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What You Need to Know Before Renting a Boat

With a little advance research, you can enjoy a fun, carefree day on the water.

What You Need to Know Before Renting a Boat

If you don’t own a boat and want to experience the boating lifestyle, renting a boat for a day is a great way to “try before you buy.” Even if you already own a boat at home, renting one in a new boating destination or while on vacation can be a fun way to get to know the area. Many towns located on the ocean, a major river, a lake or the Intracoastal Waterway – particularly those in popular fishing destinations – are home to businesses that offer daily boat rentals. Before you book your boat, however, there are a few things to keep in mind.

What are the regulations for boating in the state? The legal age to operate a boat and boating-license requirements vary from state to state. Be sure to research the regulations in the area where you plan to rent a boat in advance, to make sure you will comply. Same goes for angling regulations, if you plan to do some fishing.

What is your boating skill level? If you are a beginner, you should consider chartering a boat with a captain who will drive the boat and be responsible for it while you and your guests focus on having fun. Another alternative is to join a club, like Freedom Boat Club, which has a training course that must be completed before you take a boat out on your own.

What sort of rental boat is right for you? Start by listing everything you expect to get out of your boat rental. Do you plan to fish? Then a center-console or other type of fishing boat might be best for your rental. Are you interested in anchoring off a beach or sandbar? Will there be people with limited mobility on board? If so, we recommend renting a pontoon boat.

Also consider how many people you want to bring along. Most rental companies offer smaller boats such as center-consoles, runabouts and pontoons that comfortably accommodate a max of six to 10 passengers. If you need a bigger boat with more capacity or one that can run offshore, chartering a larger boat with a captain may be a better choice.

What is the boat rental company’s reputation? If you have friends in the area who rent boats, ask them for a recommendation. The dockmaster at a local marina also might be able to give you a referral. Be sure to check the company’s online ratings and reviews before you go, too.

When do you plan to rent the boat? If it’s during high season in a resort destination, it’s important to make your booking well in advance or you may be disappointed. The same applies to weekends, which are likely to be peak rental times regardless of the season.

What’s the rental company’s cancellation policy? Check with the company in advance to find out what will happen if you cancel your booking due to bad weather, illness or another reason. It may require 48 or 24 hours of advance notice of cancellation or you will forfeit your deposit. However, if the rental company must cancel your booking due to the weather, typically it will give you a refund or reschedule for another date.

What are the rules and requirements? The rental company may require you to demonstrate your ability to drive a boat in person or will provide you with a safety briefing before you start your rental. If so, plan to arrive early. Typically, you will need to pay for any fuel you use in addition to the boat rental fee, so it’s a good idea to inquire how much the company charges per gallon. Also, ask in advance about the geographical boundaries for the rental, so you won’t make plans to head for a fishing spot or a dock-’n’-dine restaurant that’s out of bounds.

What’s in the rental agreement? Be sure to read all the fine print in the boat rental contract. What happens if you should return the boat late or accidentally damage it during your rental? The agreement also should include information about the company’s liability insurance and what it covers. Although not required, you may want to consider purchasing your own short-term boat rental insurance. Check with your insurance provider to find out more about the coverage available in your area and what it costs.

Before starting your rental, it’s important to do a visual inspection of the boat, just as you would with a rental car. Are there any signs of damage? Does it look like it has been well-maintained? Document any damage before you go out, just as an extra precaution.

Is all the required safety equipment on board? During the initial inspection, make sure the boat is equipped with all the safety equipment required by the U.S. Coast Guard for a boat of its size. You’ll also need to verify it’s properly equipped to meet state and local safety requirements. If you are bringing children with you, make sure each child has a life jacket that fits him or her properly. Typically, a rental agent will show you some basic boat operation procedures and demonstrate any controls or features specific to the boat you rent. This is the time to ask any questions or request a demonstration, if needed.

If you’ve done your homework and followed these basic steps, once you leave the dock in your rental boat, you can enjoy peace of mind on the water and have a great boating experience. Not to mention the fact that when you get back to the dock, it’s the rental company’s job to wash the boat!

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