Falmouth harbormaster: Time to assess boat-rental issues

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FALMOUTH — Offering your boat for short-term rental is far more complicated than listing your seaside cottage online, but more boat owners are floating the prospect.

That’s especially true with the explosion of Airbnb, the online marketplace that allows members to list, find and book accommodations around the world.

So at its meeting on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 8 a.m. the Harbor Committee will discuss whether new policies are needed to regulate boat rentals at Town Landing.

“This is a discussion it’s time to have,” Harbormaster Alan Twombley said in advance of the meeting. “The concern is that somebody already has a boat they’re using in this way.”

Twombley said this summer he was approached not only by boat owners, but others who were interested in whether the town would allow them to list their boats for rent on Airbnb or other online home-sharing sites.

Right now, he said, the town’s ordinances do not allow houseboats to be moored in the harbor and people are not allowed to live on their sailboats or cabin cruisers.

However, Twombley said, there is definite interest among boat owners about short-term rentals through Airbnb or similar websites.

“If it’s a boat someone is renting out for a week-long cruise that might be one thing, but if someone is living on the moored boat for a week” that could cause problems, he said.

“We may end up having to draw the line,” Twombley added. “That’s the whole reason we need to have this discussion. We need to get out in front of this and talk about it sooner rather than later.”

As the harbormaster, Twombley said  he is most concerned about a drain on the public resources needed to support boat renters, from parking to providing potable water, to dingy services.

There are other issues that go along with boat rentals, too, including ensuring that the boats being offered are seaworthy and that those renting them have the necessary skills to pilot or sail a boat successfully.

In addition, renters would have to be fully informed of any local boating laws and regulations.

But owning a boat is expensive and offering it for short-term rental is one way to recover some of those costs, which is one reason it’s becoming attractive for people to list their boats online.

“There are 1,100 moorings out there, so there are a lot of people I’ve never met, so I don’t know if they’re already renting and flying under the radar,” Twombley said.

“We’re just starting the discussion,” he said, “and we may find there is no issue. If so, no harm no foul.”

This story was updated to correct the date of the Harbor Committee meeting.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

There are 1,100 moorings at Falmouth’s Town Landing and more than one boat owner has approached the harbormaster about whether they’re allowed to offer their boats for short-term rentals.