Boat rentals seemingly smart business in island community
This summer Jamestown has gone from being a place without any options when it came to renting kayaks or paddleboards, to a place with two businesses that can handle people’s watercraft needs. With the opening of Jamestown Outdoors, and now the addition of Adventure Watersports, there are more choices than ever for people interested in spending some time on the bay.
Norman Kaplan has the look of a man who has spent his life in and around boats – and that is precisely where he’s been, and what he’s been doing. For 40 years Kaplan lived in Newport where he owned a marine-service business. He also operated a tour boat called the Spirit of Newport. His business was at Bowen’s Wharf for 15 years, and then Long Wharf for another 15 years. Last summer Long Wharf got a new manager who wanted to triple Kaplan’s rent. Kaplan moved himself and his business to Jamestown.
Due to his long career in the marine service industry, Kaplan had known Conanicut Marine Services owner Bill Munger for 40 years. When Munger offered space on a floating dock in East Ferry right behind Spinnakers, Kaplan happily accepted. He opened his new business at 2 East Ferry Wharf four weeks ago with an array of kayaks, paddleboards, jet skis and motorboats for rent.
While he was running his marine services business in Newport, Kaplan was often asked by customers about boat rentals. To respond to the demand he began to assemble a small fleet of boats for rental. It started with a Boston Whaler 14. That was followed by other motorboats, and then kayaks and jet skis.
“I started to realize that if a person was experienced, he could drive away,” Kaplan said. “I didn’t have to go with him.”
Kaplan, whose business can be reached at 849-4820, rents single and tandem kayaks, with the singles going for $20 an hour, $30 for the tandems. The boats are launched from a ramp, which makes the process of boarding easier for less experienced paddlers. Paddleboards are $20 an hour, and two of them are specially designed for beginners. They are bigger and more stable than a regular paddleboard. They allow the paddler to sit down and paddle the craft like a kayak if it becomes necessary as a result of windy conditions or fatigue.
Kaplan’s powerboat fleet ranges in size from 13 to 21 feet, and in price from $90 an hour to $150. Customers get four hours for the price of three, or eight hours for the price of six. Jet ski renters must be at least 21 years of age and present a driver’s license and a credit card.
When it comes to the motorized craft, Kaplan is looking for experience in potential renters. “I’ve been at it for so long that a conversation is involved,” he said. “I ask them specific questions.” Those questions may involve subjects like the difference between an outboard and an inboard engine, or the nature of the numbers and symbols on a nautical chart of the local waters.
“Our neighborhood is a little complicated,” Kaplan said. “There is a lot of boat traffic out there on the weekends. You need a little experience to survive out there.”
For visitors, Kaplan will usually begin by pointing out some of the local landmarks like the Dumplings, Clingstone, Goat Island, Rose Island or the Navy base. He will also explain the speed restrictions in the marina and in the harbor around Fort Adams for those who are intent on crossing the bay.
Kaplan admits to a certain amount of stress, which results from the rental of the wave runners. The craft can approach speeds of 50 mph, and Kaplan has a checklist of approximately 15 items that he explains to renters before they leave the dock. Those items include looking to the side before making a turn, and what to do in the event that the wave runner turns over in the water. Turning the craft upright in the wrong direction can destroy the engine. There are also specific boundaries established by Kaplan in terms of where the wave runners may travel.
Adventure Watersports has an active website that is used as the company’s primary marketing tool. The site is currently located at NewportRIWatersports.com, although Kaplan is in the process of purchasing a domain name that will provide more of a Jamestown flavor, in light of his new surroundings.
Given that there is now competition when it comes to some of the rentals that Kaplan offers, he is gracious in his assessment of Jamestown Outdoors. “They do a great job,” he said. “They did a demo day, which was a great idea. Competition is OK with me. I’m not distressed by it. I would prefer to be allies than arch-rival competitors. I can send them customers, they can send me customers.”
Kaplan can also arrange halfday fishing trips for interested anglers. Three boats located in Newport, two downtown and one at Castle Hill go to Breton Reef in search of stripers and bluefish. A four-hour trip for six people costs $650, which includes the captain, the mate and all of the necessary equipment and supplies.