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How to make money from your boat

One of Beds on Board's most successful boat owners shares his 8 steps to help you make money from your boat

My boat is called Zen Dog. She’s a 10 year old Prestige 38s motor cruiser.

She’s berthed at Lymington Yacht Haven and is advertised on Beds on Board - click here to see my listing.

She’s got typical sports cruiser accommodation - a large cockpit with lots of seating, a sliding electric roof, a lower saloon, a small galley, a forward double cabin and a decent second cabin with two twins or one double berths.

She is surrounded by other Motor Yachts that rarely seem to get used. 

Maybe their owners are wealthy enough that they don’t need help to fund boat ownership. The boat is their pride and joy. There’s no way anyone else can be allowed to use it.

Strangely, I’m told that the wealthier the owners, the more likely they are to find ways of earning money from their boats. Most Super Yachts are chartered.

I’m not in that league. I struggled to afford to buy Zen Dog and I’ve struggled to pay for the running costs. You can read an article here about how I met the Beds on Board team and decided to have a go at letting Zen Dog out for overnight guests.

A year and over 80 bookings later and with revenue of £12,500 in the bank, I’d like to share some ideas with you. I’ve got a bit of a track record. I work in property, IT and marketing. I’ve also successfully let Tredougann, a Padstow holiday cottage, since 2003.

These are all my own ideas and they may not always agree with Beds on Board’s thoughts about things - but they have worked for me.

I’d be delighted to chat to you about anything to do with making money from your boat with Beds on Board so please drop me an email.

1. Getting started

There’s an excellent set of articles on the Beds on Board website that explain what they do and how it works. Click here to see them. There’s also a set of guidelines covering equipment, conduct and boat safety.

2. Do your sums

Work out a sensible nightly price. I stress “sensible”. Beds on Board’s recent guest survey says that 35% of guests are former boat owners. They are probably likely to book a boat in preference to an apartment. The rest are more flexible - they choose based on space, size, location etc. So, your boat is likely to compete with everything advertised on airbnb and booking.com

Be objective! You love staying on your boat but if you didn’t own a boat or wanted to stay in another location, would you stay on someone else’s boat rather than a hotel or an apartment?

These are my Lymington competitors.

They are all on airbnb. Lots and lots of lovely looking apartments, garden cottages, a few static caravans and whole houses - mostly  around £100 to £150 per night. They all look beautiful.

Would I (and more importantly) my wife choose a boat over these lovely places? Well maybe - if we were attending an event at the marina, were thinking about buying a boat or had a young boat-mad child with a forthcoming birthday OR Zen Dog competes well on price.

So that’s where my £125 (plus cleaning) charge per night came from.

Do the same for your boat and price accordingly. You probably can’t get hung up on “well, my boat is a Sunseeker / Princess / Oyster”. The former boat owners might appreciate this but Non Boaty People (N-B-P) make up the majority of guests. N-B-Ps don’t care less about the boat brand. Most want smart, clean, tidy and modern. Some (but probably fewer) will be happy with older and quirky.  My typical Jeanneau boat is “posher” than anything most N-B-Ps will have stayed on before. If you’ve got a Dunkirk Little Ship, you might get a premium!

So now you’ve got a price per night, you can do the rest of your sums.

Zen Dog is £100 to £125 per night PLUS a £50 cleaning and linen charge which gets paid straight to my caretaker. This keeps the headline price down in the listings and deters one-night stays which can be a pain for me. Zen Dog is available all week but I’ve rarely had mid-week bookings. I’ve therefore focused on 2-night weekends. Nobody is allowed to stay on Sunday nights which means I have full use of my own boat every Sunday from 11am.

Zen Dog is available for booking throughout the year unless I’m off on a trip or planning a weekend with friends or family. I probably only blocked 5 weekends out of the diary last year but probably managed 10 or more summer sunday day-trips.

You might want more time for yourselves. That’s fine - Beds on Board have no “minimum nights” commitment. Just book your dates in your calendar. A lot of bookings arrive relatively last minute - between a week and a fortnight before arrival. This gives me even more flexibility. If there’s a sudden plan for an August weekend trip then, as I write this in March, all four are still available but they will all book before the end of July.

So, you decide how many weekends you can spare.

Beds on Board’s also have a handy earnings calculator:

Click here to see how much money you could make

3. Commit!

Even if you just want half a dozen bookings per year to help with the bills or a specific upgrade project, there’s no point in just playing at this. You need to see it as a business venture and do it properly.

Having a vague tidy up and sticking a couple of pictures on Beds on Board won’t work.

Firstly, you need to reconcile the idea that strangers will use your boat’s facilities and sleep in your bed. Just don’t think about that! Think about the money, instead. If you can’t manage that, give up now.

