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The Airbnb of Boats Has Arrived in Chicago

By Paul Biasco | May 19, 2015 5:35am
 Nicholas Petrovich listed his boat on Boatbound this year and has a handful of bookings set for this summer.
Nicholas Petrovich listed his boat on Boatbound this year and has a handful of bookings set for this summer.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — Have you ever dreamed of being the captain of your own boat, cruising along the Chicago shoreline or sailing out past the horizon line?

How about rolling into the "Playpen," the off-shore party area between Oak Street and the water plant, on Scottie Pippen's old boat with a crew of your friends?

Now is your chance as the new service described as the Airbnb for boats expands into Chicago.

"It’s the culture of living on the lake. That’s part of what you do when you live in Chicago," said Aaron Hall, founder of Boatbound.

Boatbound, which has become a leading boat-sharing service, conducted a soft launch in Chicago last year, but is here in full force for this summer.

Paul Biasco says the app helps handle insurance and other legal issues:

By June or July, Hall expects there to be about 1,000 boats available for rental on the platform boatbound.co.

The range of boats available through the service stretches from pontoons for as little as $200 a day to 40-foot cruisers in the $2,000-per-day range.

No experience is necessary for renters. 

Some boats come with the option of hiring a captain for the day, or days, while others allow renters to take the boat out on their own.

Nicholas Petrovich, the proud owner of Pippen's old 40-foot Sea Ray cruiser, listed his boat on the service for the first time this year.

The 40-foot Sea Ray formerly owned by Scottie Pippen is docked in Diversey Harbor. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

Petrovich was 27 years old and living in the Gold Coast when he bought the boat and has since moved to Oak Park and started a family.

"I've got three kids, a family to support, and now I can keep the boat," he said.

Renting it out four or five days this summer will cover the cost of his roughly $6,000 slip at Diversey Harbor.

Petrovich already has four trips booked for the summer at $1,400-a-day, which includes himself as the captain.

"My only hesitation was that I just wanted it to be worth my time," he said. "The money had to be enough where I was willing to give up one of my Saturdays in the summer to take the boat out.”

Most of the groups that have booked his cruiser are bachelor or bachelorette parties who want to tie up for a day of partying in the Playpen.

Hall, who founded the company in 2011, said he understands that many customers want to get out on the water to party and he's OK with that.

Part of what makes Chicago an ideal market for Boatbound is the ease of boating in Lake Michigan. 

There are no shallows to maneuver or tricky waters.

"In Chicago once you are out on the water you go out, anchor, have a good time and come back," Hall said. "All the boats are along the shoreline. You have an easy boating area, not like Key West."

Boat owners can screen potential renters similar to Airbnb and if they aren't comfortable, they can deny a request.

The system is based on ratings.

"It's the same evolution that happened with Airbnb, at first people were hesitant to rent their own house out and thought it was creepy, but now you see what Airbnb has done," Hall said. "It's lost the creepy factor."

The San Francisco-based startup has been growing rapidly, but the early success that it has seen in Chicago was a surprise to Hall.

"Even though it's a short season, people are doing it almost the same number of times they are doing it nationwide," Hall said.

In Chicago the average boater uses his or her boat 12½ times a year compared to 14 by the average boat owner nationwide.

As anyone who lives or has lived in the city knows, Chicagoans have a lot of pent up energy from the long winters.

"We are focused on the Chicago area as one of our top three markets this summer," Hall said.

Some boat owners last year made between $30,000 and $40,000 renting out their vessels, according to Hall.

He hopes the service allows owners to look at their boats as assets when in the past boats have been looked at as liabilities.

"Boats in the water in marinas in cities like Chicago are prime real estate and prime rental property," he said. "Boatbound is empowering owners."

The most difficult part of setting up Boatbound was securing an insurance program, according to Hall.

Each rental includes up to $3 million in insurance protection.

The company keeps 35 percent of each rental fee, which covers expenses such as the insurance and booking services.

"We are seeing people who want to own boats who just can afford it now because one rental a month makes the difference," Hall said. 

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