NICE LITTLE EARNER
Can you make your boat pay for itself? We talk to four owners who rent out their boats via Beds on Board to see how it works for them
We talk to four owners who rent out their boats with Beds On Board to see if it pays
e’re helping boat owners remain boat owners,” says Tim Ludlow, co-founder of Beds on Board. “Our typical owner is someone who has gone through the honeymoon period of boat ownership and is finding it hard to balance the expense versus usage, which is often far less than originally envisaged. The point of Beds on Board is not that he should let other people use his boat instead of him but to provide some income when it’s not being used. Look at a typical marina on a summer weekend, you can see that this is the case for many boats much of the time.”
The inspiration for Beds on Board was actually something of a eureka moment. Jason Ludlow, Tim’s brother and co-founder, was crewing for Sir Peter Ogden (the third of the three co-founders) aboard his 72ft racing sail boat Jethou. They were in Palma, heading ashore in a RIB to search for accommodation for the 20 crew. As they sailed past legions of empty boats tied up in the marina, the thought occurred that the answer was obvious, if only there was a platform for linking supply with demand.
The platform was launched to the public in Beta (testing) form at the London Boat Show in 2015 and a year later they took their first booking. Today they’ve recently passed their 1,000th booking for a 3,000-strong listing of boats that cover the UK and abroad, with typically just over half available at any one time. Boats range from about 26ft upwards, the criteria being that there must be sleeping for at least two people and it must be safe, comfortable and presentable with walk-on access.
“Our sweet spot is 35-45ft,” says Tim, “and it’s skewed about 60/40 toward motor over sail. But we range right up to full-on superyachts that cost £7,000 a night. We’ve got between 300 and 400 in the UK, many in popular Mediterranean destinations like Palma and Barcelona, a few in the Caribbean, and we’ve even got one boat listed in Canada. Most owners are happy if they can cover their berthing fees, and if the boat is occupied for 20 to 30 days they generally will.” But Tim returns to his theme of renting the boat not being an alternative to using it. “The whole point is to keep people boating. Use the boat just as you normally would, but when you’re not, which for most people is far more than they are, why not earn some money from it?”
“The joy of Beds on Board income is that it provides pocket money to spend on the boat without feeling guilty. I’m about to replace the swim platform at a cost of £2,000 and that is excess boat expenditure that the boat itself is effectively funding. I reckon that it costs about £10,000 per year to run the boat; if it can generate some of that itself then that really helps to justify the expense.”
Nick Craddock has been renting out his boat via the system for two years, and has noticed a real uplift in popularity. “We began renting in August 2016; in fact I think we were probably one of the first to do so. It was a slow start but it has gradually escalated. This year, with the business model more established and the hot summer, we’ve had lots of last-minute bookings from people wanting to take advantage of the weather and the boat was booked solid from the end of June through to August.” At £180 per night in the high season that’s a decent income.
Nick says that most bookings are for one or two nights. He has two sets of bedding and has two helpers who charge him £35 to bring the fresh set down and take the used set away to wash for each change-over, as well as give the boat interior a quick clean and freshen up. “The boat is generally left immaculate. The worst we’ve ever experienced is tiny things like toast crumbs and toothpaste in the sink. People do tend to respect it.” Nick, who lives in Hereford, never meets his guests. He sends out a brochure to everyone renting the boat with local information, but also with ground rules such as no smoking and shoes off inside the boat, plus useful hints like keeping an eye on the water tank gauge. But it’s respect and consideration that goes both ways. “Brixham is very sheltered in the prevailing south-westerly winds. However, a strong easterly sets up an uncomfortable swell. If we do get a strong easterly forecast I’ll call, explain the problem and suggest they cancel. I don’t want anyone to have an unpleasant experience. Most people love it, and I think it’s great that people can experience a taste of boat life comparatively cheaply. One couple had a weekend with their children and enjoyed it so much that they rebooked the following weekend with their parents.”
“It sounds strange but I really do genuinely enjoy doing it,” says Nick Trainer, who owns a Fairline Squadron Italian Job in Lymington. Nick previously rented his Azimut 55 but has recently swapped that boat for the Squadron 50. “It’s not as flashy as the Azimut, that was a stunning boat, but it’s actually more homely and more practical, with things like four huge opening windows in the saloon compared with two small ones on the previous boat. And one double plus two twins works better for this than two doubles and one twin.”
Retired and living locally to the boat, Nick personally hands over the boat to each set of guests, although he contracts out the cleaning inside and out once a week. The laundry is also contracted out, something he describes as worth every penny with five sets of bedding and 18 towels to wash, iron and return.
