Scared to stay at an Airbnb-like rental in Miami Beach? There’s a loophole

A 35-foot catamaran available on GetMyBoat from Miami Beach. The platform said Miami Beach is one of its largest markets.
A 35-foot catamaran available on GetMyBoat from Miami Beach. The platform said Miami Beach is one of its largest markets. GetMyBoat

Booking a short-term rental on Miami Beach is tricky territory to walk into in a city that has waged war against platforms like Airbnb — but there is a loophole.

After all, short-term rentals aren’t only found on land.

GetMyBoat is the Airbnb for boats, an app that functions like a travel agent through which travelers can rent a boat in less than 24 hours to spend the night or take out on the water. The company, founded in 2013 in Airbnb’s backyard of San Francisco, is already available in 171 countries and has nearly 65,000 listings, 2,000 of which include a sleep aboard option.

With the sleep aboard feature, guests can stay in a docked or moored boat overnight like they can with accommodation platforms Airbnb and HomeAway — but less land-locked.

In Miami Beach, one of GetMyBoat’s top markets in the world, the platform has more than 200 listings. But while Miami Beach is the top destination in Florida with options for sleep aboard, guests haven’t yet used the tool much, said Jess Segraves, a spokeswoman for the company.

“Many offer sleep aboard options but renters have not yet elected to book them,” Segraves said. “Sleep aboard bookings are popular in other destinations though, and we foresee that sleep aboard bookings in Miami Beach may increase as people begin planning longer vacations and trips.”

Still, boat owners are making that an option for potential renters, with prices ranging from $99 to $15,000 a night. Renting a small sailboat with capacity for three people, for example, costs $200 a night according to one listing on GetMyBoat at 10 Venetian Way in Miami Beach. A 39-foot catamaran, on the other hand, runs guests $700 a night with room for 10 people, according to another listing at 300 Alton Road.

The sleep aboard feature is an evolution of GetMyBoat’s original business model, said chief operating officer Bryan Petro, which focused on making more use — and profit — from owning a boat. Since its founding, the company has widened the possibilities, allowing owners to rent kayaks, canoes, fishing charters and other vessels and diversifying the rental opportunity to include the sleep aboard option, among others. To rent, boaters have to prove they are certified to operate the vessel or owners can opt to captain the boats themselves.

For now, GetMyBoat has evaded the strict regulations imposed on short-term renters in Miami Beach on platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway. Hosts who rent on those platforms in an area not zoned for short-term rentals — which in Miami Beach is all single-family homes and some multi-family buildings — can incur violations of $20,000.

But that doesn’t apply to vessels docked in waterways, Miami Beach officials said. However, businesses that offer boat rentals in Miami Beach have to apply for a business tax receipt to operate. It’s unclear how many hosts on GetMyBoat have a valid license.

The Beach has only faced an issue with boat rentals being used as hotel rooms once, about two years ago, said Melissa Berthier, a spokeswoman for the Beach, and the person ceased renting when told he needed a license to conduct a business in Miami Beach.

Otherwise, live aboard is largely an exemption to the short-term rental battle taking place on land. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has said he is not open to talking to short-term rental companies in any way — saying they negatively impact the character of the city’s neighborhoods.

But GetMyBoat’s Petro said the push back has become almost expected among the different facets of the sharing economy.

“When technology comes in for innovation, regulations oftentimes are a little bit slower to adapt to the quickness of innovation,” Petro said. “We have expected this to happen the way it has played out for Airbnb. We foresee it [will become] more of a working relationship.”

And the sharing economy is not showing signs of slowing down. Petro said GetMyBoat was started on the heels of Airbnb, which grew awareness for alternate accommodations when it came on the scene in 2008. Now, Airbnb is projecting it will continue to grow, with profits hitting up to $3.5 billion in 2020. As for GetMyBoat, Petro said, the company expects to be three times bigger by next year.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH