Everyone gets a boat! | Courtesy of GetMyBoat
Everyone gets a boat! | Courtesy of GetMyBoat

How the ‘Airbnb for Boats’ Made My Hot Weather Dreams Come True

With GetMyBoat, getting out on the water is a breeze.

Picture it: It’s a sweltering day and you’re out on a stroll, trying to catch some refreshing air, sucking down popsicle after popsicle to keep your body from melting. Then, off in the distance on the water, you see a small yacht bobbing on gentle waves. And on this yacht are a group of friends, heads thrown back in laughter, wind rippling through their hair. They're sipping Champagne in acrylic glasses like something out of Below Deck. Maybe they’re belting “I’m on a boat!” at the top of their lungs, in a dated yet still applicable reference. Because, of course, they’re on a boat. And you’re not.

But what if you could be? Living the yacht life is actually much more affordable—and easily accessible—than you think. Platforms like Boatsetter and Samboat have long connected boat owners and captains to landlocked maritime enthusiasts looking to cop a water vessel for all their floating needs. And GetMyBoat started out the same—as the ‘Airbnb for boats’, as they like to say—but these days takes its mission further, aiming to be a standardized all-in-one portal for all things nautical. Which means, everything you need to fulfill your summertime water-borne fantasies.

Float away on a grand vaca...tion. | GetMyBoat

Getting started is simple: Just hop onto their app or desktop platform and sign up for free. If you’re looking for a boat, they come captained or not—if you have the boating skills and can prove them the requisite certification. Beside boat rentals, however, you can also book a fishing charter and learn how to catch crappie or pick up a kayak and set off island-hopping for the day. You can choose a houseboat for a week-long vacation, learn to 2-ski, barefoot ski, wakeboard, or paddle board, try an e-foil electric surfboard, or even get fitted with one of those newfangled jet ski packs that shoot you straight up in the air (though that one in Michigan is a little pricey at $275 an hour). But you’ll be living in the future.

“Our mission is to be a booking platform for all sorts of on-water experiences by connecting not only individual boat owners, but also charter operators, people who have their own boat rental companies but want to book customers with an app instead of older and outdated booking systems,” says Val Streif, GetMyBoat’s marketing manager.

And if what you desire is to actually learn how to pilot a boat yourself, that can also be arranged. That’s the case with a particular Connecticut-based boat owner who offers something of a one-stop-boating-shop. “He does hands-on boat training,” says Streif. “You don't have to have experience; he’s a licensed Master Captain.” $150 an hour covers a trainee plus a passenger, and he also covers things even experienced boaters may not know, like how to use a boat ramp. “I grew up boating, but I wasn’t the one dragging the trailer onto the ramp,” adds Streif.

If you do this, make sure you have enough space (trust us). | GetMyBoat

Though just because you’re using an app, it doesn’t mean the human touch is lost. In fact, it’s amplified, curating a personalized experience to fit your needs as opposed to traditional charter bookings which might have set types of boats and rental options for you to choose from. With GetMyBoat, you message directly with the boat owner or captain, knowing that they’ll do everything they can to accommodate, even going above and beyond.

“I booked a boat in Texas last year for my friend's bachelorette party with GetMyBoat,” says Streif. “And it was really helpful to talk directly to [the boat owner] versus going through a company that might have set packages. I was like ‘Hey, this is my friend's bachelorette party,’ and he showed up with special extras.”

Being able to compare prices and demystify the process also works in the app’s favor. “You have a lot more price flexibility and can see what's available in your budget,” says Streif, reiterating that being able to communicate directly with individual captains is a key selling point—for all parties involved. “A lot of them are retired guys who got the captain's license because they wanted to meet people.” Translation? You may just walk away with a new friend.

What's better than friends? Friends on a boat. | Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Some people are able to find solutions to problems that nobody else is even aware exist. About a decade ago, Bay Area residents Sascha Mornell and Rafael Collado were out on the water and noticed all the boats sitting at the marina, lingering unused. Their serial entrepreneur brains thought, How could we put those into the hands of people yearning for a boating experience without actually having to invest in a boat? That moment of realization dovetailed with a thriving sharing economy by way of Uber and Airbnb, and GetMyBoat was born.

GetMyBoat now spans 150,000 listings in 184 countries covering 9,300 destinations, with the goal of getting anyone who wants to out on the water safely via a multitude of options within their price point. There are listings from the Maldives to Michigan to New York, a city where you can rent everything from baller mega-yachts for a couple thousand an hour to Caribbean beach vibes for a couple hundred, complete with island-inspired snacks (“No skyscrapers, no statues, just Brooklyn, beaches, and more,” proclaims the operator).

When I signed up for the platform and booked my experience with Jessica Gates of Sailing Islander, I was initially planning to ride solo as research for this story. That was before she gently massaged over the platform that maybe I’d like to bring along a few friends. “It would be a shame to not get the full effect with a group of BFFs (or co-workers, whatever you wish) to enjoy the sights with you :),” she wrote. A full kitchen with cups and plates and silverware was available, so we would just need to bring whatever drinks we wanted beyond water and soda (a.k.a. Prosecco) and any snacks (a.k.a. Cheetos) we wished to have onboard. From Gates: “I also have a speaker you can Bluetooth to and a large bean bag on the bow (front) of the boat… in addition to a gorgeous and comfortable cockpit (back). Relax and enjoy!! Looking forward to having you aboard!”

All in all, two hours (the average rental time) spent on a private sunset cruise aboard Gates’s yacht, sailing past a glowing sun-lit Statue of Liberty, came out to $677. Split among up to six people, that’s what you call a steal.

Rent all kinds of watercraft. | GetMyBoat

It was actually thanks to GetMyBoat that Gates had the confidence to launch her own charter company in 2020. She had been sailing for about a year and fell in love with the experience. “It's the serenity,” she says. “When you cut the engines on a sailboat and just feel at peace, the wind literally blowing through your hair, there’s nothing like it.” She loved it so much, in fact, she felt compelled to share it with the world.

As with any new venture, there were some challenges getting started. The pandemic, for one, not to mention being the first woman-owned business “in a literal sea of men,” as Gates puts it. But thanks to the app’s simplicity, her business has grown to encompass three crafts: two sailboats and a powerboat. “Platforms like GetMyBoat are good for the owner—they take a small slice of the pie, but they're the ones doing the heavy promotion and advertising,” she says. “At the end of the day, you just hope that your listing will attract eyeballs and seal the deal with the customer.”

For the most part, Gates has found that customers in her area of New York and New Jersey are looking for new ways to experience their hometowns. “Ninety percent are local,” she says. “They're seeing New York in a way they've never seen before.” And her feminine touch, she believes, has helped her become the go-to for special occasions, from graduations, birthdays, and anniversaries to marriage proposals and two onboard weddings.

“I'm really proud of the fact that we’re known for our on-the-water celebrations,” she says. “In fact, I'm going to be doing my 100th one this season, which is just awesome.”

The key to a seaworthy proposal? Keep it simple. “It doesn't take a big fancy setup with fireworks or anything,” Gates assures. “It’s just having that very intimate moment on the water.” She’s even become a bit of a proposal guru, which sometimes means talking her clients out of ideas. “It takes a lot of counseling, sometimes therapy—it's kind of cute, actually,” she says. “They want to do rose petals and “marry me” letters. Well, rose petals are gonna blow away, and letters are gonna fall off the boat, so let's just keep it simple.”

The one thing she can’t help with is crafting the proposal itself. “I can set this up for you and create a unique experience,” she says. “But I can't tell you what to say.”

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. Contact her with all floating opportunities.