Any business idea that pledges to reduce the operational costs of expensive and often idle assets such as yachts should be welcomed with open arms – even if it does require moulding into a more comprehensive and resolute service proposition.  

Launched in 2016, but only really acquiring significant interest of late, perhaps due to its campaign on ‘crowdcube’, is ‘Borrow A Boat’. Striving to be the Airbnb for yachts, the company offers a peer-to-peer platform in which owners can list their yachts for private charter, presenting an attractive cost-offsetting proposition. Thus far, there are several 30m+ yachts listed for charter on the website. 

Though while the idea undoubtedly has legs in the smaller boat realm – a realm in which self-provision is the modus operandi and a RYA day skipper’s license is your passe-partout – the larger luxury yacht sector, while warm to the idea, has not seen companies of a similar ilk reach stratospheric heights…yet.

In the superyacht sector specifically, the same hitches that have prevented instant charter booking software from succeeding are also relevant to this concept. Essentially, it relates to the extensive list of preferences required for a superyacht holiday; for example, is the chef a specialist in a certain cuisine and does the crew speak German? It’s very much a case of the stars aligning for so many boxes to be ticked on a peer-to-peer platform.

A benefit of the Borrow A Boat concept is the absence of a broker's fee, however, without brokers involved, it’s significantly harder to deal with the minutiae and find solutions; to ensure the boat is compliant with the multitude of jurisdictional requirements facing a transient yacht; and to correspond with the charterer and offer them assurances on a satisfactional return on their investment.

While this concept might provide that satisfaction for small-boat charterers, it might not for superyacht charterers, and clients in the superyacht industry aren’t satisfied with 75 per cent of their wishlist being granted. Superyachting is the ultimate holiday and the end user wants a personalised service and this should not be compromised.

One thing in Borrow A Boat’s favour, however, is the upwards trajectory of the ‘sharing economy’. In fact, on the company’s crowdcube page is a reference to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s statistics, which proclaim it is “one of the biggest technological trends globally”.

The key concepts behind the sharing economy, according to the report, include ‘unlocking the value of unused or underused assets (idling capacity)’, and a shift away from asset-heavy to asset-light business operations.

Companies that have had great success using these ideas are: Uber, which doesn’t own any cars; Airbnb, which doesn’t own any hotels; Amazon, which only has handful of brick-and-mortar storage facilities, in low-lease-rate locations; and Ebay, which does not manage or salary its supply chain.

Other findings in the report relevant to Borrow A Boat are that £3.5 trillion of assets are idle globally, with 80 per cent of belongings used just once per month; that there is a continued take-up of smartphone usage, with ‘access over ownership’ apps providing gateways; that millennials and centennials are the number one sharing cohorts, and are five times more likely to share than ‘baby boomers’; and that 75 per cent of millennials prefer to spend money on an experience than a material possession.

The Borrow A Boat concept is an excellent opportunity for people to experiment with yacht charter holidays, and for owners to offset running costs, however I think the peer-to-peer platform is perhaps best serving the smaller boat market, where expectations aren't quite so high and there are fewer complexities. 

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