Advertisement

An Airbnb for boats and 5 other ways to set sail around Tampa Bay

From paddle pubs to scalloping charters, there’s no shortage of ways to explore our local waterways.
Boat renters drive off with a boat owned by Rory Conforti at the Seminole Boat Ramp on Jan. 15, 2023, in Clearwater. Conforti owns several boats, which he rents through GetMyBoat, a boat rental and water experience marketplace similar to Airbnb.
Boat renters drive off with a boat owned by Rory Conforti at the Seminole Boat Ramp on Jan. 15, 2023, in Clearwater. Conforti owns several boats, which he rents through GetMyBoat, a boat rental and water experience marketplace similar to Airbnb. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Jan. 23|Updated Jan. 24

Whether you’re trying to impress your out-of-town guests, celebrate a special occasion or just have a fun weekend on the water, getting on a boat somewhere around Tampa Bay is a great option. But where do you even start?

You don’t need a friend with a yacht these days. We’ve rounded up a variety of ways to get on the water without owning a boat, from small vessels to large tours.

GetMyBoat

This screenshot shows a sampling of boats available to book in the Tampa Bay area via GetMyBoat, a boat rental service that compares itself to Airbnb.
This screenshot shows a sampling of boats available to book in the Tampa Bay area via GetMyBoat, a boat rental service that compares itself to Airbnb. [ Screenshot, GetMyBoat ]

Billed as an Airbnb for boats, GetMyBoat first launched in San Francisco in 2013 with the goal of making boating more accessible. The platform now has over 3,000 listings in Florida.

“[Boat clubs] are good if you plan to go out a lot, but they require a pretty hefty initial fee just to have access to the boats,” said GetMyBoat spokesperson Val Streif. “We want to connect people to what they want, when they want it.”

Boat owners can rent out their vessels to make a little extra cash. Passengers can find boats of all sizes, from modest fishing boats ($60 to $150 an hour) to larger pontoons ($100 to $250 an hour) and luxury yachts (starting around $300 an hour). Don’t know how to drive a boat? You can book a chartered voyage with an experienced captain. getmyboat.com.

Tiki tours

A floating Tiki bar with Cruisin’ Tikis Clearwater returns to its Clearwater Beach Marina slip in October 2021 after a tour of Clearwater Harbor.
A floating Tiki bar with Cruisin’ Tikis Clearwater returns to its Clearwater Beach Marina slip in October 2021 after a tour of Clearwater Harbor. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Picture sipping on your favorite drink under a thatch canopy, bobbing along the waves at sunset. Floating Tiki bars are a popular way for large groups to get on the water and celebrate everything from corporate retreats to engagements. Prime Video’s lesbian reality TV show, “Tampa Baes,” even chartered one for an episode. Just don’t forget to bring your own beverages.

Tiki Boat Tampa offers custom tours as well as a 90-minute journey along the Hillsborough River, which passes by key downtown Tampa landmarks. All voyages are chartered by licensed captains, and these floating Tiki bars even have bathrooms onboard. tikiboattampa.com.

Cruisin’ Tikis has tours available in Tampa as well as Clearwater Beach and St. Petersburg. Coolers with ice and a Bluetooth speaker are provided. cruisintikistampabay.com.

Cycle boats

“Whether you call us a BOAT, call us a BIKE, or call us a PADDLE PUB, one thing you will call us is an unforgettable experience!” reads the homepage of Kraken CycleBoats. This two-hour cruise along the Hillsborough River comes with a captain and crew, plus souvenir cups and coolers. Passengers pedal their feet to power the ride, but there is also a motor if folks get tired. Book for $45 per seat, or reserve the whole boat, which is large enough for 15 guests, for $585 (taxes and fees excluded). krakencycleboats.com.

Looking for a similar experience in Pinellas? Paddle Pub Clearwater sets sail from Clearwater Beach. Private tours start at $499 on weekdays. paddlepub.com/clearwater.

Spongeorama Cruiselines

Step aboard this sightseeing cruise at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks for an aquatic adventure that includes views of the Anclote River and its historic landmarks. Spongeorama Cruiselines offers both sunset and dolphin cruises, plus charters. Drinks and snacks are available onboard, as well as bathrooms. Tickets start at $14.95, with discount pricing for seniors, military and kids. spongeoramacruiselines.com.

Pirate Water Taxi

The Pirate Water Taxi glides along the Hillsborough River.
The Pirate Water Taxi glides along the Hillsborough River. [ Yacht StarShip ]

If you’ve strolled along downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk, you’ve seen these banana-yellow vessels humming along the water. These water taxis operate seven days a week, offering day passes that allow passengers to hop on and off at their leisure to explore locations like Davis Islands and Sparkman Wharf. The Pirate Water Taxi also offers an annual pass ($199.95) as well as special excursions for holidays, from a Gasparilla Invasion Cruise to Mother’s Day and Memorial Day cruises. Call 813-223-7999 or visit piratewatertaxi.com.

Scalloping charters

During a chartered scalloping trip in Crystal River in August, Lucas Ebert shows brothers Jack Prose, 11, and Max Prose, 8, alongside mom Natassja Prose, 40, how to shuck a scallop.
During a chartered scalloping trip in Crystal River in August, Lucas Ebert shows brothers Jack Prose, 11, and Max Prose, 8, alongside mom Natassja Prose, 40, how to shuck a scallop. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

It’s not to soon to start dreaming about scalloping season, which starts July 1 and runs through Sept. 24 in Levy, Citrus and Hernando counties. The Tampa Bay Times went out with a captain from the Plantation on Crystal River’s Adventure Center last summer.

A captain will take you out for a scenic ride, find the best stop to anchor and provide all the necessary equipment and tips to help you scoop up a bagful of scallops. plantationadventurecenter.com.

Related: Come along scalloping in the Gulf of Mexico

Tips for boat rental success

Rory Conforti, 34, of Trinity, center, answers questions from Bob Shutes, 73, of Wisconsin, left, and Mark Margolis, 70, of Clearwater,  right, before they drive off with his boat at the Seminole Boat Ramp on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, in Clearwater. Conforti owns several boats, which he rents through GetMyBoat, a boat rental and water experience marketplace similar to Airbnb.
Rory Conforti, 34, of Trinity, center, answers questions from Bob Shutes, 73, of Wisconsin, left, and Mark Margolis, 70, of Clearwater, right, before they drive off with his boat at the Seminole Boat Ramp on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, in Clearwater. Conforti owns several boats, which he rents through GetMyBoat, a boat rental and water experience marketplace similar to Airbnb. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

Rory Conforti, who rents out his boats with GetMyBoat and on his own website, floatboating.com, shared tips for success when using the platform. They also apply to other rentals.

  • Gathering a group of friends or combining families is a great way to spread out the cost of a boat rental.
  • Know your group size ahead of time, and stick with it. “You never want to max out a boat,” he said. “Some people will try to fit as many people as they can on a boat. That’s a no-no.”
  • Be mindful of different waterways and your comfort level before booking if you plan to drive. Lake boaters, for example, may need to prepare before booking a saltwater boating trip, which comes with different wind conditions and obstacles like sand bars and oyster beds.
  • Book early for events and holidays like Gasparilla and the Fourth of July.
  • Tell your captain ahead of time if you’re celebrating a special event, like a bachelorette party or a birthday. They might have a special route or fun touch they pull out for the occasion.

Have other boat recommendations? Love a local company that didn’t make it on the list? Email gcalise@tampabay.com.