat down at the end of the day.
- New Places: If you rent a boat instead of own a boat, you can travel to more places without trailering your boat or traveling with it.
- Storage: If you do not own the boat, you will not have to store it in either the on or off season. Off-season storage is not easy and most living situations do not allow you to store it in your own home.
There are also cons to renting a boat instead of buying. These cons include:
- Expense in the long run: it is possible if you plan to boat often, in the long run, it can start to be more expensive to rent multiple boats over buying one.
- Lack of ownership: Renting comes with a certain lack of ownership that you would get if you owned your own boat. You will always be in a space that doesn’t belong to you and you will have to take your stuff on and off every single time.
- Quality of Care: A rental boat is never kept quite as nice as you could keep your own boat. Most people who rent boats do not feel pride in the boat and are often rougher on it than they would be on their own equipment. For this reason, rented boats are always more beaten up or worn out.
- Availability: Obviously, if you are renting a boat, you will not have control to go out wherever and whenever you want. This is the luxury that only comes with owning your own vessel. If you own your boat you can decide the last minute to head out on the water, or you can stay out past your intended time.
Renting a boat can be ideal for those who want to have time out on the water without the time, maintenance, and money that it costs when purchasing a boat.
Renting a boat can also be a great way to explore multiple bodies of water and try out many different vessel types. This can even be helpful with picking one before you decide to buy one.
Renting a boat is also a great way to enjoy the experience out on the water without having to worry about the time and upkeep that comes with owning a boat. You also do not have to worry about trailering or hauling your boat as well as storing it.
Renting a boat comes with all the fun and much less stress. Renting a boat is a great way to bring family and friends together, enjoy the summer out on the water, and make memories.
There are many things to consider before you rent a boat but with the proper preparation and by following the tips above, you can have a great rental experience out on the water.
Shelby Sullivan is our specialist when it comes to pontoon boats and recreational watercraft. She is often found sailing the freshwater lakes of Michigan. She is also a light-traveler who enjoys camping and traveling the world. Read more about Shelby here.