How to open a canoe & kayak rental business

Updated February 21, 2017

Canoes and kayaks have become a popular way to enjoy local waterways without the expense and logistics required for trips on larger boats. In contrast, a canoe or kayak can easily be lashed atop a car or sport utility vehicle. The small craft can be launched on waterways with minimal water depth, and can frequently be beached for lunch or rest stops. Although some paddling enthusiasts purchase canoes or kayaks, many others prefer to rent a craft for a few hours to a day.

Confirm your region's navigable waterways. Examine the nautical chart(s) for your operating areas. Ensure that there is sufficient water depth on all waterways, and that there are no existing safety hazards or "illegal to transit" areas (e.g. fishing net frameworks or military installations).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) develops and updates nautical charts for United States coastal waters, plus many interior lakes and rivers. Navigable waters for canoes and kayaks include creeks, bays, and rivers. Paper charts and pocket charts are useful for canoe and kayak travel.

Create your business structure. Consult with a Certified Public Accountant with experience in service and sports businesses. Meet with a commercial insurance agent with liability management expertise. Contact your local zoning office to ensure that your rental operation conforms to zoning regulations. Finally, visit your city or county clerk's office for a business license.

Choose an accessible location. First, ensure that your rental and launch facility is easily accessed by major highways and main roads. Next, site your operation to function like the hub of a wheel. The creeks and winding water trails are the wheel spokes, and branch outward from the launch site. Lay out your trails to provide intriguing vistas in every direction.

Design your services and prices. Besides providing canoe and kayak rentals, offer "Introduction to Paddling" classes for novices needing special attention. Consider guided tours with a local naturalist, to help the guests get some extra enjoyment from paddling excursions. Promote add-on sales such as imprinted T-shirts and ball caps.

View price structures of other canoe and/or kayak rental companies (See Resources). Consider frequent customer cards, and service credits for paddlers' referral business.

Purchase your canoes and kayaks. Your customers may include avid, fit paddlers; you may also attract sedentary visitors and first-time canoeists or kayakers. Make your selection of boats accordingly.

Stock a selection of one-person kayaks, plus several tandem kayaks for partners of different abilities. Purchase durable canoes that can withstand periodic scrapes and dings. For all boats, keep your focus on durability and solid construction, rather than optional features that inflate the cost (See Resources).

Hire friendly paddling-savvy staff. Since you will assist customers with varied paddling skills and confidence levels, seek employees who can easily handle any situation. Staff should be capable of teaching basic and intermediate paddling skills, and guiding tired or anxious guests back to the rental location.

Plan a paddling-themed grand opening. Create a festive event with a "Discover Paddling" motif. Create a water-based scavenger hunt in which participants must paddle local waterways to retrieve items on short checklists. Winners receive a free paddling trip or other prizes.

To entice paddlers to your grand opening, offer discounted rental rates for that weekend's trips. Introduce your professionally-attired staff, and serve camping-themed refreshments. Advertise the event in local newspapers and regional outdoor publications (found at bookstores). Finally, place flyers in outfitters' stores and fitness centres.

Things You'll Need

  • Nautical chart(s) for operating area
  • Local zoning regulations
  • Business license
  • List of services and prices
  • Imprinted T-shirts
  • Imprinted ball caps
  • Pricing structure information from similar operations
  • Canoe and kayak order information
  • List of items for scavenger hunt
  • Refreshments for Grand Opening
  • Ad rates and copy for newspaper ads
  • Ad rates and copy for regional outdoor publications
  • Flyers for Grand Opening
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About the Author

Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.