6 Ways to Be a Boater Without Owning a Boat
I consider myself a boater, despite the fact I neither own a boat, nor am I in the market to buy a boat. I am simply an individual who enjoys boating. I realize this seems like a bit of a contradiction, but I assure you: one does not have to own a boat to experience the fun of getting out on the water.
It’s for that reason I found myself attending the Toronto International Boat Show with a different agenda this year. In the past, my visits have always been to see what’s new in the boating industry. I visit with friends I usually only see at this event and enjoy a few hours of kicking the fenders on new boats.
Not this time. As someone who spends many days each season out enjoying boating, without owning a boat, I thought this year I’d spend a day at the show seeking out different ways for non-owners like me to have the same experience.
The Toronto Boat Show didn’t disappoint. There were dozens of exhibitors showcasing great programs to get more non-owners into a boat. Here are several ways for you to get a taste of the boating lifestyle.
Take a Boating Lesson
If you’re brand new to boating, there’s no better way to try it out than to take a lesson. Not only will you get to spend time out on the water, but you’ll begin to learn the techniques required to safely operate a boat. There are plenty of exhibitors at the show, such as BOATsmart!, that offers lessons in both sail and power vessels.
I spent some time with John from Gone Sailing Adventures and got to learn about their Sailing School. Their most popular package is a three-hour sailing experience that lets you get out and explore the waters of Lake Ontario around the Toronto waterfront.
By progressing through their more advanced courses, you can eventually take a four-day liveaboard course that will teach you all the skills you need to skipper and crew a 40-foot sailing yacht.
Rent a Boat
Once you have a lesson or two under your belt, perhaps the most convenient way for you to enjoy some time on the water is to rent a boat. Most marinas, lodges, resorts, and camp operators offer some sort of rental boat program. Houseboat rentals are also popular, especially along the Trent-Severn Waterway.
The directory on the Boating Ontario website is the best place to start. They have a comprehensive database of every boating-related operator in the province, including rentals.
While I was at the show, I had a chance to meet with Janet O’Connell, the CEO of Boating Ontario. She gave me a great walkthrough of their new website, which you can see here.
Join a Boat Club
Organizations like the Carefree Boat Club offer a membership-based program that provides access to a selection of boats for their members to enjoy. Carefree has locations across North America, and their members have access to all the boats at all the locations. It’s a great solution for the regular traveller. Full instruction is also available, making this a suitable boating activity for a beginner.
Charter a Yacht
There are many operators in the Ontario marketplace that provide people with the opportunity to charter a yacht. Most offer a captain and crew who will handle the operation of the vessel, so you can focus on enjoying your excursion. Some charter companies also offer what’s known as a “bareboat charter,” where you pilot the vessel yourself.
While a charter that includes a crew is suitable for any level of boating skill, operating a large vessel like a yacht will require an experienced boater with skill and confidence. Check with the charter company in advance to see what requirements they have for a bareboat charter.
This method of enjoying boating does come with an investment, but depending on the number of days you spend renting a boat, it can offer a great alternative to get you out on the water more often, and in the same boat.
Think of it like a timeshare for a boat. A group of people pools their resources to buy and maintain a vessel. Each person gets to use the vessel for a certain number of weeks per season. It’s a form of boating that is gaining in popularity, and one that I will be exploring further soon.
Get into RC Boating
I can’t be sure if this is a serious suggestion, having never spent time piloting a radio-controlled boat. But I did enjoy watching the boats race around the indoor lake at the boat show. I couldn't help but think it looked like fun.
Sure, the boats are smaller, and they’re not much good for waterskiing, unless you’re a squirrel—which any regular visitor to the Toronto Boat Show can tell you is a thing. You can't spend a weekend on one, or take a friend fishing, but if you just enjoy the idea of taking a boat out for a spin, this is an idea you might want to consider.
As my day wrapped up, I spent some time reflecting on the mission that brought me to the boat show. I found dozens of exhibitors showcasing great ways for non-owners to experience boating. Which tells me that operators are starting to realize there is a market for services that encourage people to get out on the water, without having to make the investment in a boat of their own.
The only notable exception to this idea was the lack of a true, social boat-sharing initiative, like Lyft, Uber, or even Turo in the car service industry or Airbnb in the hospitality sector. I can't help but think that this isn't far off. Companies like Flote and GetMyBoat have already launched in some cities, and I’ll be quite surprised if we don’t see such a service at the Toronto Boat Show in the very near future.