Renting a boat on the web is getting easier thanks to web aggregator portals. As with hotels, they connect clients with charter agencies. With just a few clicks we find available boats in various locations, can compare prices, and pay online. On the Web, you know, you have to be careful because inefficiencies can happen that do not have the boat you booked ready at the dock. In this investigation we tell you, in addition to the undisputed advantages of web-based boat rental and leasing portals, some emblematic cases where things went wrong, and tips for booking boats online with confidence through reliable web portals.
By searching for “boating vacation,” or “boat rental,” you will surely have come across one of the many booking portals, which aggregate the offers of all available boats in the requested locations.
The advantages of renting the boat online
The advantages of boat booking, rental or charter portals are many. The portals cross-reference supply and demand for different charters, allow a search by area, period, by boat characteristics, and by number of people. Offers are collected and presented in the same layout, allowing us to make easy comparisons between prices and availability. The alternative to web portals is to call the charters one by one, but especially in the high season, in the time of one round of phone calls, the availability of boats changes and you may lose a lot of time. The biggest advantage of web portals is that they give us the real-time situation on availability and periods
CASE 1: When the platform is unreliable and skips the reservation
There are cases when the online booking portal fails and the trust relationship between client or charter is compromised. The first case we tell you about, that of the unreliable platform, is told to us by our reader Andrea Galasso, who through the site Zizooboat, (similar to booking.com for hotels) finds and books a sailboat for September in Procida. At the beginning of the procedure he is contacted by phone by a Zizoo operator, operators who always qualify only by a first name. The boat is confirmed upon payment of two down payments, via bank transfer, to an Austrian foreign account of Zizoo.
In early June, Andrea receives the charter contract from the charter, with details of the boat and the period selected for the vacation. It says on the contract that the reservation is paid through Zizooboats GmbH. The due date for the second down payment is solicited by Zizoo to the client via email as early as July (charters normally ask to finalize payment within a month in advance), and transfer with the last boat booking deposit, is promptly executed.
A few days before departure, for organizational reasons, our reader contacts the charter out of sheer scruples and discovers that the reservation money from Zizoo never arrived. Therefore, the reservation is not confirmed! He is also told that the Zizoo portal is no stranger to such payment failures, however, even the charter did not bother to contact the client in advance to clarify the situation.
CASE 2: When to save the vacation you pay twice
To save the vacation in case of missed reservation, sometimes it is necessary to pay twice. Here is the epilogue of the previous case: contacted Zizoo by phone, our reader manages to talk to the same operator who had followed him in the booking process, who admits there were some general problems with payments, but the operator cannot give specific explanations about the case, and is of no practical use. In order to save the vacation, our reader finds himself having to pay again, directly to Charter, the full amount of the reservation.
Therefore, by paying twice, the vacation is saved, but the money advanced to the Zizoo portal will be discussed again at the end of the vacation. If the money arrives it will only have been a disservice, however, inconvenience and anger do not end when the expected refund at the end of the vacation is continually postponed by emails in Italian and sometimes English, cordially promising a refund by mid-December 2023.
In the meantime, our online article in the Journal of Sailing“vacation paid, or rather not” comes out, and other articles and surveys from other European industry journals appear, reporting similar situations. Zizoo in a press note responds that “there have been problems with payments, and refunds will come…”
CASE 3: When your boat is overbooked.
Some portals operate overbooking, or given the various booking steps, often competing bookings are not confirmed until an email is received after payment. How it works: the boat is presented as available, but in fact the same reservation has already been sold to other customers. Payment is received, but either the reservation confirmation email is delayed, or a few days before departure, the customer receives an email cancelling the reservation.
The portal actually sells the boarding to the customer from whom it has snatched the best price, and also aims to make money in selling a last-minute fallback offer to the customer who ended up with a cancelled boat.
CASE 4: The “vacation group” ploy without the charter’s knowledge.
There have been cases of boats being chartered to the cabin without ‘the charter’s knowledge, a sophisticated ploy called a “vacation group” that works like this: the online portal groups the booking of several single people or couples, on a certain date, for a given boat, selling them a vacation to the cabin. For example, “sailing catamaran week for 2 people in Sardinia in double cabin with bathroom.”
The portal groups the reservations and, by also adding a trusted (non-paying) person who will play, role of skipper, forms a fictitious “vacation group.” He comes to the charter with full crew list, and the compliant skipper acts in the first person as if he owns the group. Charter is knowingly involved an unauthorized skippered charter.
CASE 5: The extra services
There have been cases of boat rental portals somehow promoting borderline deals between what is the domain of chaters and what is the domain of tourism or restaurant agencies. So watch out for “sunset drink on a boat” offers.
Aggregating different offerings into universal selection boxes is not easy. Sometimes, even in good faith, portals have selection boxes for extra services, for a fee, which are then not usable by the charter. For example, the extra for the presence of spinnaker, bed sheets, final cleaning, the adjustment for fuel surcharge expected for a motor yacht on a sailboat…
CASE 6: The ghost boat scam.
Unfortunately, in the high season alongside reputable portals, scam portals also appear, and sell boat reservations that do not exist, or completely unbeknownst to the charter. There are those who arrived at the dock ready to set sail, find neither the boat nor the charter agency, and when confronted with the report to the postal police have confirmation that they have been duped.
Unfortunately, recovering money, especially if the portals are unreliable or foreign-based, is very difficult. If you pay by card instead of wire transfer, you can attempt to recover the amount through the reversal made by the lending institution.
Italian regulations complicate things for tourists
The biggest victims of online boat rental and lease scams are tourists, especially foreign tourists. People who know little about boats, and who rightly expect “rent a boat” to be as simple as renting a bicycle or a car. Some multilingual online portals, leveraging the Italian complexity of leases, skippered chartering of the occasional charter, greatly simplify the procedure and sell boat packages with a little bit of everything in them, even not following the legal regulations, and make money on the backs of honest working people.
Reliable portals and tips for a “check”
Boat booking portals, are not tour operators or charter agencies, they are simply economic intermediaries between the end customer and the charter agency, with whom the contract will then be signed. The web portal has no responsibility for the rental, quality of the boat and no burden of verification or warranty. The most established and most reliable portals, have over the years established cooperative and mutual verification relationships with the various charter companies, have customer reviews and comments that guarantee their excellent reliability. Here are the consligi to book our boat in peace :
- Established portals: Rely on established portals in the industry. Through reviews and research on specialized sites or magazines, it is easy to see if the portal is established and reliable. The larger ones have extensive partnership networking.
- Registered office. Understand where the legal and banking location of the portal is located and the payment methods accepted.
- Call the portal’s customer service number. Understand whether there is a reliable back office, and whether we will be able in subsequent phone calls to talk to the same operator.
- Check with the charter. Per scrupulously, better to also call the Charter to make sure it has a trusted relationship has the portal or to verify payments.
- In case of inefficiency: In case of inefficiency write email immediately with request for reimbursement and always solicit a written response. Prevent unpleasant situations by taking out cancellation insurance.