Help at hand to match boaters with experts

October 2017 - With hundreds of new boaters every year and many of them inexperienced and young – and in or around London - it is, perhaps, inevitable that many of them need the skills of experienced tradespeople writes Peter Underwood.

Facebook pages and groups like London Boaters are stuffed to the gills with requests for recommendations for boat electricians, plumbers, welders and engineers but often it is a case of the blind leading the blind.

Step forward Malcolm West, a 28-year-old liveaboard boater, based in London aboard his vessel Still Magic. He recently started a website called Boaters Yard which, in the jargon of the internet, he describes as a 'collaborative and transparent platform' to connect skilled tradespeople and boaters.

As he cruises the London waterways Malcolm operates the website which he says will enable 'fellow boaters to connect with service providers and review each other’s experiences, so we can all stay afloat with confidence'

“As we all know boating life is not always a smooth cruise with multiple engine, plumbing and hull maintenance issues to stay on top of. Personally, I found it a steep learning curve to start with and really struggled to find good tradesmen to help me with various issues, which also appears to be the case for numerous boaters,” said Malcolm.

It has only been going a few months but Malcolm says there are now 55 tradespeople registered and around 100 boaters. He added: “It’s hard to track how many people have found people through are platform at this stage, however we do already have some good reviews.”

The service is free for both boaters and tradespeople and Malcolm says both sides will always be able register for free. His aim, in 12 months’ time is to 'monetise' the platform through introducing account upgrade features for service providers and advertising for boat related retail products.

“Ultimately the aim of Boaters Yard is to create collaborative and transparent platform for fellow boaters to connect with service providers and help each other out through reviewing their experiences.

“So far the response has been great from both boaters and trades people. I think there is always a few people who don’t buy into review based websites, however I know through the community there is a huge demand for this site.

“Its something I’ve been putting my spare time into, with limited funding, so the main challenge for us, is to get a good volume of reviews up and running so the platform is effective.”

Malcolm came to be a boater when, with his girlfriend, he decided on a place of their own. “However, being self-employed and securing a mortgage in London don’t really go hand in hand.

“I have always loved boats and had considered moving onto one in the past, so we decided to book a few viewings for some local adverts to help us get a feel for what it might be like to liveaboard.

“Well, we viewed one and that was it, we decided it was for us! A month later having seen about 10 boats, we found the one for us and went for it, which result in us travelling 140 miles, going through 210 locks to get it within a commutable range from London.”

From there it was a small step to trading: “I fell in love with life aboard very quickly and wanted to apply my entrepreneurial spirit to the boating community. My girlfriend is also trialling selling proper good pies from the Yorkshire Dales and we’re considering selling home-made candles soon too.

It has been just three months so far and real revenue is still many more months away, as Malcolm admits: “Further down the line I hope to get some revenue through potential advertising and account upgrade features given what I’ve invested in this, however I want to make sure that this never comprises the purpose I initially set out to launch Boaters Yard.

“I hope we’ll keep going for many years, the longer we’re around the better the platform and quality of our reviews should be. The website is nationwide. Whilst there is a big demand for our service in London, I would like the platform to help continuous cruisers find good service providers wherever they are in the system.

“Ultimately the more people that adopt the platform, the more effective Boaters Yard will be. Being a fellow boater, I’m passionate about making this a success for both boaters and service providers, many boaters have told me there is a demand for such a platform and I welcome any feedback people may have to make this work.”

Photos: (1st) Malcolm in the MD's office, (2nd) Company headquarters - Malcolm's boat Still Magic, (3rd) Boaters Yard logo.

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