One of the primary questions we get asked when people are thinking of sharing a boat is how many partners they should have. Most people can get their mind around two people sharing a boat. Communication and scheduling aren’t too difficult with two people and if something happened to the boat and you didn’t do it, you can be pretty sure who did. For some people however, a single partner wouldn’t provide enough of a cost benefit to put them into a boat that would justify dealing with a shared relationship in the first place.
The concept of sharing a boat is pretty simple – it’s about getting people on the water in a boat they can be proud of while spreading the cost among a number of people. The question of how many people is a little more complicated.
The type of boat and how it is used certainly has an impact. Larger boats, such as houseboats, tend to have relatively more partners because of the way they are used. Trips tend to be less often and of longer duration. This provides a nice scenario for five or six or even ten families being able share the boat with each of them taking a few week-long vacations per year. That’s plenty of time on the boat to justify the expense and it is a sufficient number of partners to significantly reduce the cost of ownership.
The more difficult scenario is the boat that people want to use often and that actually can be used often without much preparation. Many of my friends (myself included) who own smaller sail boats, fishing boats and cruisers want to be able to plan trips a little more impulsively than the strict houseboat type scheduling scenario would allow. They wouldn’t want to be tied to a particular schedule or time of the month.
And herein lies one of the fundamental problems with boat sharing and one that tends, not only to limit the number of partners people are willing to have on their boat, but often sours them to the concept altogether. How do I know if the boat is available? How do I know I’m getting my fair share of time? Phone calls and emails are a difficult and frustrating way to manage a partnership even with a few people sharing a boat much less three or four.
For this reason, the question of how many partners you should have in your partnership can really only be answered within the context of the partnership using a robust scheduling system. There is little chance of the partnership working if people are fighting for weekends and holidays over the phone or showing up at the dock and the boat is gone. As an aside, this issue was actually the primary motivation behind the creation of Nautical Monkey. My partners and I were having these same problems and the partnership was slowly disintegrating. When we couldn’t find a good and inexpensive online scheduling system we decided to create one and that was the birth of Nautical Monkey.
So back to the question: Assuming the partnership is using an online scheduling system, how many partners is too many? Looking at the some of the longer terms partnerships on Nautical Monkey, the number runs from 2 to 7 (as you would expect, the larger numbers are associated with houseboats or destination sail boats). For my money, I like having 3 partners – me and 2 others. It’s the perfect mix between cost and labor savings and getting to use the boat pretty much any time I want to.
As I’ve experimented with different sharing paradigms and ideas, I’ve had as many as 7 people sharing my boat at one time. During that time period I was able to pay all the bills associated with the boat and then some (basically giving me free access). However, managing 7 people takes a fair amount of time and any time I had to spend out at the lake was time spent dealing with the partnership not getting out on the water. I was also putting a lot of hours on the engines and knew at some point the cost benefit analysis would swing the other way and I’d have some big payouts to keep the boat in good working condition. Thus, as people exited the partnership I didn’t replace them and eventually ended up with the, for me, magical number of three. This significantly reduced my costs and gave me all the time I wanted on the water.