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

Motorboat & Yachting - - CONTENTS - WORDS Nick Burn­ham

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?”

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“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

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