The recently-launched P2P site hopes to bring boat owners and hirers closer together. MBM talks to its founder, Frank Sykes

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When Frank Sykes found himself using his Dehler 39 sailboat less and less, he was faced with an agonising decision: try to make some money by dealing with the hassle of leasing it out, or cash in and lease another boat on an as-and-when basis.

It was this dilemma, coupled with a bad experience in the charter market, that gave Frank the idea to found Board a Boat.

This P2P website connects boat owners with those looking to charter a boat, and claims to make the whole process trouble-free.

Following a spring 2014 launch, we caught up with Frank to find out how his project was progressing and how he sees it expanding in the near future.

High hopes

With 34 boats on board and international operations only a few weeks away, Frank is understandably optimistic that his idea will take off, having seen similar concepts catch on in the Bed and Breakfast market.

“It’s the right time to do it, people are aware of services like Air BnB and our service is similar,” Frank tells MBM. “We are offering a simple service and quality level of service for boatowners.”

The website operates on the simple principle of connecting boat owners looking for extra income with those who want to charter a boat at short notice.

Board a Boat is very upfront in taking a 30% cut of all deals (in exchange for administration, breakdown cover and insurance) and the transparency of the service is immediately reassuring.

Boat owners get the final say on who they hire to, for how much, and for how long; they can even set their own level of security deposit.

With 34 boats already online and 74 awaiting coding, the site is growing at an impressive rate, considering it only went live in May.

However, Frank insists that he will not let it grow too quickly and is adamant that every boat on the site has been safety coded by the MCA, despite the rigmarole that this process entails.

“One of the major hurdles in the UK is coding, it takes about three weeks to get a new boat online from start to finish,” he adds.

While listings are free, the coding process costs £50 per metre for all craft over 6 metres long, and no vessels aged 10 or over are allowed.

Beyond that, boatowners just need to provide lifejackets, although a face-to-face induction session is highly recommended.

Who can hire

A similar level of rigour is applied to all hirers – RYA Day Skipper Level 2 training is recommended and a minimum of one crew member is needed to assist them.

And while exceptions can be made for experienced but unqualified individuals, the final say will always go to the boatowner.

Frank explains: “We qualify booking enquiries by pre-authorising the booking and deposit amount, as well as making sure users have detailed their experience.”

This is one of the key factors that sets his apart from competitor websites, as the additional hurdles make it harder for frivolous enquiries to get through.

“Currently many websites with a simple enquiry system generate many enquiries, but with a low conversion to confirmed bookings. Our enquiries will return more confirmed bookings,” he claims.

Every potential scenario is talked through on the Board a Boat FAQ, with charges set in place for late arrival, late return, lost or damaged equipment, and failure to refuel or clean the boat, while all mooring and speeding fines incurred need to be paid by the hirer.

Social sailing

There is also an eminently social aspect to the website, which should make Board a Boat highly appealing to those familiar with the likes of Tripadvisor.

Skippers who share their boat with friends and family can earn a referral fee, while the advertised rates can be negotiated on a one-to-one basis to help boost bookings in the low season.

And as you would expect, hirers are allowed to rate their experience afterwards and leave comments to let fellow users know what to expect.

Down the line, Frank expects to add extra functionality so that owners can offer to skipper the boat themselves as part of the fee, or specify a professional captain who will accompany the hiring party.

Fledgling fleet

At the time of writing, Board a Boat has 34 boats online, based in the UK, Ireland and France, with a mixture of motorboats and sailboats.

One of the more noteworthy listings is ‘Vert One’ (pictured above), a Henley-based Bullet tender that was used as a VIP transfer boat during the London Olympics.

And even if these boats attract a slew of bookings, Boat a Boat will encourage all owners to reply to every enquiry within 24 hours. In return, they can expect prompt payment within 5-6 working days.

“We want to get it to the level where friends in the pub can decide that they want to hire a boat over the weekend and just head out the next day.”