Airbnb For Boats? Beware

The peer-to-peer sharing economy has recently hit the boating world, with the advent of Boatbound and Boatsetter, companies that help owners rent their boats to others. Other ways to share your boat are also cropping up, such as through as a sort of floating hotel room. All of these programs offer a way to earn some money to offset maintenance and slip fees, but they are not without their risks.

Beneteau sailboat at dock

If you're thinking about renting your boat through one of these programs, be aware that nearly all recreational marine insurance policies, including BoatUS Marine Insurance, do not cover the boat during a rental period; that is considered to be commercial use that falls outside of a recreational boat policy. Some companies will not cover you and your boat at all if you participate in these programs, while others may just suspend the coverage during the rental period; make sure you have that conversation with your insurance company before signing up. If something happens to your boat, or worse, someone is injured on your boat, you may not have coverage under your personal recreational boat policy. The insurance provided through the peer-to-peer program really matters, then, if you and your boat are to be protected.

Make sure you understand what the insurance covers — and what it doesn't — before deciding to list your boat in one of these programs. While Boatbound and Boatsetter both offer insurance options that cover the rental period (and the Boatbound rental insurance is provided by GEICO Marine Insurance through BoatUS), the provisions may be quite different than your normal policy. Airbnb provides a Host Protection program that includes liability coverage; still, you should carefully review the program coverage to ensure it will cover your boat as well as it would a land-based residence. If you want to rent your boat on a regular basis — even just as sleeping quarters — consider purchasing a commercial charter policy that covers your boat for this kind of use.

Impeller Fails

Ever wonder what goes on inside your raw-water pump? We didn't either. At least not until a surveyor sent us these pictures. The first shows a brand-new impeller. One thing you might notice is how squished the vanes are. When your boat's not used much, say over winter, these poor things stay folded over for months. After a while, they take a "set," which means they stay a little bent over like most of us would if we'd been hunched over for a whole season. This makes the pump a little less efficient, and every year, it pumps less water.

Impeller damage

The other picture shows what happens when you ignore your impeller too long. Those poor vanes finally gave up and broke off. Actually, you'd be fortunate if they just broke off; what usually happens is that they get carried downstream in the cooling system, where they can clog your heat exchanger, or if you don't have one, clog the cooling passages in your engine. Either way, it can be a big job to retrieve them, and retrieve them you will — otherwise you'll be fighting overheating problems forever. This spring, replace your impeller(s) if they're over a couple of years old. It's one less thing you'll have to worry about.

Check Your Bearings

Poor lowly boat trailers: their only purpose in life is to transport your pride and joy to the boat ramp, and then they're ignored while you dote on your boat. But think of your trailer as a protective cradle with wheels for your favorite pastime, and maybe you'll realize how important it is — and how important maintenance is for it. This spring before your first outing, reserve a couple of hours to inspect your trailer — especially the bearings. The BoatUS Marine claim files are rife with reports of wheels that smoke, lock up, and even fall off, often at the worst possible times. In one claim, a wheel caught fire in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Bridge during rush hour. The image from the news helicopter was was very embarrassing. This picture is what a wheel bearing looks like when it hasn't had the grease renewed for, well, ever. We know that not everyone services their bearings regularly; wheel bearing problems account for 21 percent of the service calls in the BoatUS Trailer Assist and Tow program. So before your first trip to the launch ramp this spring, check your bearings and service them if needed. For a neat video on how to do this, go to the BoatUS YouTube channel.

Wakeboard and Ski Boats Are Different

From the outside, it may not seem like boats you can ski behind and purpose-built ski and wakeboard boats are that much different. But there's one crucial difference — propeller location. Because wakeboarders play much closer to the stern, wakeboarding behind a sterndrive or outboard-powered boat is far more dangerous than one built for the purpose, which are inboard-powered. As you can see from the illustration, a skier in the water is much safer with an inboard-powered boat because of how far under the boat the prop is. Regardless of where the prop is, any boat that's picking up a skier should have the engine powered off, just in case.

Old Belts

V-belts are one of those things in your engine compartment that seem to just soldier on forever — until they don't. V-belts drive raw-water pumps, alternators, power-steering pumps, and so on. Eventually, they age and get stiff and cracks form. Once that happens, it's just a matter of time until they fail. You might think a busted V-belt is not really a big deal: what's the worst that could happen? How about a fire? A V-belt on a 35-foot powerboat came apart as the boat was being run hard, which then caused the engine to overheat. The overheating caused the cooling system to spew coolant onto a hot manifold, which then ignited. (Coolant is made with a type of alcohol and can burn, given the right conditions.) Fortunately, the fire in the engine room was put out by the quick thinking owner using a hand-held fire extinguisher before more serious damage could be done. The life of a V-belt varies, but all of them should be inspected at least every year, preferably at the beginning of the season. Look for excessively worn spots and cracks as you flex the belt, a sure sign the belt is overdue for replacement. 

— Published: April 2016

Seaworthy, the damage-avoidance newsletter, is brought to you by the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program. For an insurance quote, please call 1-800-283-2883 or apply online at


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