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Has the Sharing Economy Gone Overboard?

Peer-to-peer travel, a welcome trend among tech-savvy tourists looking for economical options while on the road, has exploded in popularity in recent years. And while some peer-to-peer purveyors are battling the court systems, the sharing economy continues to grow, offering even more novel experiences for travelers. Now we are seeing the trend take to the high seas.

GetMyBoat is a San Francisco-based start-up that launched in January 2013 to connect boat-less sailors with some 14,000 vessels worldwide. Boat owners can list their boats, set pricing and availability, and use GetMyBoat's booking engine to manage reservations. Whether travelers are looking to charter a sailboat in Sydney or a commuter ferry to San Francisco (or even a B&B afloat in Boston Harbor), the website and its app connect the consumer to the seller directly. Like other ride-sharing services, it streamlines the process of research, booking, and payment into one single transaction while simultaneously allowing independent owners a piece of the travel marketplace.

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The concept has proven to be enormously successful, according to GetMyBoat, with unprecedented numbers for rental requests this year. Boatbound, Boatsetter, and Cruzin offer similar services, and new competitors continue to bob up, including South Florida-based Boatyard, which is currently accepting applications for its first launch.

Taxi alternative Uber is also experimenting with seamless boat-rental service, most recently in Boston, where it connects users to ferry services from Boston Harbor Cruises. When an Uber user is searching for transportation within a quarter mile of the Boston Harbor, the app automatically includes the "UberBOAT" option, allowing users to drop a pin at their nearest dock location and reserve a ferry trip across the harbor to a number of popular stops, including Boston Logan International Airport (handy for travelers who don't want to battle rush-hour subway traffic after landing). Uber is operating a similar service in Muskoka, Ontario, and, according to a spokesperson, has done similar promotions in the past in Sydney and Amsterdam. Undoubtedly, the service will expand in the future.

As boat-sharing and ferry-booking apps surge, it's possible that these start-up services will see the backlash that Airbnb—and the sharing economy at large—has experienced, with local courts challenging the legality and safety of an owner-driven marketplace. However, that remains to be seen. For now, boat sharing offers yet another economical, collaborative approach to travel in a post-recession, smartphone-dominated world. And while its ship hasn't sailed quite yet, the traditional travel economy surely will continue to experience price competition as the peer-to-peer marketplace rises.

Sound off, sailors: Would you book through a boat-sharing app?

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