Barton & Gray Yacht Sharing Program

Barton & Gray Yacht Sharing Program

A long time ago when I first interviewed for an associate editor job at Power & Motoryacht, my late mentor Richard Thiel looked me in the eye and said, “Let’s be clear, if you’re going to write about yachts, you’re never going to own one.” Coming off an inglorious few years toiling at a prestigious investment bank, it was a tradeoff I was willing to make. Fortunately over the years, I’ve made friends who have such boats—the so-called wise man’s route. Barton & Gray Yachtworks, the boat-sharing company founded in 2006, is everybody’s friend with a boat.

The idea for this wildly successful company was spawned—perhaps not coincidentally—by a friendship between a fisherman and a sailor. Tim Barton and Doug Gray became friends 25 years ago by sharing one another’s boats. Barton had a Catalina 27, and Gray owned an 18-foot Rothbuilt made for catching stripers out on Buzzards Bay. As the two friends carved more deeply into their 20s however, work started getting in the way of time on the water. Nobody likes that.

Barton & Gray is offering a new way to dip one’s feet into the boating lifestyle without the commitment.

Barton worked hard earning an MBA and Gray found himself unfulfilled, grinding it out in advertising. “I knew after a short time in the agency world that I wanted to start my own brand, not just nurture someone else’s,” says Gray. “It was actually Tim’s idea to do a boat share.”

Without any grand plans, the two pieced together funds to buy a Hinckley Picnic Boat, and took it to the 2006 Nantucket Wine Festival and chartered it out. It was a hit. Barton and Gray soon migrated south with their newfound blue-blood clientele to Palm Beach where the concept also proved popular. “People immediately loved the idea of this turnkey luxury dayboat that they could just book and get aboard, and have a nice time, a glass of wine with friends or some dinner, and then hit the docks and go back to life on land without any of the endless tinkerings and cleaning jobs that actual boat ownership entails,” says Gray.

Special requests like caterting can all be done by the touch of a button with the Barton & Gray app.

The business grew from there, quickly moving from a fractional ownership model to pure membership with little commitment. Entry into a client agreement with Barton & Gray entails a $19,500 upfront cost and then one of four membership levels ranging between $39,500 and $114,500 annually and charged quarterly. “At the most expensive level, our Commodore clients, if you get that it pretty much means the answer is always yes,” says Gray.

By that, Gray means that clients can use any boat from the Barton & Gray fleet, which includes Hinckleys, Boston Whalers, the new Doug Zurn-designed Daychaser 48, and a 62-foot Lagoon sailing cat, whenever they want, stocked with whatever they desire.

That Daychaser represents freshly broken ground for Barton & Gray. It was designed specifically for them to be the ultimate boat-share dayboat. It features sturdy built-in steps to port so wobbly legged landlubbers don’t twist an ankle boarding. It has a wetbar on the maindeck so no one needs to leave the company of their friends to fix the next round of cocktails. Stowage compartments are tucked everywhere for lines and fenders, as captains of these boats can do a dozen dockings in a day. An outsized shower on the swim platform lets bathers freshen up before their reservation at whatever waterside hotspot they’ll be dining at that evening. She’s quiet too, with loads of insulation dampening the rumble of her twin 550-horsepower Cummins QSB6.7s. The boat is also fitted with all sorts of safety equipment—like the life raft atop her superstructure—that makes her Coast Guard compliant for this kind of cruising.

Membership options come in four different tiers from $39,500 to $114,500 annually. The highest level, the Commodore class, gets you access to whatever you want, whenever you want it.

And on top of all of that, she’s pretty. What Zurn managed to create here—with heavy input from Barton & Gray—is something rather singular. The Daychaser has an overall aesthetic that to my eye is informed by Downeasters. But with a plumb bow and a reverse sheer line, her design language is bilingual. She would look just as at home kicking around Boston Harbor as she would ferrying guests in Cannes.

The versatile appearance is no accident. While Barton & Gray has a heavy presence in North America, as well as down in the Virgin Islands, St. Barts and Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas, the company has its eye on the next prize—Europe. “We’ll have a boat in Barcelona for the America’s Cup next fall,” says Gray. “The Daychaser was designed with an ear to European tastes. It’s a big leap but we’d like to get into the Med. And another place where this boat would really shine is in Sydney.” Knowing how the Ozzies love their harbor boat tours, I’d have to agree that yes, this boat and business model would crush it there.

