Florida Boat Rentals Made Easy with Airbnb-style Apps
By Julie Landry Laviolette
A romantic sunset cruise. A deep-sea fishing trip. A gathering with the girlfriends for a sailing adventure.
With miles of glorious coastline and easy access to the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, relaxing lakes and thrilling rivers, Florida was made for boating.
But you don’t have to actually have the lifestyle of the rich and famous to sail, cruise or even yacht through the Sunshine State’s glimmering waterways. Now it’s easier than ever to rent a boat and have the adventure of a lifetime.
Airbnb-style boat rental services match renters with boat owners to help you plan your getaway. Easy-to-use apps allow you to pick the type of boat you want and connect you with the boat’s owner.
Here are some Airbnb-type boat rental services:
Take the family out for the day or reserve a cruise for two. Enjoy an afternoon sail or head out to the water for a snorkeling adventure.
With Boatsetter, you can choose from more than 900 boats, not only nestled along the Florida coastline, but also available for lakes, rivers and the Intracoastal Waterway. You’ll find everything from cruisers to deck boats to sailboats and yachts with the company, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale.
With an inventory of boats from both private owners and charter operations, Boatsetter curates all rentals to make sure vessels are in good working order and are well maintained. Depending on the rental, you can captain the boat yourself or hire a vessel with a captain.
Giving more people access to the adventure of boating is one of the goals of the platform, which has rentals ranging from $200 to the thousands, and allows boat owners and renters to personalize the agreement. “So if you only want to take out a boat for a couple of hours at sunset, you can do that,” said Jorge Cabre, Boatsetter marketing manager.
Some owners include specialty services such as fishing charters, wakeboard lessons or water toys with the rental to make it a total experience, he said.
But Florida’s plentiful waters make boating an adventure anytime.
“In Florida, you can take a boat out, dock at a restaurant and have lunch or dinner,” Cabre said.
Boatsetter has 24/7 support for renters during the online or mobile app booking process, and phone support and emergency towing if there is a problem on the water.
Boatsetter rentals charge a 10 percent booking fee and include commercial insurance that covers the renter and all passengers.
With more than 750 boats throughout Florida, GetMyBoat offers standard rentals of sailboats, catamarans, pontoons and yachts. The company also offers smaller rentals, including kayaks and standup paddleboards, as well as experiences like sailing lessons, fishing charters and scuba diving trips. Overnight stays are available in some areas.
“There are options to stay overnight in a marina, like an Airbnb on the water, but there’s also options to take the boat out onto the ocean for a multi-day rental,” said Kristin Hampton, GetMyBoat spokeswoman.
Owners set their own prices and post an hourly or daily rate. Renters connect with owners through GetMyBoat and can customize their trip with the owner. Some rentals include a captain, some you captain yourself. Boat owners pay their own insurance for the rental. Renters may pay extra for gas, depending on the boat. Reviews of rentals by past users are posted on the site.
GetMyBoat charges the renter a seven percent service fee.
“The biggest advantage is variety and customization. We have more than just a few pontoon and fishing boats. We have a tremendous variety of experiences,” Hampton said.
Renters can look at an app and see all the rental possibilities in one place, rather than wasting time calling one marina after another, she said.
“We’re bringing that old-school experience into the 21st century,” Hampton said. “From your phone, you can see every single boat you can rent in the entire state of Florida. You can sort through them and message the owner through the app. It makes the experience easier and a lot more seamless.”
Sailo offers more than 500 boats in Florida, with the majority in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West, plus a smaller inventory in Southwest Florida, in the Tampa area.
For those using a mobile app or its website, Sailo helps arrange captained trips and those you captain yourself. Even if the rental is offered by the owner without a captain, Sailo can arrange to hire a captain for you, said Adrian Gradinaru, Sailo CEO. “You don’t pay a huge premium for a captain. You can pay generally from $50 to $200 more per day, depending on the type of boat and the experience of the captain,” he said.
Sailo also has a concierge service to help customers navigate complex rentals and to make special requests, like food and drinks for a bachelor’s party or a family reunion.
Rental inventory generally ranges from 20 to 60 feet. The average size is 42 feet. Prices vary from less than $100 for a quarter day to tens of thousands for more luxurious boats.
Every boat is insured by its owner. A security deposit may be taken and gas may be extra, depending on the rental. Sailo charges a seven percent booking fee.
Half-day and day-use rentals are most common, but overnight rentals are becoming more popular in Florida because of all the waterways to explore, Gradinaru said. “There are many more options for boating in Florida, compared to other places in the U.S.,” he said.
In South Florida, for example, you can tour celebrity homes by water, stop at a sand bar and swim or see the Miami skyline by sunset.
“Most of our customers are tourists, and they love exploring Florida from a different angle - from the water - and doing something exciting and different that they can’t do at home,” said Sailo co-founder Magda Marcu.
Pro tip: To captain a boat in Florida, you may need a boat safety education ID card/certificate. This can be from an online course/test, or from any state that meets or exceeds Florida’s requirements. You can get a temporary certificate if you're just visiting. Find details here: myfwc.com/boating/safety-education/faqs/#visit