Renting a pontoon boat is a good way for large groups to enjoy a day out on a Michigan waterway.
Hi gang, Rick Ostler here from Used Pontoon Boats. TRAVERSE CITY -- Boating always has been part of summer fun in Michigan. Owning a boat -- or renting one -- can give a family access to four of the five Great Lakes, thousands of miles of rivers and 11,000 inland lakes.
These days, it's easy to get out on the water, even without owning a boat.
Marinas on many large lakes rent pontoons or fishing and ski boats. Jet Skis and other personal watercraft are available by the hour, day or week. And canoe liveries on Northern Michigan rivers are as much a tradition as fudge on Mackinac Island.
One of the centers of Michigan's boat-rental business is the Traverse City area, where rentals are available from as many as a dozen companies, including several that will deliver boats to inland lakes in the surrounding counties.
That region of the Northwest Lower Peninsula has some of the state's most popular inland lakes -- Torch Lake, Crystal Lake, Elk Lake, Lake Leelanau, the Glen Lakes -- along with dozens of smaller bodies of water that attract their share of boaters.
Rental prices, restrictions and boat types vary widely among companies. Renters are advised to call around -- and as far ahead as possible -- to ensure they can get what they want, when they want it.
Break'n Waves of Traverse City (breaknwaves.com, 231-929-3303) offers a two-hour rental of a pontoon boat on Grand Traverse Bay for a base price of $120. The per-hour price goes down significantly for longer rentals, which can be for a week or more, owner Eric Harding said.
"We're catering to the hotel business, or the people who want to spend a little time enjoying the lake," he said.
The company has a rental location adjacent to Traverse City State Park, on East Grand Traverse Bay, and also delivers to inland lakes.
Harding said the business in past years was weighted toward personal watercraft or Jet Skis. Those speedy vessels remain popular, but a growing number of customers want larger boats, he said.
"People used to get one Jet Ski and take turns using it," he said. "Now, they get a pontoon or a ski boat so everyone can have fun together."
"(Interest in rentals) does appear to be getting stronger," agreed Brett Campbell, owner of Sunset Water Sports in Traverse City (sunsetwatersports.com, 231-932-1800). "We had a very strong year in 2007. Like a record year."
Campbell's company has 60 watercraft to rent out, including Jet Skis, pontoon boats and boats outfitted for skiing, tubing and wake-boarding.
Many of his customers reserve boats to go with rented lakefront cabins. Others are simply vacationing at area resorts and want one day on the water.
"A lot of our customers are fairly wealthy and could buy a boat," Campbell said. "They deem it financially prudent to rent."
Early in the summer, he often recommends placing boats on smaller lakes, where the water tends to warm up earlier. As the season progresses, the protected waters of Grand Traverse Bay become more popular.
While Northwest Michigan offers the most choices, vacationers can find a boat for rent just about everywhere in the state. A number of lakeside marinas may have one or more vessels for rent, though they don't widely advertise the option.
Old Point Comfort Marine in Higgins Lake (opcm.com, 989-821-5692) is mainly a sales and service business, but owner Jerry Venn has one pontoon boat available for rental by the day.
His customers may be staying at a state park or renting a lakefront cabin, or simply visiting Higgins Lake for a day.
Occasionally he rents to fishermen, but more often the renters are families who use the pontoon as a platform for swimming or for exploring the lake.
"Mostly, they just want to go out and cruise and enjoy the day on the water," Venn said.
Boat ownership in Michigan has dropped in recent years, with the number of registered boats falling 17 percent from 2001 to 2006. California has the largest number of boats, according to Coast Guard statistics. With more than 800,000 registered boats, Michigan is No. 4.
Especially for those who get on the water only a few times a year, renting may cost less than owning. And, for those concerned about high fuel prices, it may be more efficient to drive a small, fuel-efficient car to the lake, and then rent a boat.
None of this means Michigan will stop buying boats.
Van Snider, president of the Michigan Boating Industries Association, said the drop in boat registrations is due mainly to Michigan's economic troubles. He's confident boat sales will bounce back when the economy rights itself.
Owners of waterfront property always want a boat at the dock. And those who fish or ski regularly throughout the season are unlikely to give up their boats and trailers.
But for everyone else, it's good to know we have options to get out to enjoy the water. Thanks to Edward Hoogterp, Booth News Service for this.
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Rick Ostler, Bayliner Boats.