PBR investigates a bold new solution to help get more people out on the water and interviews its brainchild, Jonny Boys, MD of Trafalgar Wharf in Portsmouth.
Are boat clubs set to change the face of the UK RIB and powerboat scene? What do you do if you want to go boating on the Solent but you don’t have £100,000 to spend on a top-of-the-range RIB or powerboat? Or you’d love to get into boating but your partner puts the brakes on the purchase because ‘we’d never use it enough to make it worthwhile, darling’?
Jonny Boys, MD of Trafalgar Wharf in Portsmouth, is confident that there are thousands of people facing this problem. That’s why he’s launched Boat Club Trafalgar, a new members’ club concept, where boaters can book unlimited use of eight new boats to take out on the Solent.
‘At Trafalgar Wharf we are covering most of the market for owners with pontoons, marinas, hardstanding and dry stack storage. We’re also selling RIBs and motor boats. But what we’ve found is that there are people who want to go boating who don’t want the hassle and expense of ownership,’ explains Jonny. ‘The boat club is a logical next service for Trafalgar Wharf. We’re solving the problem of wanting to go boating but not wanting to own a boat.’
Popular in the US – will it work here?
Boat clubs are popular in Florida, where they are seen as the alternative to the country club. Rather than paying a fee to use the golf course, tennis courts and pool, clients pay a similar monthly fee to use a number of different boats. But will the same thing work in less sunny Portsmouth? Jonny thinks it will.
‘The Solent is one of the best boating areas in the south. You can zoom over to Cowes for a gourmet meal or treat clients to a fun day out in a RIB. You can take your friends and family out for a birthday treat to a hidden beach or have a romantic overnighter. What’s more, I think people want to experience new things, but don’t want to be tied down. It’s part of the future.’
Boat clubs – the sharing economy
Jonny points to the success in the UK of supercar clubs, where car enthusiasts pay a monthly fee to drive Porsches, Ferraris and Aston Martins.
‘People are using non-traditional ways of getting what they want at a price that offers good value, whether that’s cars or property. There’s no reason why someone moving to Portsmouth for a couple of years to work for IBM shouldn’t be able to take advantage of a boat club. That’s just one type of person who will benefit. People are getting used to things like Uber and Airbnb. Joining up, paying for something when you want it – the sharing economy is happening now. Boat clubs are part of this change.’
Trafalgar Wharf has invested in eight boats. The fleet comprises three Ballistic RIBs, a 6m Ribeye, a Finnmaster Day Cruiser T7, a Jeanneau Cap Camarat, a Jeanneau Merry Fisher and a Finnmaster Pilot Weekend. They’ve been chosen to cater for a wide range of uses. It also means that members will be able to book up to four sessions in advance, all through a handy smartphone app, where availability is updated 24/7.
‘It’s a big investment we’ve made, but then so was buying the old Vosper Thorneycroft site at Portchester and turning it into Trafalgar Wharf and building a thriving marine business with hundreds of people working here. The boat club is a new venture and we’re confident that we’re offering the right service, at the right price, to the right people.’
Boat clubs for time-poor, experience-driven people?
Thousands of current boat owners don’t get the value out of it for one reason or another. Often it’s because of work commitments. Sometimes it’s the arrival of new family members. Would these people be better off selling up and joining a boat club? Jonny says that’s a great option.
‘We often buy pre-owned RIBs through our JBT Marine business. We know that people often sell because they don’t have the time any more to use and look after their RIB. But they still want to be involved and a boat club is ideal for them. And for those who might come in and look at a RIB and then delay or put off purchasing, now they have an option to join the boat club for a year or two. They might go on to buy a new or used RIB or stay with the club or stop entirely. They have a choice.’
It’s not just about the boats, though. People of a certain age are demanding. After all, boating is a service industry, not a technical one. As Jonny says, ‘We know that people who are getting back into boating once the kids have flown demand a premium service. They are used to BMW, Audi and Mercedes levels of client care. It’s not enough just to have a great technical service because that doesn’t necessarily retain members in the long term. Being members of a club must be a home-from-home experience.’
So what has a boat club member got to look forward to when they sign up? Members get unlimited use of the fleet. The boat club staff do all the work, including storing, cleaning and fuelling. Members don’t have to take out any insurance. They also get RYA Level 2 Powerboat training included. Apart from fuel and the membership fee, it’s just turn up and go.
From a financial point of view, membership is not much more than the annual cost of storing and maintaining your own boat. It works out significantly cheaper when the depreciation of boats is taken into account.
So is Jonny Boys onto another winner? ‘We’ve got a great location just off junction 12 of the M27,’ says Jonny. ‘We’ve got great boats, a great team and the Solent. We’re betting that there are plenty of smart people who will choose an intelligent and effortless way to have fun on the water.’