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Owning a boat is the ultimate way to ensure your family can keep sharing these wonderful experiences together. But if you’re not quite ready to make that commitment, there are several ways to “try before you buy.”
If you've gone boating with your family, you already know it's an incredible way to get everyone – adults to teens to toddlers – to unplug, immerse themselves in nature and create lasting memories together. Throwing out the anchor and hopping off the boat to explore a deserted beach, giving the kids a thrill ride at the end of a towline, watching your son or daughter hook their very first fish – these are boating experiences that you and they will never forget.
Owning a boat is the ultimate way to ensure your family can keep sharing these wonderful experiences together. But if you’re not quite ready to make that commitment, there are several ways to “try before you buy.” You can charter a boat for a weeklong vacation, with or without a captain. You can find a company that offers boats for day rentals in just about every port. Thanks to the current “sharing economy,” you also can join a boat club that will give you exclusive access to its fleet all season long.
A few decades ago, “bareboat” charter fleets in tropical vacation destinations such as The Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands consisted mainly of sailboats. But today, some of these companies, such as The Moorings, also offer powerboat charters, primarily in ultra-stable power catamarans. Once you or your significant other passes the company’s driving test, you can pilot the boat yourself, island-hopping to your heart’s delight for the duration of the charter.
However, if you and your family are new to boating, you may prefer to book a boat with a professional skipper. In most cases, you still can choose your cruising itinerary, but the captain will drive the boat from “Point A” to “Point B.” Some charter companies will even provide a captain who can coach you in the finer points of boat-handling and navigation. For beginning boaters, this truly can be the “best of both worlds.”
If you want to spend more than a week or two boating with your family this year, however, you can Google “boat rentals near me” if you live near the water, or plugin the name of the nearest port on an ocean, lake or river. Another good resource to help find rental boats is www.DiscoverBoating.com – Just click on the “Get me on the water” tab at the top of the home page and select “Rent, charter and more.”
Typically, you can book a boat rental for a half or full-day. Once you arrive at the dock, the rental company should provide life jackets that comfortably fit everyone in your party, including the kids; give you a chart of the area, and point out any navigational hazards. If you want to go fishing, ask the staff where to find the local hotspots. Snorkeling, swimming, exploring local waterways, and docking and dining by waterfront restaurants are other fun things you can do with a rental boat.
Boat rental companies frequently offer a variety of vessels for hire, which gives you the chance to try out different types of watercraft. You and your family can spend a day on an outboard-powered pontoon boat which, though not as fast as many other vessels, will provide a big, stable platform for picnicking and watersports. If the boat is aluminum, the rental company may let you run it right up onto a beach – but please check with the staff first. If you are bringing Grandma and Grandpa along, chances are they will enjoy the stability and ruggedness of a pontoon boat as well.
Renting a fiberglass runabout or bowrider will give your family a different experience. These sportboats usually are powered with outboard engines or a sterndrive – a combination of an engine inside the boat and a driveshaft and propeller protruding aft. A swim step covers the driveshaft, providing a great watersports platform when you anchor in a quiet cove. Typically faster and more powerful than pontoons, sportboats also are great for towing riders on wakeboards or tubes. (Once again, check the rental company’s rules before doing this, and always wear life jackets.) Runabouts have an enclosed forward compartment where toddlers can nap out of the sun, while bowriders come with an open forward cockpit where the kids can ride and listen to their tunes.
The third category of boats typically found at rental docks are fishing boats like center consoles. Designed with a center helm station and walkarounds that let you fight a fish from bow to stern, these outboard-powered boats are purpose-built for anglers. If you don’t care to wet a line, you and your family will still appreciate the sporty handling, the shade provided by the hardtop overhead, the seating in their spacious bow and stern cockpits, and the “head” or bathroom you will sometimes find tucked away inside the console.
Another boat-rental bonus is the fact that while you’re required to replace the fuel you’ve burned during your time on the water, the staff takes care of washing down the boat once you return it.
If you truly have been bitten by the “boating bug,” you may want to consider joining a local boat club. Once a rarity, boat clubs now are growing rapidly thanks to the current “sharing economy.” Members typically pay a one-time fee to join, which allows the club to buy new boats that are shared by the membership. There also is an affordable monthly fee that enables the club to service, maintain, and store its fleet.
Some clubs, like Freedom Boat Club, use an online reservation service where members can book their boats ahead of time, ensuring they get the date and time slot they prefer. When the member arrives, a club employee will check her or him out, ensuring the required safety equipment is onboard the boat and the member knows how to use it. After a day of fun in the sun, the club will take care of washing and storing the boat.
Many boat clubs offer professional boating instruction, which makes sense, considering they want to keep their boats in good shape. Like a rental company, a boat club usually has different kinds of vessels in its fleet, allowing members to book the boat that suits the occasion – a center console for fishing, a bowrider for a day of fun in the sun, or a pontoon for a big family party. But one thing that clubs offer that rental companies don’t is the opportunity to meet and get together with other people who share a similar passion for having fun on the water.
Whether you decide to charter or rent a boat, or join a boat club, you will have the opportunity to “sample” the sport. Try before you buy, and you’re more likely to wind up with the perfect boat for you and your family.