From a client’s perspective, the Barton & Gray business model is solid for a few reasons. For one, you get more bang for your buck than actually owning a boat. Say, for example, you own a Hinckley Talaria 44 (about $2.7 million upfront), and pay about $40,000 to run her each year, assuming no mechanical malfunctions, and you operate her yourself. Now compare that to the Barton & Gray packages starting at $39,500, with full captain services and an available boat in 38 ports of call, and you begin to see the appeal.

With a diverse fleet, boat options are numerous,from Hinckleys and Boston Whalers, to the new Doug Zurn-designed Daychaser 48, and a 62-foot Lagoon sailing cat.

The other part of the Barton & Gray business model that makes it so viable is its versatility. The Daychaser is just one manifestation of that. The company has its own paint shops and wood shops, its own captains, and as it expands, it is striving to bring more and more of its business inhouse. But the real star of the show, according to both Barton and Gray, is their app. The Barton & Gray app tracks the entire business, both on the back end and the client-facing stuff. “With so many assets moving around, the app is invaluable,” says Gray. “We used to keep everything just on a spreadsheet but as we grew that became impossible. We do our coding inhouse and it tracks where the boats are, what needs maintenance, which boat needs to get to where, and special requests like which client wants extra paddleboards.”

“And the clients love it because they don’t have to talk to anyone,” adds Barton. “You can just be hanging around with your friends and decide you want to take a boat out, hop on your phone for a second and its done. You can see every boat we have in the harbor, you can put in your special catering requests, whatever you want. It couldn’t be easier.”

So, is Barton & Gray biting into the marine industry’s pie, or as Gray argues somewhat counter-intuitively, are they actually making it bigger? “Our guys aren’t boaters,” says Gray. “They aren’t walking the docks at the boat show or anything like that. They love being on the water. Maybe we make boaters out of some of them and they go on to buy their own boats, I don’t know. But we are getting more people out on the water and that’s of benefit to the whole industry.”

Even boating toys like stand up paddleboards can be readied by special order to fit the needs of members’ excursions.

Besides the recent trend towards dayboating, perhaps there’s one final reason for Barton & Gray’s growth in recent years: it doesn’t have much competition. There are smaller and less expensive operations, but at this level of attentiveness and care, not to mention the quality of the vessels offered, the company is effectively competing with itself. “Our biggest test is to keep ourselves interesting, to do new things,” says Barton. “The last thing we want is for one of our clients to get bored with us and then get addicted to pickleball.”

Speaking of racket sports, I was able to test the Barton & Gray product one bluebird September day on Long Island Sound. I live in Greenwich, Connecticut—a locale right in Barton & Gray’s wheelhouse. That is to say, there is lots of newish money that might not yet have yachting in its DNA, and there are plenty of cool day-trip destinations nearby. The list on Barton & Gray’s website is tantalizing: swordfish at Rowayton Seafood House, steaks at Prime on the other side of the Sound, a Mets game in Queens, or perhaps you’d like to make the run into Manhattan? It’s all a few taps on a smartphone away for Barton & Gray’s clients. But you know, us yachting journalists get to do all the coolest stuff. And my destination for the day was to see the great Novak Djokovic play in the semifinals of the U.S. Open.

The trip, as one might imagine, was splendid. I took a five minute Uber from my house to the Delamar Hotel in downtown Greenwich where I met Doug Gray and boarded a Daychaser 48. From there we shoved off for a tour of the historic mansions lining the town’s coast—the kind of houses that give Greenwich its reputation, but which you’d never know existed if you didn’t see them from the water. After the captain set us up with a light lunch and cold drinks, we made the quick hop to the World’s Fair Marina in Queens where we linked up with Tim Barton, and made our way to Arthur Ashe Stadium. After watching Djokovic punish the young American upstart Ben Shelton in typically cold-blooded fashion, we returned to the Daychaser with the sun setting, and sprinted down the Sound and into the East River as night wrapped around the city like a thick blanket. Barton and Gray hoped off in Brooklyn near their hotel, and the captain turned the boat around and we ran home leaving a straight line of white wake across black water. He dropped me off at a yacht club in my neighborhood that’s five minutes from home by foot. I stepped off the boat and simply walked away.

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This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.


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