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August 22nd 2018. By Alex Smith.

Boat ownership clubs and share schemes

If you like the idea of partial boat ownership but without the logisitical responsibilities of a syndicate, a boat share scheme could be just the thing. By Alex Smith.

The marine market has never been more comprehensively equipped with simple, affordable ways to get yourself on the water. You can rent or charter, with or without a crew; you can get personal loans or marine mortgages, secured on your boat or your house or not secured at all; you can personally import a boat; you can buy a boat and keep it abroad; or you can organise a syndicate with a group of likeminded friends or family.
While you can also find any size, shape, value and age of boat on the used market, from virtually new to virtually unsalvageable, those keen to buy a new boat often now consider a privately run syndicate preferable to an outright purchase. After all, with everything split four, six or even eight ways, your buying power, as well as your ability to fund any maintenance or upgrades, is radically increased. However, it does still leave all the logistical responsibilities in the hands of you and your partners and it also means you have to manage the group carefully in order to protect everyone’s interests, to sell shares properly and to ensure that everyone is happy with their time slots. More to the point, it means you need to avoid any infighting by making sure everyone does their bit, pays their way and shares your basic ideas about what makes boating fun – and that’s exactly where commercially operated fractional ownership schemes come in…

If you like the idea of partial boat ownership but without the logisitical responsibilities of a syndicate, a boat share scheme could be just the thing.

Shared ownership

The professional involvement of a modern shared ownership management company enables complete strangers to get involved in the same process that has been going on between friends for decades, safe in the knowledge that everything is taken care of. Though there are plenty of variations on the theme, the basic Share Scheme package will often encompass the purchase, service, maintenance and berthing of your boat, as well as some of the more practical day-to-day chores like the cleaning, launch and recovery, fuelling and even training.
The shareholders receive an annual allocation of days, split evenly across the four seasons and in return, they each pay a share of the purchase price plus a fee for the management service and a contingency for any necessary works. As regards the share split, again, there are plenty of company-specific structures, but a common arrangement involves 12 shares, each buying the shareholder an allocation of four weeks use per year. That tallies nicely with the seasons, it keeps things very affordable and it frees up an additional four weeks of the year for maintenance and upgrades. However, as with privately run syndicates, an annual meeting remains a very useful protocol, enabling the owners to address any queries, from premiums for school holidays to time allocations, cruising regions and any potential upgrades.

Shared use

While the fee for shared ownership buys each member equity in the boat, other professionally run schemes involve private ownership by one individual, alongside a set number of members who simply pay a fixed monthly fee for the right to use it. For members, it can be a very attractive alternative to chartering, particularly as training is often provided; and for owner-members, it can be even more appealing. After all, it enables them to buy a new boat and receive a monthly income for it, while still enjoying their own share of vessel usage each year, secure in the knowledge that any maintenance, operating costs and technical issues are take care of by the management company. If you’re in a position to buy your own boat, but you know you’re unlikely to go boating for more than around 40 days a year, then it’s a great way to mitigate the costs and manage the logistics of sole ownership.

The fleet approach

While shared ownership and shared use are both increasingly popular approaches, some organisations also now enable you to pay a monthly membership fee for use of the company fleet. There are various levels available, according to your ambitions and your experience, each with a differing price and corresponding options regarding your allocation of days per year, but it introduces a degree of flexibility that individual or joint ownership of a single boat can never hope to match. Done well, it buys you access to multiple types and sizes of boat across various cruising locations both in Britain and abroad – and while joint ownership schemes can involve complications such as the selling of your share, a non-ownership club like Pure Latitude involves a set monthly fee for a 12-month commitment that you can either terminate or continue without the slightest fuss. Such membership initiatives also tend to involve quite inclusive events calendars, enabling you to develop your experience, get to know other boaters and even take part in the odd high-profile boating event.

some organisations also now enable you to pay a monthly membership fee for use of the company fleet.

Protect your interests

It may seem relatively risk-free, given the modest sums being handed over on a monthly basis, but it still pays to be clear about exactly what’s on offer and to take private steps to ensure your security. For instance, while non-owner members generally pay a monthly fee over a rolling 12-month term, owner-members may have to make a contractual commitment for anything from three to five years. It is of course perfectly possible for a management company to cease business during that kind of time scale so it pays to have a secondary syndicate agreement in place – and the RYA is able to provide templates for exactly that.
As the owner of equity in a shared boat, you also need to make your interest in the vessel formally known so that, if the management company fails, there is no chance that your boat will be requisitioned by creditors. And by the same token, it is also important that each boat under a management company’s care has its own bank account. Regular breakdowns can then be sent to each member, keeping everybody informed, keeping the financial situation transparent and ensuring that, in the event of a company’s collapse, member funds remains fully protected.

Five additional share scheme benefits

1. While some companies allocate time slots by drawing names out of a hat, others use a structured rotation system that alters each year. However, in all cases, flexibility is built in and swapping is commonplace.
2. If your lifestyle makes it worthwhile, it is often possible to purchase more than one share in a given syndicate in order to increase your time allocation.
3. A professionally managed syndicate means you don’t have to worry about shareholders who fail to pay their way. They are handled by the management company and, in some cases, can be compelled to sell their share to settle their bills.
4. While you can’t hire out your boat to third parties, some companies do enable you to charter your boat when not in use, helping further reduce the costs of ownership.
5. In addition to taking care of the maintenance and logistics, modern management companies will often provide a breakdown service and a 24-hour helpline for members.

Verdict

Shared ownership is a booming trend and you can see why. If you’re in the market for a new boat but you lack the funds to buy the boat you want, it’s ideal; if you’re keen to avoid immersing yourself in the long-term commitments of a loan, it’s perfect; if you want to go boating without the associated hassles, it’s great; and if you’re one of the many modern boaters who knows that you are unlikely to spend more than a few weekends a year on the water, what’s not to like?
Of course, even a well-managed ownership scheme can’t give you the same special pleasure as owning a boat outright, but in removing that nth degree of emotional attachment, ownership schemes have the capacity to eradicate virtually all of the stress, the doubt, the complication and the cost – and the variety both in boat type and package terms is now vast. From modest inland runabouts to coastal cruisers, RIBs, sailing boats and superyachts, if you’re keen to get involved, there will be a commercial operator out there, willing and able to help you out for fees that make conventional new boat ownership look like very poor value indeed.



Alex Smith is an ex-Naval officer, with extensive experience as a marine journalist, boat tester and magazine editor. Having raced as a Pilot in the National Thundercat Series and as a Navigator in the inaugural Red Sea RIB Rally, he has now settled in the West Country, where he lives and works as a specialist marine writer and photographer from his narrowboat in Bath.