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How to Run a Boat Rental Business in South Africa

Running a boat rental business in South Africa has exciting opportunities, but you need to find ways to improve your business to stay relevant.

Most tourists who visit South Africa’s coastal regions do so because the country has incredible beaches, beautiful ocean ecosystems, and amazing weather. This is a lucrative opportunity for boat rental business owners or those looking to buy a boat hire business.

Locals are also interested, especially if there is more to the boat rental than just renting a boat - like yacht parties, visiting regions with penguins, or taking a boat out to see dolphins, sharks or whales. There are also very specialised boat rentals for anglers and people wanting to do shark cage diving.

Apart from coastal regions, there are also areas with large dams where boat rentals are common, such as Hartbeespoort dam in Johannesburg.

Ways to Improve Customer Experience

One of the ways in which you can improve your customer's experience is to offer new services. You can do this in the following ways:

If you’re involved in general boat rentals for just going out on the water, you can include fishing as a new experience for customers. You can equip your boat with fishing chairs, rods and bait, and a pamphlet of all the fish that the customer could see in that region of water. You can even take this further by hiring an expert fisherman to give clients fishing lessons.

If you own a yacht, you can increase your offering by equipping and hiring out your yacht for yacht parties. Collaborating with event and catering companies would be an effective strategy.

Re-evaluating Your Target Audience

In order to grow your business, you may need to adjust your target market to include customers you weren’t considering before.

This will also help you sustain revenue during non-tourist seasons. Look at what services you can provide that locals would also be interested in. As mentioned previously, you could provide lessons to clients in the form of fishing or sailing. These are services that locals would be interested in and they can secure regular business from a client for a period of at least two months.

Always Account for External Threats

One of the variables that you cannot control is the weather, such as the rainy season in Cape Town, or scoldering days in Durban. You could choose to move your boat to another location during these seasons. If you generate enough profits during the summer, you could be safe enough to close your doors for a few months during the winter.

You will always compete with other boat rental companies and there are two main ways in which you can secure more business than them. Increasing your value proposition and improving your market differentiation are the best strategies.

In order to compete with your competition, you need to have a better marketing strategy than them. You’ll need to reach and convert more people into customers. Lastly, you can choose to compete by offering better prices than your clients or discounts for certain customers such as children and pensioners.

Do You Have all Your Permits?

You will need a SAMSA Accredited Skippers licence and a VHF Radio licence in order to operate a boat at sea or inland on rivers and dams. You can obtain these licences by attending a Skipper school.

Note that there are different categories of Skipper licences. You will need to choose the category or categories that best suit your business needs.

  • Category R covers all inland water, lagoons, estuaries, and ports.
  • Category E is for vessels only going one nautical mile offshore.
  • Category C is for vessels that go up to fifteen nautical miles offshore.
  • Category B is for vessels that go up to forty nautical miles offshore.

Always Stay on Top of Market Research

The easiest way to evaluate what your competition is doing is to utilise online research.

Below is a list of some of the things you should look out for.

  • Where do they operate from?
  • What services are they offering?
  • Who are their main target markets?
  • What is their pricing and how does it compare to yours?
  • Do they have any unique selling propositions, and if so how do they compare to your offering?
  • How do they seem to be marketing themselves, and does it seem to be working?

Another way in which you can do research is to be a customer. Go on a boat trip with them. Remember to ask questions that may assist you in your business.

What is Your Growth Potential?

While earning potential as a boat rental owner varies, it is a certainty that you can make really good money over time if you continue to upscale your operations. The prices you can charge vary on the experience and the size of the boat. For example you can hire a small yacht for a cruise for R500 or a deep sea fishing experience for R1,500 to R3,000.

Interesting South African Maritime Facts

  • The South African Small craft association was formed in 1965 as a marine association within the government for small boat owners. However, they became a private organisation in 2006 and now assist boat owners and government with various small boating needs such as training and surveying services.
  • The South African boat building industry is globally recognised. Before the pandemic, boat building brought in R1 billion annually into the country.
  • Cape town is the second largest producer of recreational catamarans globally, and every year this industry grows by approximately 28%.

Innovative Ideas for Your Marketing

Marketing your business correctly in 2022 is a crucial consideration. Without modern, customer-focused marketing techniques, it is unlikely that you’ll reach key customer segments.

Build a professional website that lists all your services and pricing, your location, contact details, and any unique selling proposition you may have. You can get a professional company to build this for you such as Web partners or you can build it yourself using Wix.

Social media is the next key component in your market arsenal. You need to be present on at least two of the main platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Create short professional-looking video clips highlighting memorable moments your clients have experienced while using your services. You will need to ask the client's permission. Ask them to share their experiences on their social platforms, and of course, tag/mention your business.

Get a professional photographer to come on certain trips and experiences with you and your clients. These photos can be an add-on to your service offering for your clients and can also be used in your marketing material.

Host competitions on your social media page where people have to do something helpful for your industry (cleaning up beaches or clearing dams) to win a free boat ride or something similar.

Attempt to collaborate with the Department of Tourism, and see if you can be included in their marketing material.

Some Financing Options

A bank loan

If you have some collateral such as a house or can prove a large enough monthly income to the bank, you can apply for a business loan to purchase a boats, or other equipment you may need.

Family and friends

You can approach family and friends with a proposal to invest in your business. You could include in the agreement that they have free access to the boat on certain days when you aren't operating.


Try and apply for a business loan on Lululend. They can provide up to R5 million.

Are You Considering Selling?

After running the business for many years, you may decide that you want to retire. In this case, you will want to sell your business to a qualified buyer, or you may consider someone closer to home - a family member or friend.

Remember that boat rental businesses are valuable; you will likely have considerable tangible assets, and a customer base. Before you conduct a valuation of your business, ensure that all your assets are updated, serviced and in good condition. A buyer will not be interested in boats that are run down, or poor customer engagement.

Megan Kelly

About the author

Megan is Head of Content Marketing at She is a B2B Content Strategist and Copywriter. She has produced multiple articles that rank on the first page of Google SERPS, and loves creating people-first content.