Col Dann and Marj Sullivan occasionally rent out the spare bedroom of their boat via Airbnb. (ABC Tropical North: Sophie Meixner)
It could soon be easier to rent out a boat berthed in a marina as short-term accommodation under a draft exemption that could see existing regulations relaxed.
Under Australian law it is not illegal for boat owners to rent out their vessels in an Airbnb-style arrangement, but doing so automatically changes the boat’s status from a recreational to a commercial vessel.
The commercial classification subjects the owner to increased requirements around obtaining certificates and certifications, an obligation which is out of reach for many owners.
A spokesperson from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said owners who wanted to Airbnb their boat should not be subjected to all the requirements of a commercial operation.
“AMSA has had discussions with industry,” the spokesperson said.
“AMSA agrees that applying the full extent of the national law — including the requirement to obtain a certificate of survey and certificate of operation — to vessels being used as short term accommodation does not appropriately match the risk.”
But the general manager of a North Queensland marina said staying onboard a boat should not be equated with staying in a house, and the proposal could leave tenants with no boating experience unsupervised.
Revenue boost for marinas
The consultation process is open until June 25 but the proposed change has been welcomed by sharing economy platform Beds On Board, which has facilitated short-term rentals for boats in international jurisdictions.
Director Darren Vaux said marina precincts would receive a welcome boost if the law is changed.
“It’s not an activity for every marina, but there are a lot of marinas that see this as a great way to bring new people to their facilities, to enable them to engage with the activities at the marina, whether [that be] restaurants or various other things,” he said.
“Typically people are coming down for an average of one-and-a-half to two nights and … it enables people to get and start to enjoy the marina lifestyle that they otherwise may not have been able to have experienced.”
Mr Vaux said boat owners could offset the costs of ownership by renting out their vessels as accommodation.
“In a marina … these boats just sit here for a lot of the time, which is the reality across marinas around the world,” he said.
“[This proposal] is a convergence of the sharing economy.
“The sharing economy really looks at saying: ‘how do you make money out of private assets that may be underutilised’?”
Marj Sullivan and Col Dann in the kitchen of their boat Aussie Spirit. (ABC Tropical North: Sophie Meixner)
‘Can of worms’
There has been growing concern about the impact of sharing platforms like Airbnb on rental affordability in surrounding communities, as well as a disconnect between the landlord and the tenant ultimately sub-letting the property.
The proposed exemption by AMSA requires the boat owner to obtain written approval from the marina authorising the use of the vessel for short term accommodation.
But Mackay Marina Manager Ben Anderson said the nature of sharing platforms meant the marina would have no power to vet individual guests.
“I’ve got clients down on the marina who pay mooring fees to have their boat secured down in a private facility,” he said.
“What’s being proposed here has people accessing the marina who haven’t been authorised by us on an individual basis.
“Who is there to police those people if the owners aren’t on board at the same time?
“You might have people carrying on, partying, falling into the water.
“My fear is these people are online, they make the booking … it’s not [the marina’s] responsibility to brief them on the safety of the other person’s boat.”
Mr Anderson said the exemption opened a “can of worms” about safety and security.
“You could potentially have inexperienced people staying on boats, and there are a lot of systems on boats, you’ve got gas on a lot of them, you’ve got electricity, you’ve got pumping systems,” he said.
“I’m concerned that something could go wrong.
“You’ve got a boat sitting in the water, you’ve got inlet hoses sitting under the waterline.
“If someone knocks one of those off, you’ve got a lot of water coming in fast, and these people have no experience whatsoever in how to handle a situation like that.”
‘The blue cabin’, onboard vessel Aussie Spirit, has been rented out to Airbnb guests in the past. (Supplied: Marj Sullivan)
Unique accommodation option
Marj Sullivan and her partner Col live aboard their 15m cathedral steel hull vessel Aussie Spirit and occasionally rent out their spare cabin via Airbnb when they are berthed in Mackay marina.
“We have had people from the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, America and Australians onboard,” she said.
“It was good to meet people from different places and they obviously enjoyed their experience of staying onboard a boat.”
Mr and Mrs Sullivan always stay onboard their vessel when the spare cabin is rented to Airbnb guests. (ABC Tropical North: Sophie Meixner)
Ms Sullivan said they were not aware of any additional obligations arising via the Airbnb placement and considered the arrangement equivalent to any other homestay.
“We weren’t aware there was any legislation and [a lot of these things] just seem to be over-regulated,” she said.
“We have the normal insurance … all safety equipment, life jackets, EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), radios, making sure they know where the fire extinguishers, smoke alarms are, all the normal stuff you’d have set up in a house anyway.”
Ms Sullivan said she would never take Airbnb guests out on the ocean and they would always access the boat via the marina boardwalk.
“People can do whatever they like on their boats and if they want to have extra guests on, whether they’re paying or not, there’s no issues,” she said.
“We’ve had relatives and friends on board and we’ve taken them out whale watching, we’ve done all that, so its really a fairly simple thing to have somebody stay overnight, especially in the marina.”