Boat Rentals Best Practices for Marinas

June 10, 2022
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The first official day of summer 2022 is quickly approaching, meaning boating season is already well underway! As many marinas are increasingly busy with public boat rentals, following some best practices ensures smooth sailing for clients and marina operators.

If you are renting boats to the public, following best practices outlined by Transport Canada can help you provide safe and enjoyable rental experiences to guests all season long. They identify common themes that best represent practices to follow across a wide array of rental boat agency activities. Below are the themes identified:

  • Safety
  • Administration
  • Staff
  • Client screening
  • Safety briefings and equipment
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Emergency preparedness and communication


Overall safety is, of course, top of mind. It is essential to communicate to clients that their safety is your number one priority. Not only does this contribute to an enjoyable experience, but it also reiterates your commitment to following the rules for your marina and regulations in place by federal and provincial authorities. 

Easily communicate your safety rules to clients by:

  1. Posting them on your website
  2. Meeting with staff regularly to ensure they are up-to-date and trained
  3. Only providing crafts in good condition
  4. Brief clients dockside on safety guidelines
  5. Outline to clients how they may obtain help in the event of an emergency


Determine your administrative needs before the busy season arrives. Admin needs may include staffing, rental booking procedures, policies or restrictions (e.g. use of alcohol on board), and so forth. 

Administration may also include establishing clear guidelines for clients. Guidelines include:

  1. Personal information collection, such as name, address, cell phone number, emergency contacts, etc.
  2. Proof of competency requirements
  3. Minimum age requirements
  4. Payment or security deposit requirements
  5. Insurance options
  6. Rental period terms
  7. Safety briefing requirements

From an insurance standpoint, provide all clients a completed contract, and maintain a copy for your records. Insurance companies may also request the following:

  1. Did the renter receive a safety briefing or complete a rental boat safety checklist?
  2. Details of the rental boat and safety equipment provided by your company
  3. Proof of onsite insurance (if applicable)
  4. Staff training records and evaluations
  5. staff procedure manuals, including an outline for client safety briefings
  6. Rental agreements, proof of competency verification, and documented safety briefings
  7. Checklist for verifying safety equipment
  8. Boat, engine, and equipment maintenance checklists
  9. Client feedback


No one knows your equipment or understands local waterways better than the staff. That’s why it is so important to ensure staff is up-to-date on training so they may easily communicate these subjects to clients. Some tips include:

  1. Hire staff whose training and experience are in-line with the types of boats you offer for rent
  2. Ensure staff who maintain equipment or give safety briefings have a strong working knowledge, especially handling characteristics. 
  3. Hire local staff who have experience on nearby waterways and understand basic navigation principles and weather conditions that may affect rental operations
  4. Invest in training before the season starts. Doing so will ensure staff are adequately trained and have the opportunity to ask questions or seek additional knowledge so they are confident when briefing clients.

Client screening

While you want to ensure clients enjoy their time on the waters, it is vital to screen all clients for proof of competency, experience using the boat they wish to rent, and knowledge of local waterways. After all, you are entrusting them with a piece of business equipment! Always ask the right questions to help assess whether or not they can safely operate your rental boat. Some questions may include:

  1. Previous boating experience 
  2. Local waterway knowledge
  3. Can they physically perform the tasks required to operate the type of boat they wish to rent

Safety briefings and equipment

Before you wish clients a safe voyage, provide a safety briefing. It is a wise idea to communicate the estimated time needed to complete these briefings ahead of time, so clients know what to expect before arrival. You may also consider posting messages on-site, on your website, and in promotional materials. 

Each boat is unique, which means you should tailor briefings to various pieces of equipment. For examples of rental boat safety checklists, refer to Transport Canada’s list for different watercraft.

Feel empowered to say no. If during or after a briefing you feel that a client still does not have the competencies required to operate your equipment safely, do not rent to that client. While turning away a potential client may seem bad for business, seasoned rental agencies have found renting to some clients is not worth the risk to their companies’ liability and credibility. 

Provide all clients with required safety equipment for each type of boat with each rental. Verify what safety equipment is required for the type and size of the boat with Transport Canada. Keep an inventory of safety equipment available for the types of boats you rent, and conduct regular inventory counts to ensure required supplies are readily available. 

Additional safety equipment that may be provided includes:

  1. Tool kit
  2. First aid kit
  3. Extra spark plugs
  4. Batteries (particularly flashlights)
  5. Spare parts

Equipment maintenance

Have a schedule for regularly assessing and maintaining the condition of all rental boats, motors, and safety equipment. Follow maintenance checklists to keep you on top of normal maintenance, and identify any new issues to address. These checklists should include periodic maintenance and safety checks for:

  1. Pre-season inspections
  2. During the season (daily, weekly, pre/post rental)
  3. End-of-season inspections

Keep records of any routine maintenance and repairs.

As part of maintenance, review safety equipment for normal wear and tear following each rental, and repair or replace as needed. This ensures that equipment is reliable and available should an emergency arise.

Emergency preparedness and communication

Anticipate and prepare for emergency situations that may arise in your waterways. Your business should have an adequate, well-documented plan in place to respond to any of these situations. Some considerations for emergency plans may include:

  1. Breakdown
  2. Fuel problem
  3. Injury
  4. Man overboard
  5. Capsize
  6. Grounding
  7. Weather delays

Identify a boat to be available at all times to respond to emergencies, and have well-trained staff to reach the client for mechanical or first-aid assistance. Also note the rental boat capacity to tow a damaged craft, or leave it secure and bring back the clients first.

Provide clients with a dedicated phone number or VHF radio frequency that is dedicated to emergencies only. Make sure clients can contact it at any time during the rental period and expect an immediate response. Have staff monitor the emergency number briefed to capture specific information and activate protocols for getting help. If you are in a remote area where cell phones or VHF radios are not in-range, consider establishing check-in periods ashore, set a date and time of return, satellite phone, etc.

In the event of an emergency, make sure rental clients can communicate with you. Place emergency contact information in key locations of the boat, such as:

  1. With the communication tool you provide
  2. On key safety equipment, such as lifejackets or paddles
  3. On the hull of the boat close to the area where the operator will be seated
  4. On the rental agreement and rental safety checklist

If you are operating in a remote area, consider sending your clients with at least two reliable forms of marine communication, like a distress beacon, high-intensity flashlight or strobe light, airhorn, or flares.

Marina safety is the responsibility of everyone. If you operate a marina and have questions on how your safety regulations or business operations may affect your insurance, speak with a Gifford Carr professional by connecting with us today!


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Sourced from Transport Canada

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