You need to mitigate in your own head against the possibility of minor cosmetic damage. I’ve had no damage at all to Zen Dog or to the Cornwall holiday cottage I’ve rented for 15 years. If something did happen, I’ve got the guests’ deposit, I’ve got insurance, I’ve got a good french polisher and above all I’ve got the guests’ money. I’d just “think about the money” and get it fixed!

4. Sort out caretaking & handovers

Guests will pay for changeovers - you can add the cost to the rent (see my “do your sums” section above) so my advice is to get a professional to clean your boat. If you clean yourself, every mark or scuff will upset you. Your visits to the boat will involve work, not pleasure.

A professional caretaker will do a better, more thorough job than you can do. They’ll also clean up spillages and marks without getting upset. You’ll never see any mess. A side effect is that your boat will be kept spotlessly clean. My wife thinks about a trip to stay on Zen Dog in the same way she thinks about a hotel break - no chores, no need to tidy up, no need to think about basic provisions etc.

Sam, my wonderful caretaker, lives locally and does changeovers for a couple of boats. She spends 3 hours on the boat each time. She cleans the cockpit, saloon, cabins, heads and galley. She tops up the water tank, checks the holding tank and she puts out bottled water, milk, tea and coffee capsules and a bottle of prosecco. She then takes the linen home to wash and iron. I pay her £60 for this (plus the provisions) and it is worth every penny.

Beds on Board are compiling a list of professional cleaners. Get in touch if you need some help.

 

My excellent marina have a very enlightened view about Beds on Board. Guests spend money in the marina, guests spend money in the town. They see that guests are potentially future boat owners in a climate where boat owners are aging and not necessarily being replaced by younger newcomers. They see that owners like me will do all we can to ensure we remain welcome in our marinas. Keeping my boat in Lymington is more important than making some money. In my case I delegate all guest vetting to Beds on Board and they do such a good job that they’ve never had a problem with any of the boats they manage because they are very careful.  If they say a guest is good, that’s enough for me.

So, the marina office handles the key handover. Beds on Board (and I) get them guest contact details in advance and they just do an ID Check on the person that comes to collect the key. They also have a quick check to make sure that a party of four isn’t in fact a stag party of ten!

Now, this is where I differ from Beds on Board’s preferred way of proceeding. They like the idea that guests are met in person and shown around the boat.

I never meet my guests. There’s the issue that I can’t practically meet them when I live 90 minutes and 50 miles away but there’s the also the point that I don’t want to meet them. I met a couple of Cornwall guests years ago and didn’t like the look of them. I worried, unnecessarily as it turned out, for the duration of their bookings.

I therefore send my guests an email with a  link to a PDF document and a YouTube video (just made using my iPad) that gives them all they need. Click here for the PDF Document.

I spoke to another boat owner recently who said his guests couldn’t possibly cope with the complexities of his boat’s domestic electrics and plumbing. They would cope perfectly. I’ve bought some coloured dots Labelled the switches they can touch with green dots and the ones they can’t with red dots. I’ve then explain the purpose of the green switches in my YouTube video and PDF.

5. Prepare the boat

You need to spend some time and money getting the boat ready.

“De-clutter” as the estate agents say. Hide your magazines, books, photos, hats, personal effects, navigation tools etc away in a locker. Maybe consider getting a lock for the locker. Zen Dog has nothing on display apart from stuff the guests will need.

Go shopping! You need to consider the following:

 

Bedding:

  • Mattress Protectors and Pillow Protectors for each bunk
  • 2 Pillows per bunk
  • Medium TOG duvet for each bunk
  • 3 sets of bedding for each bunk - one on the boat, one in the wash and one in the cupboard. So that’s a bottom sheet, 2 pillow cases per occupant and a duvet cover. (A quick note on bedding… white or cream is a safe bet. Flowery and/or Chintzy bedding might be acceptable on a traditional canal boat but not on a modern sea going cruiser.) Zen Dog has cream polycotton, minimum iron bedding from John Lewis (and that’s a great brand to boast about). Click here for the bedding range we use.
  • 3 towels for each bunk - as above. Now, here, my wife and I differ. She says it should be a hand towel and a bath towel for each guest. I tend to leave a bath towel for each guest plus an extra couple of hand towel for all occupants to share. Click here for the towels we buy from John Lewis

Galley:

