Once, chartering a big boat with a crew to cruise the Mediterranean or the Caribbean could cost you in the tens of thousands. A start-up aims to make yacht tourism more affordable and accessible for just US$120 a day.

Yachting the French Riviera carries connotations of Champagne-fuelled deck parties, zipping around the turquoise sea on jet skis, and having a crew to spray your sun-dappled face with Evian mist — all for the bare-minimum price of US$10,000 ($13,600) a week.

Until now, those without five and six-figure budgets have had a hard time living the yacht life. Either you “know a guy” who can rent you a boat for the day, or you go through official channels with a charter agency. A few hours on a small catamaran in Cannes? It can run upwards of US$1,000 after rounds of contract negotiations, commissions and carbon-copied forms.

Or you can bypass the system and live out your booze-fuelled seafaring dreams for a mere €99 or US120 ($159) a day.

That is the promise behind Float, a disruptor that was launched in June in Monaco and St Tropez and that is quickly expanding to other major seafaring markets. Think of it a bit like Airbnb. The accommodation site lets you rent a room in an apartment or the full apartment, depending on how much you would like to splurge or save. So too does Float: It lets you book just one “seat” if you do not have seven friends to defray the cost of a yacht charter, or you can gather a group of friends and buy out a sleek little cruiser. Take the former approach, though, and you may end up making new friends when you drop anchor for a swim.

How it works
“We’re more like NetJets than a water taxi,” says Float co-founder Jean-Jacques Boude, drawing a comparison between his start-up and the Berkshire Hathaway- owned pioneer for fractional private jet ownership, which took a hit during the recession but is stable and growing after 53 years of operation. Airbnb and Uber, he says, have also inspired his approach. “We sell day charters by the seat or by the cabins for a few days on board, all through a fully digital app,” he says. The model compares best with NetJets’ jet card programme, which lets you buy “flight hours” on an à la carte basis.

Indeed, the service is more experiential than a water taxi. Though Float will shuttle you to a buzzy beach club in Pampelonne or La Mala for the day, the appeal is more about being on the water than getting from Point A to Point B. You sail, you clink glasses, you swim in the Med, and maybe even go fishing or take out some jet skis. Eventually, you make your way to the destination port for a few hours before turning back around to the place where you first started.

Booking takes two to three minutes: You sign up on the app or website, pick your origin and destination, select the number of seats you want to book and input your credit card details. Moments later, a boarding pass is sent to your Apple Wallet. No contracts, no surcharges and no hidden costs. (That is a distinguishing factor, says Boude, noting that traditional charter companies liberally pile on fuel and food charges during rounds of contract negotiations.)

The experience
Despite the slimmed-down cost — which mostly cuts out overhead — you do not get a particularly slimmed-down service. Ruinart Champagne and canapés are included, as well as a full crew. A concierge service will also book you dinner at the hot new restaurant of your choice, or help you bring a DJ on board for private dance parties.

But Float is still a small company and its fleet follows suit. These are not mega yachts in the vein of Azzam, the record-setting 591-footer owned by the Emir of Abu Dhabi. Float’s two vessels are of much humbler proportions — one clocks in at 49ft (15m), the other at 59ft — but the company is investing on larger motor yachts as it readies to launch in other global destinations. Boude says if all goes according to plan, Float will be operating three ships in Miami by November. He adds that next year, he will launch it in Ibiza, Mykonos and Corfu. He expects to secure at least one 104ft superyacht by then, which will offer overnight trips from Miami to the Bimini islands for US$1,000 per person per night.

A reasonable ride
Sort of like Bolt Bus or MegaBus, Float is built on the principle of dynamic pricing: If demand is high, the €99 rates might climb. (Boude expects the prices to hit a maximum of €199.)

And that price point does imply certain limitations. While there is hot food to go with those fabulous drinks, it is pre-prepared and then heated by a basic onboard crew — you are not splurging on a private chef. If you want to add an experience like jet skiing or fishing, that is an extra cost.

“Most of our clients, about 90%, never eat on board anyway — they go to restaurants instead,” says Boude, adding that so far the service has been especially popular with Formula One drivers such as Max Verstappen.

What remains to be seen is the size of Float’s margins, which may be the point of scrutiny as the startup enters its second round of funding. “This is a demanding business in terms of cash flow — we may be doing fundraising every three months,” Boude jokes. But he says the company’s wide appeal has investors knocking. “For people who have never been on a yacht or could never afford it, it will allow them to do that.” — Bloomberg LP

This article appeared in Issue 800 (Oct 9) of The Edge Singapore.