Sharing economy hits the waves

6 min read
16 Jan 2019
Anne Salomäki

Sharing is caring, may be an old cliché but it has become the way our modern economies work. We share houses, holiday homes, cars, and streaming service subscriptions. So why leave the boats and yachts behind? Twentyfour7. looks at this trendy new phenomenon of renting a private boat, which, taking inspiration from its older cousin Airbnb, has been baptised as “Seabnb”.

Imagine a day at sea on a private boat, or even a yacht, with your best people around, sun shining bright, gentle waves subtly rocking the boat, and no fellow tourists flocking in the facilities. For a vacation like that, you had to have a good pal who owned the keys to one of those fancy sailboats. Or at least it used to be so.

These days, start-ups such as US-based Boatsetter and European Click&Boat are making the high-end blue holiday dreams come true with their Airbnb-like shared economy business model. The idea is simple. If you own a boat and are not using it, you could rent it out and earn some extra bucks on the side.

Jouni Juntunen, Professor of Practice of Sustainable Production and Consumption at Aalto University, Finland points out that, “the sharing economy businesses are a growing trend that has even spread to expensive properties such as boats.”

“With their low utilisation rates, they fit the concept model almost perfectly,” he adds.

“If you look at the sharing economy platforms start-ups are creating, only imagination seems to be the limit.”

Juntunen notes that boat and yacht rental, in general, isn’t anything new: companies have offered boats for rent for ages. What’s new with Seabnb is that it enables private individuals to make business deals (almost) directly with each other.

Safety first, please!

Although it fits all the tenets of the shared economy model on paper, the ground reality, or water in this case is very different. For one, there is a huge difference between renting out a flat or a car and renting a boat. While pretty much everyone lives in a house and most of us can drive a car, operating a boat and let alone a yacht isn’t what everyone can do. Thus, letting just anyone sail away from the safety of a harbour might be a disturbing thought.

Jon Ivar Håvold, professor at the Department of International Business at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has studied both safety at sea and entrepreneurship, and also worked in insurance for 15 years. All three areas of expertise considered, he deems the most important aspects of the Seabnb concept to float are skills, attitude, and understanding.

“If I were renting out a boat to someone I don’t know, I’d be very interested in their level of skills and attitude to safety,” he notes, “and as someone offering insurance, I wouldn’t insure a vessel at all if these things weren’t taken into account,” he adds.

“Combining all aspects—good weather, the tides, and sea traffic—isn’t always straightforward,” he says. “and even if all goes well, for an unexperienced skipper, docking a large ship successfully won’t be an easy task and can turn the vacation stressful.”

However, Håvold also understands that it makes sense for people to let others use their boats and yachts. “They are expensive, and many owners can only use their boats for a few weeks or months a year,” he points out. “The owners should be responsible for who they rent their boats to, and renters should be honest and realistic about their experience.”

High tides ahead

Although the specific skill set needed for yacht-handling might hinder the growth of Seabnb, Juntunen believes the business can learn from other similar platforms. For example, adding insurance in the deal is common in sharing economy.

Both Håvold and Juntunen think it is a good idea to include a skipper as a part of the rental so that inexperienced seamen and women get to enjoy their trip without unnecessary risks. However, Juntunen emphasises that this makes the whole business model less of an example of sharing economy and more a case of on-demand or platform economy, similarly to taxi service like Uber.

In terms of environmental sustainability, Juntunen sees Seabnb both a possibility and a threat. Not everyone having their own boat is great, but the end result always depends on how it is being used. Long-distance flights to a faraway holiday destination and a cycling trip have very different carbon footprints as do a luxurious yacht abroad and a sailboat around the local archipelago.

“Sharing economy can’t be categorised as sustainable consumption in all cases. There could be alternatives which are more sustainable,” he concludes. “It’s a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.”

Also, to make it a win-win situation for all participants, Juntunen says, the platforms should face healthy competition.

“If the sharing economy platform has a monopoly, it dictates the prices, and then other participants are left with less. The profits and responsibilities should be shared fairly between everyone involved.”

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