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The Airbnb of Boats Floats Into Washington

A new "sharing economy" company wants people to rent more boats.

Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

The tech industry’s latest invention that we didn’t know we needed is ramping up in Washington this summer: online boat rentals, for those times when people say to themselves, “This day would be much better if we were on a boat.”

Now there’s Boatbound, which aims to apply the Airbnb model of vacation rentals to the high seas. The site is the creation of Aaron Hall, a Washington expat who moved to San Francisco after selling his wedding-planning directory Weddzilla in 2011. Hall launched Boatbound later that year as the so-called “sharing economy” was taking off.

Much like Airbnb lets property owners offer short-term stays in their homes while they’re away, Boatbound aims to rent privately owned boats on days when their masters are not using them. Lots of boats, Hall says, only get 20 days of use from their owners per year. Boatbound entered the Washington market with a few listings last summer, but is being ramped up now in response to what Hall says was “a couple million in billing inquiries.” The company claims listings in all 50 states, but is concentrated most heavily in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Miami, Chicago, and now DC.

The site currently lists 53 vessels docked between Northern Virginia and Annapolis, ranging from a 15-foot inflatable dinghy with an outboard motor for $150 per day to a 50-foot Azimut yacht that comes with its own captain and steward that’ll set back a renter $3,600. (Boatbound takes 35 percent.)

On Friday, Hall and his team tooled around the Potomac and Anacostia on a Sea Ray Weekender 245 named Eureka!, owned by Dmitry Bocharinikov, a software consultant in Fairfax County. Bocharinikov rents out his boat, which can fit six to eight people, for $333 a day. But even with Boatbound’s promise of a $3 million insurance policy per rental, Bocharinikov won’t let just anyone borrow his boat. He requires the renter to either be a proven boater, or hire a licensed captain who can operate the craft for the duration of the voyage.

“I had a guy who said he had no experience, so I had to turn him down,” Bocharinikov said before taking Eureka up to 33 knots (about 38 miles per hour) around Hains Point.

Boat rentals aren’t nearly as big a business as lodging—Boatbound so far only has $4.5 million in venture funding, but a chunk of it comes from the Brunswick Corporation, the largest boat manufacturer in the world. And even if navigating a luxury yacht seems like the domain of the effete, Hall says there’s a route to the masses: “Thirty percent of rentals are from people who have never rented boats,” he says.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.