Dubai partial ownership club floats a lot of boats

Entrepreneur Kalid Tarapolsi has launched Worry Free Boat Club - a fractional ownership scheme for boat enthusiasts in the UAE.
Kalid Tarapolsi, the founder of Worry Free Boat Club, with one of the club’s rental boats. Antonie Robertson / The National
Kalid Tarapolsi, the founder of Worry Free Boat Club, with one of the club’s rental boats. Antonie Robertson / The National

If you wanted to play golf, you wouldn’t build your own golf club. Instead, for a fee you would join a club and play a round when you felt like it.

This is how Kalid Tarapolsi explains the concept of the Worry Free Boat Club, a private members’ club he founded this year.

For a small joining fee and monthly dues, members of Worry Free show up, take out a boat and, when they are done, go home. There is no need to fret about the expense of owning a boat or the insuring, transporting, berthing and maintenance, which is all taken care of by the club.

The business model is commonly known as fractional ownership – a concept that first cropped up in the late ‘90s, when clients could partially own private jets in exchange for a certain number of flights each year. Since then the schemes haves expanded to resort-style holiday homes, classic cars and yachts.

Mr Tarapolsi, who is of Libyan origin, grew up just outside Washington DC where he sailed every weekend on a lake near his home. He has been working in Dubai on and off since 2003 for work as a telecoms consultant but has been based here for the past eight months.

“Every time I came to Dubai – and this is the third time I’ve lived here – I always said I want to get a boat,” he says. “This time I was pretty serious, but I found the costs pretty high compared to what I was used to in the States in terms of berthing and membership dues.”

So he looked into options other than sole ownership. With boat rentals affected by a change in UAE law – to captain a boat you must have a captain’s licence; a driver’s licence and Emirates ID will no longer suffice – fewer companies offer the service. The other option is to charter a boat, but then you become a mere passenger.

Mr Tarapolsi noticed how friends often clubbed together to buy a boat and considered structuring a company that offered a lifestyle solution for boating enthusiasts.

“Then I came across a similar concept in the States to what we are doing here [with Worry Free Boats] and I figured instead of three people sharing one boat why not 100 people sharing 10 or 15 boats?”

Mr Tarapolsi is a serial entrepreneur. He previously had a restaurant in the US selling Arabic coffee and sweets, and ran an internet service provider for a while. He decided to plough his savings into launching Worry Free and run it as his full-time job. The business debuted at the Dubai International Boat Show in March this year.

“There’s been a lot of interest,” he says. “People are always excited about new things here in Dubai. There are only so many times you can visit Dubai Mall.”

There is a one-time sign-up fee of Dh10,000. Then depending on the tier, monthly rates are Dh2,500, Dh3,500 and Dh5,000. This provides different levels of service including a number of free charters per year and overnight renting options. There is also a corporate or family package for a Dh20,000 joining fee and Dh7,500 monthly fee. Captains are available or those with licences can skipper the boats themselves.

The club currently has five boats and two jet skis for 15 members.

“That’s another key selling point for us,” he says. “Even if three friends pull together to buy a boat, that’s only one type of boat. We have two sorts – a mini-yacht and two sorts of fishing boats.” But there are drawbacks to this type of scheme according to Erwin Bamps, the chief operating officer of Gulf Craft, a UAE builder of super-yachts.

“It takes away pride of ownership,” says Mr Bamps. “You can’t boast that you own a boat or a yacht. Another drawback is that we all tend to want to use the boat at the same time – on New Year’s Eve or Eid, for example. On a positive note, Gulf Craft welcomes any initiative to bring people on to the water. It’s not an end point. It’s a step between not trying a boat and owning a boat.”

To get around any demand issues, Worry Free plans to add more boats when it reaches 30 to 40 members and expand its service to Abu Dhabi after the summer and Doha by the end of this year.

“We are not going to try to get into the mega-yachts or anything too big and crazy,” Mr Tarapolsi says. “But in terms of if someone was going to go out and buy their own pleasure cruiser, we will have a boat to cover their needs.”

business@thenational.ae

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Published: May 13, 2014 04:00 AM

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