Major decisions

Boat-share schemes can be a low-cost way to sail, but making the right decisions for your pocket and sailing preferences are important, reports Jim Murrant.

I bumped into an old sailing mate the other day, one I hadn’t seen down at the club for quite a while. After the usual chat, I asked him whether he was still sailing.

He seemed astonished at the question and I had to explain I only asked because I hadn’t seen him around much.

His answer was simple. He'd sailed for years with his father on the family boat until the old man died and then found that he simply didn’t have time to campaign a boat on his own. So he sought out three friends with common interests who were willing to share a boat between them.

I wondered whether such an alliance would be (pardon the pun) all plain sailing. He was adamant that their common interest was such that it overrode any hiccups there might be in the relationship.

I knew that such arrangements were not uncommon in yacht clubs. They were generally informal, as far as I knew, and prone to collapse amid rancour. But not so, said my friend.

So I decided to find out more. I must have had my eyes shut because boat-sharing is not only much more common than I thought, it is a highly organised business, covering both motor boats and yachts. The Yellow Pages list several well-established businesses operating in the field, some even running franchise operations linked to membership of their club.

I don't know enough about any of these operators to have formed any sort of preference, so what I will do is outline the sort of core functions these companies must provide, but pointing out that, as in any other industry, each company has developed separately. If you want to consider boat-sharing, you should be rigorous in your research because the consequences, if you owned part of a boat being managed by a company that collapsed, could be severe.

Most companies allow sharing partners to own equity in the boat, with the number of sharing owners varying, but rarely being more than 10, each owning 10 per cent. There are two things to watch here:

The first is that those companies not offering equity charge an annual fee for club membership. This will be a great deal cheaper than the cost of a new boat. But can cost around $20,000 a year, for three years, which is the life of the syndicated boat. The great advantage, though, is that that payment is final. Nothing else has to be paid for apart from fuel, which is after all out of the control of the managing company. For this club membership, the customer has the use of a company boat for a specified number of days a year.

The second possible pitfall is that if you do own equity, the operating company may take a commission, of up to 15 per cent, on your share of the sale price, which is likely, naturally, to have fallen during the life of the syndicate.

If you go the boat-share equity way you will be charged a fee, which varies between companies, for maintenance, moorings and contingencies.

Whether you opt for the full-on boat-share with equity, or the club membership route, the first thing you will want to satisfy yourself with will be the type of boat you will share or use. So, you should either have wide experience of different boats, or if you see a company operating boats you like the look of but don’t know, try to get some serious time on one of them. After all, there won’t be much fun in saving money if you are sailing on a boat that you don’t like. Also, have a good look at the state of the boats the company runs. One way or the other you are going to be paying a fee for maintenance so you want to be sure of your money’s worth.

You should consider talking to the agents or manufacturers of boats you like. They are both interested in selling boats and they will have knowledge of the resale market so you can get an idea of what depreciation is likely to cost you.

The club membership companies usually have offices or franchises in several boating locations and in this case membership entitles you to use vessels wherever such a facility exists. This is particularly attractive to people who want to entertain as well as sail, and to expatriates who, while working in Australia for a year or two, don’t want the hassle and expense of buying a yacht.

This capacity is less common in boat-share arrangements, but does exist with some companies.

The one factor common to both types of leisure boating is that either the syndicate or the company has to manage the competing demand for dates to use the boats, clearly the basis for many clashes. With syndicates, the members are the ones who have to resolve any conflict. The theory, as with my friend I mentioned earlier, is that the power of their common interest will overwhelm any disputes. My knowledge of human beings does not make me as sanguine as he was. Much as I am reluctant to bring in the dreaded lawyers, I believe it vital that anybody who participates in either of these schemes must have a clear, agreed method of resolving any clashes. There will in both cases be a legally binding contract between the boat-share organisation and the syndicate members and between the club members and the club. It must contain a mechanism to overcome conflict.

Another area to resolve is perhaps more difficult in the boat-share environments than the club membership ‘ what can and can’t the boat be used for’ Club members are more likely, on the face of it, to want to use the boat for sailing with friends, entertaining or holidaying. Boat-share will have the eternal struggle between the cruiser and the racer.

But there is one more pitfall, and I believe it is the biggest. The club member will be sharing boats with people he does not know, and they will be managed by other people. The boat-sharer may or may not know the people he is sharing with, and may or may not be managing the boat. Be very wary of the people involved, even if you know them. A good way to get a quick course in sharing is to talk to someone already doing so. They will be happy to tell you their experience, good or bad.

Boat-share contacts

The Cruising Club
Contact 02 9819 7276; www.cruisingclub.com.au

Sydney Boatshare
Contact: 1800 121 206; www.sydneyboatshare.com.au

Yacht Share International
Contact: 02 9969 0873; www.yachtshareinternational.com.au

Pittwater Yacht Charter
Contact: 02 9997 5344; www.yachtcharter.com.au

Eastsail
Contact: 02 9327 1166

Leisure Boating Club Sydney Harbour
Contact: 02 8765 1722

Leisure Boating Club Melbourne
Contact: 1300 139 482

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