We have seen a myriad of different partnership arraignments work. Family partnerships, business partners or friends who purchase a boat together, relative strangers who become a member on a boat and remain for years – there really doesn’t seem to be a single defining characteristic that insures success in a boat sharing relationship. There are, however, a few important questions you can ask a potential partner to give your partnership a fighting chance.
1. What do you want to get out of this partnership?
Both (or all) parties need to be aware and clear on what the partnership is all about and where it is going. You need to thoroughly explain what you have in mind for the partnership and make sure everyone understands what will be expected of them. The most important issues we have seen here are:
Who will be responsible for cleaning the boat before and after each use?
Who will put fuel in the boat and how will this be reconciled?
How much time will each partner have and how will this be managed?
Who is responsible for minor maintenance costs such as cleaning and engine maintenance? Will those be split between the partners or paid by a managing partner?
Who is responsible for major maintenance costs such as an engine going out or bottom painting?
How will you account for greater usage such as one partner who likes to cruise the lake and another who likes to sit at the dock?
Will we be bringing on any additional partners or will we cap it at a certain number?
Is it okay to allow other people to drive the boat while I’m there? What about when I’m not there?
What happens if the partnership doesn’t work? How will we dissolve the partnership or allow a member to leave?
2. What kind of boat do you want?
Obviously, if one partner wants a 45 ft mega cruiser and the other wants a sail boat, things are not going to work out. The issue is usually much more subtle than that and often raises its head after a couple of month of boating and a disappointed or frustrated partner. The answer to this question really comes down to how the person is going to use the boat. Are they looking for a boat to use for water skiing, wake boarding or other water sports or are they looking for a craft designed for family boating?
Getting a sense about the size of the boat a partner wants is also important. The size will also be determined by use. Will they be taking clients out, their family and kids, or just trying to get away for a quiet weekend of sailing?
3. How much money do you have?
There is likely a more tactful way to ask that question but basically you want to know if the individual has the resources to afford the boat or partnership fee you have in mind. If you own a boat and are bringing members on board, you will want to know if the potential partner is going to be able to foot the monthly bill for at least one year. Allowing another person to use your boat is a big responsibility and anyone who doesn’t contemplate at least a year long relationship probably isn’t worth the time and energy it would take to get them aboard.
Similarly, if you are purchasing a new boat together, you want to know that your partners will be able to hold up their end and you won’t be left holding the bag.
4. What kind of boating experience do you have?
I have friends who literally grew up sailing and could probably handle just about any boat they happened to be aboard. This is not the norm however and many people who believe they can sail or captain a large boat are mistaken. Anyone who has attempted to dock a large boat in the wind will know exactly what I’m talking about. Lack of experience isn’t necessarily a deal killer though.
If you find a partner you like who doesn’t have a lot of boating experience, they best thing to do is take the boat out together for a while and see if they can get comfortable. Some people can and some can’t. At the end of the day, captaining a boat is a skill and it can be learned so if you have found a good match personality wise, a lack of boating experience can be overcome with time. Spending some time together on the boat will also give you an opportunity to form a deeper bond with your partners.
5. How do you feel about signing a contract?
I have been sharing a boat with the same person for the past 5 years and trust my partner completely. I know he has my and the boats best interests in mind. Having said that, if he was unwilling to formalize the relationship I would have to give some serious thought to continuing the partnership.
We normally think of a contract as a lot of legal mumbo jumbo that nobody understands or wants anything to do with – just the mention of it takes the relationship from having fun on the lake to sitting in a lawyer’s office. It doesn’t have to be that way. Signing even a simple document outlining the expectations you have for your partnership can go a long way toward clearing up any confusion and misunderstandings that may cause problems a few years down the road and a partner would is unwilling to do that is probably one you should pass on.
A final thought: The thought that you will be able to have a successful boat sharing partnership with someone you don’t otherwise get along with or want to hang out with is just silly. Successful sharing arrangements are built on successful relationships. Your partner needs to be a person you enjoy having a beer with or want to spend an afternoon out on the lake with. Little issues like leaving the boat a little dirty can quickly become very big issues if you already don’t get along your partner. So start there when choosing a partner.