“We set the boat up properly, with seven complete sets of linen and six sets of towels,” he says. “And of course that cost has to be amortised, we’ll probably get a couple of years out of it, although we’ve had to replace a couple of the bed sheets already. You also have to expect some additional wear and tear, such as changing carpets occasionally. On average I reckon I spend about £1,000 per month across the year, but we’ll bring in sometimes over £3,000 per month. In June we had 17 changeovers, but of course in November we might have none. January and February are surprisingly busy months. I was turning people away in February because the boat was already booked! It covers my marina fees and more, so the boat actually ends up costing very little to run, which takes a lot of the guilt of all that expense away when you’re not using it. And if we do want to use it we just block the time out. That said, occasionally there will be a burst of good weather and we find we can’t use the boat because it’s booked out.”
Nick has found the experience mostly very positive. “We’ve had the odd issue, someone rang saying there was no water — they’d left a bidet running and flooded the cabin. We also lay down the ground rules, that it’s not a place to hold wild parties, for the sake of other marina users as much as the boat. But the vast majority treat it with respect.”
Location, location, location is Adam Baker’s key to successful boat rental. Unlike many users, the boat Adam runs with a partner is an entirely commercial proposition. “We’ve coded the boat so that we can run charters, and we also have some success with Marine Memorials, where we take funeral parties out to scatter ashes at sea.” An early adopter of peer to peer sharing, they began renting the boat in Easter 2016. “It was pretty quiet to begin with; in fact that’s why we coded the boat to enable us to access other income streams. But bookings almost doubled in 2017 and this year we’d overtaken last year by the end of August with 142 nights booked. Ninety per cent of the income the boat generates is now people staying on board.”
Adam runs a fully restored and refurbished 1985 Princess 414 which is kept in Poole Boat Haven, directly adjacent to Poole Quay, a location deliberately chosen as a popular destination. “It came down to Lymington or Poole Quay in the end, and we chose Poole Quay because there are restaurants, pubs and shops as soon as you step off the pontoon. I suspect that a quiet backwater would be less successful.” The whole boat is open for guests to use, including the galley, which is popular with families, enabling them to cook on board. Only the side decks and foredeck are out of bounds for safety reasons. “We had a few issues initially with people diving or fishing from the boat, so we’ve put signs up to let people know that’s not allowed.
“Very occasionally we’ll get people wanting to stay on it and do a day charter, but with a trip to the Isle of Wight costing over £1,000 by the time crew and fuel are included, it’s disproportionately expensive. They’re better off walking down the quay and going on a tripper boat for £10 each.”
Adam pays £95 per changeover for someone to meet renters, show them how everything operates, then clean it afterwards, and says he feels reassured by the fact that guests are personally met, although he’s never had an issue with anyone turning out to be not as described. “Most of our guests are younger people, often early thirties, who seem keener to adopt these sharing platforms. Having been around boats for a long time we get very blasé about them, but what’s most notable is the real thrill they get from just being on a boat and the idea of sleeping aboard.”
“It’s restored my faith in the general public,” says Graham Etheridge. “The boat has always been incredibly well looked after, and the people using it have been lovely. In the main they’re very grateful for the opportunity to stay on board and they treat it as though it were their own.”
Graham keeps his Hatteras 40DC at Town Quay Marina in Southampton and uses a variety of peer to peer sharing platforms, proudly pointing out that on one non-boating site it’s reviewed by users as the highest rated accommodation in all of Hampshire. His guests come from all over the world and for a variety of different reasons. “It’s become very popular for cruise ship passengers due to leave Southampton who arrive the day before their cruise begins,” he explains.
The boat is used privately by Graham and his wife, but funded by peer to peer boat rentals and a small amount of charter work. “I was working at sea as a marine engineer. More recently I’ve come ashore and now teach marine engineering, which pays far less. Running a 46ft twin diesel flybridge boat on a teacher’s salary would normally be unheard of.” In fact the truth is that now Graham doesn’t run the boat on his salary at all. “We’ve been doing this for over three years and we’ve now reached the stage where the boat doesn’t cost me personally any money at all — renting it out and occasional chartering covers the mooring, maintenance and even the loan payments. All the financial worry has disappeared; it’s transformed boat ownership for us.”
Graham is currently averaging about 150 bookings a year, ranging from overnights up to a fortnight on the boat. He says that the boat is generally fully booked every weekend for the summer by the end of March. “We have to plan in advance when we want to use the boat, so I’ll block out special events like birthdays or bank holiday weekends when we know we’d like to use it.” Graham and his wife maximise income by cleaning, preparing and handing over the boat personally, although they use a professional laundry service to wash the bedding. “If we go away on holiday I have someone who will deal with it for us, and in that instance I increase the gap between bookings to make it a little easier.”
Overnight guests are invariably very tidy and respectful Nick makes enough money from renting out his boat to cover most of the running costs
Non-seafaring guests love getting a taste of the boating life and respect the boat too
No wild parties please, next door is never far in a marina
Adam’s classic Princess 414 is refurbished and is used almost solely for overnight guests
Younger guests enjoy the experience of sleeping on board
It’s berthed at Town Quay Marina in Southampton