How to Start a Kayak Rental Business

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Bright colored kayaks stacked on each other
Bright colored kayaks stacked on each other (Image: Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images)

A passion for outdoor recreation and paddling makes opening a kayak rental business a way to share your enthusiasm for the water while helping people enjoy nature. The business can be managed as a year-round, full-time operation or a part time one, depending on your climate and the interest of potential customers. Best of all, according to Entrepreneur magazine, starting a kayak rental business is one of the best low-cost investments you can make when it comes to opening a rental business.

Choose a Rental Location

Look for a location with close proximity to water with a mild current suitable for all ages to enjoy paddling. Check with the city about availability at local parks along the waterfront where you can rent space for a concession fee. Look for a small building with enough room to store paddles and adequate airflow to keep life jackets dry. You also need space to store the vessels overnight, either locked in a building or padlocked in a marina. If you choose to rent outside of a park area, provide access to bathrooms for changing clothes and cleaning up. Another option involves renting your kayaks directly to hotels and marinas in the area that want to provide tours or rentals to their customers.

Licensing and Certification

In addition to obtaining a standard business license from your state, get First Aid and CPR certification if you or your staff plan to accompany customers onto the water. Check with your state’s boating licensing department to determine if you need a license to launch kayaks from a public launch. Sign up for boating safety classes required by your state. Ideally, attend the class even if it isn't required so you and your staff know what to do to keep your customers safe. Obtain outfitters’ liability and property insurance in the event a renter is harmed while using your kayak, or if the vessel is damaged.

Obtain Equipment

Visit America Outdoors Association website to find vendors selling kayaks, paddles and safety equipment at wholesale or used prices. Save money by buying used single and tandem kayaks in different lengths to meet your paddlers’ needs. Buy life jackets in different sizes. If you offer shuttle services, you'll need a vehicle capable of pulling a trailer to transport kayaks. A trailer with an aluminum frame capable of carrying up to 10 kayaks provides you a lightweight option for larger groups.

Shuttle Service

Unless you rent kayaks along a lake where renters can paddle to and from the rental booth, offer one-way shuttle service so they don’t have to paddle upstream to return their kayaks. Determine drop off times, and decide if you want to charge a late fee if the kayaks are not returned on time.

Hiring Staff

Plan to hire enough staff to man the rental desk, show renters how to use the equipment and to inspect, prep and store equipment. Place help wanted ads in your local paper to find employees who have experience with boats, especially canoes or kayaks, and who have strong swimming skills. Look for people who have first aid or CPR certification or are willing to get training. Plan to spend a few days showing people you hire how to get the kayaks on the trailer and into the water, how to clean and store the equipment and to make sure they stress the importance of using life jackets to all customers.

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