Problem Solver - August 2008
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Establishing a Pedal-Boat Program

For those lucky enough to live near one, a waterfront is a beautiful amenity. But for recreation managers charged with their upkeep and dealing with constant use—and sometimes abuse—a waterfront can become a financial drain.

You can sit back and let your waterfront draw people by its sheer beauty, or you can find ways to increase usage—and build revenues. One way to improve the profit potential of your waterfront is to establish a pedal-boat concession.

Q: Why should I consider adding pedal boats to my waterfront amenities?

A: There are plenty of reasons to consider these fun boats, and all of them are good. Industry studies show that users prefer programming near or by water—the peaceful aesthetic of the waterfront is a draw in and of itself.

But not everyone is ready to hop into a rowboat, canoe or kayak and paddle away. Many people feel they lack the skills needed to propel themselves by oar along the waterfront. Pedal boats offer a simple, safe alternative.

Most importantly, pedal boats represent a relatively small investment with the potential for substantial returns. You can usually pay for your investment in pedal boats within a single season. Some operators have boasted that they've paid for the cost of three boats—around $5,000—within a single holiday weekend!

And beyond the benefit to your budget, you'll be helping people get more active. Pedal boats are people-powered, offering a fun exercise alternative.

Q: Are there risks associated with these boats? How can I ensure patrons are safe on the water?

A: To help ensure safety, be sure to offer life jackets. Not all parks require them, but many do require at least younger riders to wear one—and some parks require all boaters to wear life vests. It's also important to check with the local authorities. In some areas, life jackets are required on all kinds of boats for all participants.

Beyond this simple step, you should purchase pedal boats that are 100 percent foam-filled. The foam helps to promote flotation, so if the boat gets damaged on the water, its flotation level won't be affected, and the boat shouldn't require any immediate repairs.

In addition, to help avoid accidents, purchase pedal boats with steering wheels designed to turn in the direction the riders want the pontoon to go.

Q: How often will I need to pull my pedal boats out of the water for maintenance?

A: If you do your research and purchase the right pedal boats, you'll be able to put them in the water in the springtime, and not worry about them again until it's time to take them back out of the water in the fall.

For the longest-lasting pedal boats, go with fiberglass. It has the longest life span of any material, is simple to clean up and is durable enough to stand up to a rocky shoreline. It's also simple to repair if any damage occurs. Also, make sure the pedal cranks are equipped with inboard and outboard bearings, and choose a boat with self-draining pedal wells and seats. This will eliminate the need to bail out or dry off the boat.

Q: How should I get started?

A: Before you purchase your boats, take a short trip around your area to check out how other operators handle things like promotion, rentals and so forth. Bring a camera and a notebook and document how they deal with signage, rental fees and where the boats are placed for maximum visibility. Use this information to help inform your own decisions.

Once you've got the boats, their success is up to you. Place them in a good location with plenty of visibility. Don't put your boats off the beaten path. It helps to post good signage and include your pedal boats in marketing campaigns.

A concession or snack bar is an ideal place to add your pedal boats, creating a mutually beneficial pairing that draws more people to both amenities, increasing your revenue even further. And once people are out on the water, even more will be drawn to your boats as they see the fun they're missing.

Kay Park - Recreation Corporation: