HUNTERSVILLE – Boat rentals and large, cruise-style ships seem to go hand in hand if you’re looking for a fun day at the lake.

The demand for pontoon boats, however, drives the rental market during boating season, said Brian MacArthur, the owner of Mooresville-based Saltshaker Marine.

“You could make money just renting pontoons,” he said. “We’ve got business already, and pontoons are a big part of that.”

MacArthur said his company’s prime season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but business began to pick up in early April when the weather warmed up.

It was much of the same for Lake Norman Charter Boats, owner Jeff Perkins said.

He said he received six calls for charter boat trips in a five-day period in early April.

“As soon as the weather picks up, you’ll get customers calling,” Perkins said. “It’s ramping up. Some of them like to go ahead and go out on the lake before the summer gets going.”

Perkins’ company specializes in sunset cruises and trips on classic boats like his flagship charter sailboat, a 41-foot 1980 Bristol Center Cockpit Sloop named “LaBeleine,” or “the whale,” in French.

“If you’re a car collector, it’s (like) a Porsche Speedster,” Perkins said. “It’s a classic.”

While MacArthur and Perkins agreed that good-looking, well-kept boats are a must in the charter and rental business, the biggest sell is the experience.

“We get a lot of year-round business. We’re different because we offer fully customizable trips,” said Perkins, whose company began chartering boats in 2011.

Lake Norman Charter Boats offers trips with customizable durations.

They’re more of an event-based boat service, with many of Perkins’ customers coming for anniversaries, weddings and birthday parties. He has a working relationship with Queen’s Landing in Mooresville to handle larger corporate functions.

Another important aspect of boat renting is to keep customers engaged and wanting more, MacArthur said. Saltshaker Marine opened in 1983 and has developed solid ties with area residents.

It’s a must in the rental business, because the industry relies in part on good weather. If a customer has a good experience, they’re likely to come back.

“By mid-summer, it becomes more expensive to rent a boat, so we’ll especially get repeat customers early in the season,” said MacArthur, who added that 20-30 percent of his business is comprised of repeat customers.

Many of those customers stick with pontoon boat rentals, MacArthur said, because the cost can be split among multiple families.

Perkins’ operation is event-based, but it gets a boost in business when customers refer it to others in the area. He said 20 percent of his charters come from people who used the service in the past, with many of the calls being for a weeklong rental.

Perkins and MacArthur said they have high hopes for the 2013 boating season, thanks in part to a recent rise in temperature and the increase in the Lake Norman area’s population.

“We’re in sort of a niche market,” Perkins said, “but it’s going well and that should continue.”

Want to learn more?

Visit Saltshaker Marine at www.lakenormanboatrentals.com or call 704-892-5990 for rates. Visit Lake Norman Charter Boats at www.lakenormancharterboats.com or call 704-516-4116 for rates and available charter cruises.