Boat rental business booms on the Costa del Sol after Covid-19 crisis

Boat rental business booms on the Costa del Sol after Covid-19 crisis

The nautical sector in holiday resorts along the coast of Malaga province is currently riding on the crest of a wave and there is something on offer for every budget, from 35 to more than 8,000 euros

Lorena Cádiz


Monday, 8 July 2024, 15:41

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It was seven years ago that Aitor Santiago set up Solboat in Benalmádena marina, a boat rental company that at the time was set to revolutionise the sector. Santiago, who had never even been on a boat in his life, decided to go into the nautical business because the paintball field that until then had been his company was barely making a profit during the summer months. "I started to investigate the business and discovered the rental boat sector, where customers don't need a licence to take a boat out. I also saw that there was no offer in any port and that it could be a business opportunity, so I got involved," Santiago said.

Seven years later everything has changed. Solboat is now present in Puerto Marina in Benalmádena with ten boats, in the port of La Bajadilla in Marbella with a twelve-metre boat with skipper and in the port of La Duquesa in Manilva, with four more boats. And as far as boats where renters don't need a licence are concerned, theirs is currently the oldest company in Puerto Marina working in this market, but there are already nine companies offering them and around thirty such boats for rent in this port.

The reason for this dizzying change is that, with few exceptions, the boat rental business is booming and the pandemic has had a lot to do with it. "During the quarantine, supply and demand exploded," Santiago said. People needed fresh air, nature and freedom, and boats were a perfect way to get it.

"It is what we have been asked for the most since the pandemic, no licence is required to hire them, they are given an explanation of the basic rules and how to handle the boat and it is easy," said Santiago, who also pointed out that the boats have a GPS so they know where they are at all times.

To date, the vast majority of his customers are foreigners (80%), mostly English, but also Nordic. The company's offer also includes larger boats, which have a skipper. The demand in these cases is usually for hen parties, family outings or just a fun time with friends.

The premise is to go out for a short sail and a swim because, as the owner of Solboat pointed out, although some clients ask to go with the boat to Tarifa, Maro or Morocco, "the sea can be very delicate" and they prefer not to risk it.

Operate on demand

While many boat rental companies close for three to four months, Solboat stays open all year round. "In high season we have a retail counter in the harbour, but the rest of the year we operate on demand". In particular, last year "was unbeatable" because of the good weather. "People have been renting since January", but this year is proving to be more complicated. "We depend on the weather and with our turnover in summer we have to pay off a lot of expenses; if we have bad weather at weekends, business slows down a lot".

In his company, during high season there are seven employees between Benalmádena and Manilva. The mooring fees, port fees, insurance and the maintenance of the boats are the main expenses the company incurs.

All types of events

Tomás Puerta is the manager of the company Moby Dick, located in the port of Estepona, which has two yachts for hire, always with a captain and a crew person. Their offer is based on two options: group charter for a two-hour dolphin watching trip or private charter, with a maximum of 12 people, for a minimum of one hour. In these cases, "the normal thing is that they ask us to organise farewell parties, parties, birthdays, meals, barbecues... although they also ask us for strippers, cooks, DJs...", said Puerta.

His company has been operating for seven years and he said they are now working "twice as much as before the pandemic". "Now everyone wants the outdoors and these are booming businesses, but it is a short season," he added. They operate from Easter to October or November, depending on the weather. "Three months of the year we close and in March we start up again, but to get the boats out of the water, clean them and have them in perfect condition when the season starts". Moby Dick has nine employees.

Miguel Ferrer is the head of Catamaranes Estepona, the first boat rental company that started in the port of Estepona 15 years ago. They rent out sailing boats, speedboats, jet skis and yachts for dolphin watching or events, for up to 100 passengers.

"On a private level we do everything, we have celebrated weddings on the yachts and even recorded video clips," he said. In this company, ten people are rostered from March to November. "At first we started by opening four months a year, but now we are working nine months non-stop and if the weather is good in winter we almost can't close", Ferrer said.

Mariana Jiménez runs Puerto Marina Charters in Benalmádena and Port Ticket Office in the port of Fuengirola. In addition to the boats they have, they also work in the parasailing business. They have been in the sector for ten years, have 12 employees and in their case, it looks like 2024 will be a year with less business. "We are already noticing that demand has dropped by at least 40%," she said. Jiménez attributed this to two factors: one of them being competition.

Unfair competition

Jiménez said much of it is unfair competition. "Anyone who has a boat goes on excursions, the ports are one hundred percent permissive with this and the only ones who are harmed are the companies that have all our papers in order," she said.

The other reason, according to the businesswoman, is that they work mainly with the British public and "the media there are campaigning against the Costa del Sol, because since they came out of the euro they want them to generate wealth there during their holidays instead of coming here".

From 35 euros to more than 8,000 euros: there is something for every budget

"There are very exclusive options, but there are also options for all budgets, a boat can also be an affordable leisure offer because it can cost almost the same as going to eat at a beach bar," said Aitor Santiago from Solboat.

A boat with a licence, about 190 euros for two hours. A boat with a skipper is more expensive and depends a lot on the size of the boat, but it is between 300 and 500 euros for two hours. And finally there are the luxury yachts, which can exceed 8,000 euros for eight hours.

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