Ultimate Guide to San Diego Boat Rentals & Tours

Don't rent a boat in San Diego before reading this

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SAN DIEGO BOATING AREAS

Mission Bay, San Diego Bay, Ocean

SAN DIEGO BOAT RENTALS SEASON

Boating Months: Year-round
Best Season: Summer (for most leisure activities)

SAN DIEGO BOAT RENTALS PRICES

Average: $50 - $250 per person (variable depending on activity and boat type)

SAN DIEGO BOATING ACTIVITIES

(and several more...)

San Diego Boat Rentals & Tours

On this guide, we’ll clear up the murky waters of San Diego boat rentals and tours so you can make an educated (and legitimate) decision on what’s the best option for you.

GUIDE CONTENTS

    What’s your group size?

    Different companies work with different boats and, therefore, authorized capacities. Your options will be narrowed by the number of guests on your crew.

    San Diego has several options for smaller groups of up to 12 guests, but way less options for larger groups. There’s a loophole in maritime law that causes this unbalance - we’ll explain it in detail later on.

    Once you define your group size, it’s time to figure out…

    san-diego-boat-rentals

    What activities are you after?

    Saying you want to go on a boat is like saying you want to go on a plane (rather than on vacation).

    There are several types of boats and equally as many activities that can be done on or off a boat. Some of them are:

    • Partying
    • Sightseeing
    • Sunset seeing
    • Swimming
    • Paddleboarding
    • Kayaking
    • Snorkeling
    • Scuba or freediving
    • Wildlife watching
    • Sailing
    • Jet skiing
    • Paddleboarding
    • Fishing
    • Hot tubbing
    • Wakeboarding
    • Dining

    Once you have a general idea, you can use this information to narrow your search even more (e.g. ‘party boat rental san diego’ or ‘sailing san diego boat rentals’).

    Then, you’ll have to evaluate…

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    san-diego-boat-tours

    Which choices fit your availability and budget?

    When you figure out what companies fit your group size and activity needs, it’s time to start requesting quotes and evaluating pricing and availability. As with activities, there is a wide spectrum of pricing in the charter industry (and the cheapest ones, as you’ll see soon, are usually from illegitimate operations). 

    Prices may be hourly, per time slot, or per person. Always make sure to investigate booking fees, gas surcharges, security deposits, and booking policies when considering charter prices. 

    On availability, only one thing matters: the earlier you make your reservation, the better.

    Now, let’s move onto some specifics:

     

    Pricing examples of different 2 hour San Diego boat rentals and tours from legitimate companies:

    ☀️ We recommend booking 3 to 6 months in advance if you want to snag that golden summer Saturday!

    Captain or no captain?

    We recommend always looking for a captained activity, unless you’re renting a boat to practice sailing or boating skills.

    WITH CAPTAIN (TOURS & CHARTERS)

    When joining an activity that includes a captain, ALWAYS ask the charter company for captain's credentials beforehand.

    Look for either a 6-Pack Captain’s License (if your boat of choice fits up to 6 guests) or a Master Captain’s License, both issued by the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

    Sadly, several San Diego charter operations don’t have licensed captains so… do your homework!

    WITHOUT CAPTAIN (RENTALS)

    San Diego boat rentals don’t require that you have a boat license so this may seem the most convenient and affordable option. As the captain, however, the responsibility of your entire crew falls on you. Not to mention, you shouldn’t get near alcoholic beverages while driving a boat. If you get caught doing so, be ready for trouble. 

    If you’re not renting a boat for the sport of it and you plan to drink, you’re better off taking this load off your shoulders.

    THE LOOPHOLE: BAREBOAT CHARTERS

    Most San Diego boat rentals are limited to groups of 12, regardless of the boat size because charter companies don't need to participate in yearly USCG inspections if they keep their capacity under 12 guests. To take advantage of this relaxed code, they need to rent their boats (without a captain) and be comfortable with guests driving their boats. If asked, they should provide guests with a list of qualified captains, but never force them to choose their own.

    Most people are unaware of this rule so the majority of boaters don’t give their guests a self-captained option, which is illegal.

    Legit or not?

    We estimate that 50% of San Diego boats rentals, charters, and tours are illegal operations. They operate from private docks (rather than commercial), don’t pay their dues to the city, and often don’t have qualified captains.

    We’ve personally seen several illegitimate charters being interrupted mid-activity by the Lifeguards and a handful of them displaying poor and unsafe boating practices. 

    Now, time to see where your cruise will take you…

    SPOT ILLEGAL OPERATIONS

    These red flags might help you identify illegal charter operations:

    • Pickup location is a public dock (or the beach)
    • Prices are much cheaper than average
    • Not able to provide copies of captain’s license issued by the United States Coast Guard
    • Only listed on 3rd party listings like GetMyBoat (don’t have their own website)
    • Don’t offer you the option to self-captain their boat (when capacity is between 7 and 12 guests)

    Mission Bay, San Diego Bay or Ocean?

    When it comes down to cruising areas, you should note that your cruise will likely fall under one of the 3 categories below:

    MISSION BAY

    MISSION BAY

    ★ Recommended for most groups

    San Diego’s calm waters paradise has different man-made coves and anchorages that provide privacy for cruisers. 

    Pros: 

    • Scenic tropical-like environment
    • Easy parking
    • Sea World fireworks
    • Quick ride to the ocean
    • Calm and inviting swimming coves

    Cons:

    • Less legitimate charter options
    • Smaller cruising area
    • Bridges restrict larger boats and sailboat masts
    SAN DIEGO BAY (HARBOR)

    SAN DIEGO BAY (HARBOR)

    ★ Recommended for sightseeing

    San Diego’s largest bay with landmarks and high traffic from Navy ships, sailboat regattas, container ships, and cruise ships.

    Pros:

    • City Skyline
    • Coronado Bridge
    • Midway & Maritime Museums
    • Military history
    • Larger cruising area

    Cons:

    • High boat traffic
    • Sun sets earlier
    • Long run to the ocean
    • Tough parking
    OCEAN

    OCEAN

    ★ Recommended for ocean enthusiasts

    Encompassing from La Jolla to Coronado Islands, the ocean is usually the choice for snorkeling, scuba and freediving, wildlife watching, and fishing charters.

    Pros:

    • Marine mammals (dolphins, whales, sea lions)
    • Marine birds
    • Rich underwater environment
    • Cliffs (La Jolla and Point Loma)
    • Coronado Islands (Mexico)

    Cons:

    • More influenced by weather
    • Windier/chillier
    • Possible seasickness

    Which type of boat?

    deckboat-san-diego
    san-diego-catamaran
    san-diego-fishing-boat
    duffy-of-san-diego
    san-diego-bahia-belle
    yacht-rental-san-diego
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    pontoon-rental-san-diego
    san-diego-rib-boat
    san-diego-sailing

    Is your group between 2 to 24 guests?

    san-diego-scuba-diving

    Our two certified boats fit up to 24 guests and are ideal for parties, snorkeling, wildlife watching, freediving, and scuba diving. Prices start at $40/guest.

    Photo by Ed Olu

    🧜‍♀️ New year, new skills: start 2023 expanding your underwater horizons!
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