The first thing you have to do when trying to understand fractional boat ownership is simply focus on defining the term. Fractional boat ownership is often confused with yacht chartering, boat club membership and fractional boat membership.

All of these things have different meanings, but they all boil down, in a lot of ways, to who owns the boat.

Sharing the boat means sharing the costs—and sharing the fun.

With yacht charter, you are cruising for a week or two aboard somebody else’s boat, just like you’d book a hotel room and then leave. You sign a single-use contract, you drop a gratuity when you’re done, and you move on.

With boat club membership, you’re buying access to use, repeatedly, a fleet of boats that somebody else (the club) owns. Most people choose yacht charter for once- or twice-yearly boating vacations, while they might choose boat club membership if they want to go out boating, say, a couple weekends a month.

With fractional boat membership, one person owns the boat and then places it into a company like SailTime, which then offers other people memberships for usage time on board. A key difference between this business model when compared with chartering and boat club membership is that fractional boat membership means you go cruising more than a week or two a year, always on the same boat (SailTime, for instance, allows eight members per boat). 

What makes fractional boat ownership different is that you actually own part of the boat that you’re using. People have been sharing boats this way for eons through informal partnerships with friends and family members; companies such as SeaNet and SmartYacht now formalize similar arrangements with strangers.

With fractional boat ownership, you legally own a piece of the yacht as an asset that you can transfer or sell. There are global programs, regional programs and more, and you typically get a certain amount of allotted time on board each year in exchange for your stake. The bigger a percentage of the yacht you own, the more time on board you typically get.

Craving to buy a bigger boat? Fractional boat ownership might be the answer.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The main benefits of fractional yacht ownership include keeping buy-in costs low for a larger yacht, and leaving maintenance and marina headaches to a management company. Because the yachts are on regular service schedules, they may depreciate slower than single-owner yachts, helping to preserve your financial investment.

Some downsides include having to, well, share. You can’t personalize a fractionally owned yacht the way you could customize your own ride, and itineraries are planned in a way that you choose your slot in advance, which means there may or may not be an option for a last-minute getaway on a whim, or when a weather window looks great.

When trying to figure out if fractional boat ownership is for you, be sure to ask how many owners are allowed to buy into each yacht, how much time you’ll get aboard (and when you have to book it, either in advance or when you feel like going boating), whether there are any time restrictions on being able to sell your share, and how crew are selected and trained.

If you find yourself happy with those answers, then fractional yacht ownership might be the route for you to take when getting on the water.

And if you still have questions and concerns, don’t fret: There’s always regular yacht ownership, where you buy your own boat and do whatever the heck you please.    

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in December 2005 and updated in October 2018.

Written by: Kim Kavin
Kim Kavin is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer who specializes in marine travel. She is the author of 10 books including Dream Cruises: The Insider’s Guide to Private Yacht Vacations, and is editor of the online yacht vacation magazine