The Keys to a Successful Boat-Sharing Agreement

Close-up of a handshake, boat-sharing agreement concept.

It's not your boat; it's our boat. That's the first rule of a boat-sharing agreement.

There is a lot of responsibility to owning a boat – most of it financial. Keeping up with year-round maintenance (including winterization) is another). 

So, a boat-sharing agreement can be handy for people who want the luxury of owning a boat without having to shoulder all the financial commitments. 

It's also a happy medium for friends and family members to mutually benefit from owning a boat. However, before you strike an agreement to buy a boat with joint ownership, make sure everyone involved is fully committed. Owning any type of property with someone else can cause a strain on the relationship if terms and conditions are not set. 

So, start by asking the right questions. If no one in the group has owned a boat previously, we recommend talking to someone who has and applying the insights in this article.

People in lifejackets on a boat, boat-sharing agreement concept.

Define Ownership Rights

Ownership rights should be divided as equally as possible when considering your boat-sharing agreement. For example, set the rights at 50 percent for two owners, 33 percent for three owners, etc. 

This will be important when it comes to determining costs for maintenance, repairs, and taxes. An equal sharing agreement will also alleviate conflict when scheduling the boat's use among all owners. 

Defining what ownership means is also helpful so no one oversteps boundaries without complete agreement.

Research and Test Drive Before Buying the Boat

Research and purchase the boat with all the owners involved. It should be a vessel everyone can handle and drive safely and meets the agreed-upon purposes for the boat, i.e., fishing, skiing, wakeboarding, or overnighting. 

Whether it's a new or used boat, encourage everyone included in the agreement to test drive it first. You don't want to buy a boat that only some owners enjoy. 

The price, style, and model should be agreed upon before exchanging money and purchasing the boat.

Consider the Costs

As mentioned before, owning a boat is a serious financial commitment. When you share a boat, you must discuss every financial obligation involved. Here is a list of expenses to discuss with all owners, and ensure you have a plan to cover them. 


Even if you buy a new boat, maintenance (and the associated costs) is something that every boat requires.

Supplies to keep your boat running in the best condition can add up to a substantial amount over a season. To cover these costs fairly, set up an account that everyone contributes to and make sure everyone knows when money is deducted for maintenance costs.


To document how you'll handle costs for damage to the boat, outline what is considered normal wear and tear vs. what is significant damage, like a smashed lower unit. Wear and tear repair costs should fall under "maintenance" expenses, while "true" damage needs to be handled differently. 

You should also include context for damages incurred while the boat was in the care of an owner versus something that occurred at the marina or during a natural disaster. Pull from the maintenance account or create a separate emergency fund to cover damages from natural disasters or incidentals. 

You should also discuss who is responsible for repair costs when damages are excessive or the result of carelessness.


In the event of unforeseeable circumstances, insurance can be your saving grace. If you live near active waters during hurricane season, boat insurance is necessary. States and marinas also have unique requirements for insurance coverage. 

Contact an insurance provider and set up a meeting to discuss policy options. Make sure each owner is listed as a partner on the policy and that the policy covers other operators. Again, agreeing on the premiums, deductibles, and cost-sharing is vital.


The spring and summer are notorious for high gas prices. Conveniently for marina owners and their bank accounts, those are also the best seasons for being out on the water. However, costs for fuel and other necessities when taking the boat out on the water don't fall neatly into "maintenance" or "damage" costs. 

Create a plan for keeping the boat refueled between each owner's uses. Incidentals can also include food and beverages, supplies, tools, cleaning, taxes, and registration fees. It's up to you and your fellow owners to decide which costs are and are not covered by the agreement.

A boat at a dock, planning storage for a boat-sharing agreement.


Where will you keep the boat during the offseason? Who will house it during the season? Can you afford to share a marina slip or a boat house? Is purchasing a storage facility that's easily accessible by all parties the best option?

These questions (and others) should be answered for the best solution to storing the boat. Storage needs to be convenient and cost-effective for everyone.

Set a Schedule for Using the Boat

How do you decide who gets the boat at any given time? Well, if your partner is your fishing buddy, then it's likely you won't be on the boat without them. 

However, joint ownership often means creating a schedule and assigning days or weekends to each owner. Scheduling can be tricky, especially around holidays, but it's worth organizing ahead of time.

Consider Dispute Resolution (When Needed)

Just like any relationship, conflict can happen in a boat-sharing agreement. If you encounter an issue with one of your partner owners, ask a third party to intervene and resolve the situation. 

The last thing you want is a relationship ruined over a boat.

Plan for Selling, Buyouts, and Transfers

When in the early stages of a boat-owning partnership, you and your partners are probably excited. You aren't thinking that one day the partnership could end. 

However, discussing the end of a partnership – at the beginning – will save you some headaches in the long run. If an owner wants out of the agreement, passes away, or wants to transfer ownership, your agreement should include language that specifies how to handle these events.

One of the easiest ways to set up a boat-sharing agreement is through a resource like Nautical Monkey. This tool can also help you track expenses and scheduling to simplify your agreement and help everyone enjoy the boat each season. 

Get Your Boater Safety Certification Before Launching Your Boat

Whether your boat-sharing agreement makes you a first-time boat owner or you're a seasoned boat owner, make sure you've taken your state-approved boater education course. 

All states require boat operators to pass an approved safety course and carry a boat license. So, as you outline your boat partnership and agreement, make sure you specify that only certified people can drive the boat. This helps minimize the potential for accidents and damage and helps keep everyone safe while using the boat. 

Boat-Ed makes it easy for everyone to get certified! From your partners to your friends and family (including your kids), everyone can take the required course and exam online to earn a boating license and become eligible to drive the boat safely. Find your state course and get certified before launching your new boat! 


Originally published April 10, 2014. Content updated November 9, 2023.