  • Plate, Bowl, Mug, Water glass, Wine glass per person - preferably matching and preferably in melamine so as be usable (only by you) on the move and unbreakable by guests. Click here for a suitable set on Amazon - £35 - apologies if the link becomes unusable in the future. Click here for unbreakable Wine Glasses
  • Cutlery (knife, fork, desert spoon and teaspoon) for each guest - again, we bought a basic £20 set from John Lewis - click here
  • Salt and pepper
  • Bottle opener
  • Dehumidifier - if you haven’t got one, buy and run a Meaco 240v dehumidifier. Zen Dog stays bone dry all year round for a couple of quid in electricity per month
  • No cooking equipment! If you leave your gas connected and you leave saucepans, frying pans etc you are asking for trouble, in my opinion -. Smells, fires, mess etc. Zen Dog’s gas bottles are removed and we don’t leave any cooking pots or implements
  • Microwave
  • Kettle
  • Coffee Machine - now you don’t have to supply one of these but everyone likes a nice coffee these days and our £45 Dolce Gusto machine features in lots of reviews.
  • We also leave out a bottle of Prosecco and bottled water.  Car designers talk about this sort of thing as “surprise and delight”We leave a packet of Cappuccino capsules and a packet of Americano capsules
  • Hand Wash
  • Tea Towels x 3

Heads:

  • Loo Rolls
  • Any cleaner you like to use
  • We have fitted a SeaSmart marine toilet sanitiser - a £125 device that injects disinfectant into the heads’ sea water inlet as it enters the hull. This cuts out all the smells and gives a nice “blue flush”
  • We have replaced the manual heads with a £400 Jabsco Lite Quiet Flush electric unit. Guests and family love it. This is typical of the sort of thing you can do when your boat becomes a proper business - expenses like this are potentially tax deductible.


Safety:

  • CO2 detector
  • Smoke detector
  • Fire blanket
  • Inspected or new fire extinguishers. We’ve got one by the exit and one in each cabin
  • You MUST check Beds on Board’s guidelines regarding safety. Don’t rely on me!
Read the Beds on Board accommodation guidelines

6. Your listing

Think back to the exercise I asked you to do above - having a look at your competing boats, apartments and hotels - what made particular listings stand out?  Was it the photos, the text or both?

Photos

Take lots of photos!

Clean, tidy and “declutter” first. Hide away your charts, your magazines, crockery, cutlery, cleaning products, that old baseball cap on the shelf. Use a proper camera with a flash rather than a mobile phone. If you have or can borrow a digital SLR camera with a wide angle lens, that would be perfect. The photos should show the bunks made up perfectly with your new bedding and towels. Your photos will overcome the “cons” discussed in the “do your sums” section above. I have photos of the table laid up for a meal. I’ve photographed the coffee machine. I’ve not added many photos of the heads. It is small and nothing like a hotel bathroom! Beds on Board like photos of boats moored up. Again, I’ve done my own thing here - I’ve got action shots taken from another boat. I’m selling a lifestyle and the fact the guests can’t experience Zen Dog at 30 knots on a beautiful sunny day doesn’t matter.

Before you upload them, reduce their size down in photo editing software. Windows Paint and the Mac equivalent will do the job. Make then 1024px wide. Any bigger and they take ages to load.

I’ve unashamedly pinched photos of the marina, the view etc

 

Listing Text

The “Title" (your listings advert heading) shown at the top is critical. It draws the eye.

Several Beds on Board owners put the focus on the boat brand. That’s irrelevant and incomprehensible to the average Non-Boaty-People (Sunseeker might be the only exception).

In the text, I’ve focused on safety and home comforts. There’s mention of the heating, the dehumidifier, the TVs etc. I’ve stressed the cleanliness and the quality of the towels and the bedding.

I’ve talked a lot about the location. If you need suitable text, look at your marina’s website or chat to Beds on Board - they may have something suitable.

 

Profile Picture

Beds on Board say that boats where the owner has uploaded a profile picture and description get more bookings. It must be a credibility thing. You can do this easily in your Beds on Board profile.

 

Calendar

You must keep it up to date! There’s a new iCal calendar sync option coming for Beds on Board soon. That will let you sync your calendar with other sites and your own diary.

 

Location

Make sure you get the location spot-on - you can move the “pin” yourself.

 

7. Get reviews

It doesn’t matter how you do this. You need to get some reviews! Beds on Board’s default search sort is “Most reviews”.

You need to get off the starting blocks at all costs otherwise your listing will get lost. 

You could halve the price of your weekends and hope that potential guests spot it. You could incentivise friends and colleagues to book. Do whatever you have to do in order to get that first review.

In my case, I was lucky to get my first guest without any clever or sharp practice. My first review led to further bookings and further reviews - a glorious virtuous circle.

8. Managing the process

You can make this really easy.

One benefit with Beds on Board versus other listing services is that guests pay “up front”. This means that you can send a single confirmation email when they book. I use airbnb for my cottage and I have to remember to send one email when a guest pays a deposit then another when they pay the final balance.

My email explains everything how to collect the keys and links to my PDF and YouTube video.

I get my guests to fill in a Google Form with their contact details. I’ve automated sending the results of this to the Yacht Haven and to Sam the caretaker. This is a bit too complicated to explain here - I propose to publish another document soon.

List your boat to start making money