SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A couple of years ago, Shane Ellis launched a new arm of his family boat company, offering a few of the Ellis motor yachts for bareboat charters.
Like hotels, bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals, he had a busy season already booked when state officials announced the requirement that anyone coming from out of state would be required to quarantine for 14 days.
“I’m running up against the same issues as hotels and Airbnb rentals,” Ellis said. “I had a number of boats booked for many weeks throughout the entire summer. It basically flipped my whole calendar on its head.”
A bareboat charter is an arrangement in which no crew or provisions are included in the deal. Customers are qualified to operate the boat, have experience with similar boats, know how to navigate, etc. They keep the boat for a week or more, often cruising up or down the coast and sleeping aboard.
“Our customers are coming directly from New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and going directly to the boat didn’t really qualify as quarantining,” Ellis said.
While they are equipped for customers to live aboard, he said, the 36-foot boats are not quite big enough to strictly stay aboard for 14 days.
“You still have to fuel up, still have to interact with people at the marina,” Ellis said. “You’re gonna want to get off the boat” at least occasionally.
Ellis said it was a “pretty scary moment” when cancellations starting coming in. “When all the hotels were sending back money to clients, I was sending back money to charter clients.”
But it hasn’t been all bad news.
“I’m pretty optimistic because there are a number of people who have property here who are planning extensive, extended vacations here,” he said, “and plan to have boating as a big part of that.”
Some of those families had vacations planned abroad in Europe but canceled those and instead will be spending more time at their summer homes here.
“They might have a place on the water but don’t have a boat to go with it.”
Shane Ellis started Ellis Charters a few years ago to complement the other activities of Ellis Boats, which is owned by his father, Don.
The yard also has about 50 service and storage boats, and usually at least one new boat in production at any given time. The charter work helps keep the 15-person crew busy in the summer when the service boats are out being enjoyed by their owners.
“For us, it’s a great partnership with everything else we have going on,” Shane Ellis said. “I’m optimistic that we can still salvage a charter season and get people on the water.”
Some of the charter fleet is owned by Ellis Charters; others are privately owned. Like some vacation rentals, the boat may be used for a few weeks of the year by the owner and used for charters the rest of the time.
“It ends up being a nice program for the owners of the boat if they can’t use it. The owner can earn 75 percent of the income, which they can put right back into (maintenance of) the boat.”