Written by Jeni Bone
09 August 2023
Fresh from winning the inaugural Sustainability in the Boating Industry Award at the 2023 Sydney International Boat Show, GoBoat has major plans for expansion and diversifying into training.
GoBoat, electric boat hire Managing Director, Nick Tyrrell founded the business after being inspired by an experience in Stockholm, Sweden where the notion of slow and sustainable boating is part of the culture.
“It was my first time driving a boat, and it was relaxing, smooth, quiet and no emissions,” he said. “It was all about the social experience on water, the fun of the journey, not the destination, the connection with nature.
“Afterwards, the feeling of satisfaction was incredible. I decided to investigate establishing something similar in Australia.”
Tyrrell, who grew up in Woolgoolga, northern NSW, remembers being around water, snorkelling and swimming, but never boating. “We didn’t have friends with boats, and it seemed out of reach.”
In 2016, Tyrrell was living in Canberra and regularly drove around Lake Burley Griffin, marvelling at the expanse of water and its potential. “Many years ago, there were paddleboats on the lake, but they had died out,” he explained. “I started focusing on pitching the idea of electric boats to government.”
With a background as an advisor to the NSW government, Tyrrell navigated the often complicated path to approval and outlined the advantages of electric boating, and within 18 months, GoBoat was born.
The company launched in 2017 with four 5.35-metre Danish-designed electric boats rated for up to eight passengers and immediately found a foothold. Just 15 months later, GoBoat opened in Melbourne, followed by Brisbane, Sydney, Geelong and the Gold Coast.
While the pandemic impacted the roll-out of the business, restrictions actually spurred its growth. “We opened our third site at Sanctuary Cove right as the Christmas 2019 bushfires hit, so it was a bit of a disaster,” Tyrrell recalled. “Then COVID arrived and reduced in-bound tourism on the Gold Coast to zero, so we had to look at alternatives.
“We secured a great site in Brisbane and relocated our boats to great success because everyone in the city was looking for safe things to do outdoors – that became the story of COVID for us; from an early hiccup, we expanded during the pandemic and the business grew to around double its size in two years by 2022.”
“We had suffered during the pandemic from inconsistent production in Europe, unreliable shipping options and long lead times. So, we wanted to control those things better, as well as increase the focus on quality control. That meant looking for a reputable, reliable Australian boatbuilder, which we found in Cruise Craft.”
GoBoat now operates a total of 80 boats with a team of 70 staff and ambitions for expansion and diversifying. “Our mission is to make boating accessible to everyone,” stated Tyrrell.
“We take care of all the details, preparing the boat, safety and without using jargon. It’s about making memories, sharing fun times with family. Social media has really provided the organic content for us and our customers.”
Amy Weatherby, Manager at GoBoat Canberra has been on board since January 2019. “It’s a lovely, calm and uncrowded waterway,” she said, describing Lake Burley Griffin.
“GoBoats let you experience the iconic sights of Canberra from a unique perspective – the War Memorial, Parliament House, the Carillon, the National Library, the High Court and Museum, with Telstra Tower in the background. It’s a wonderful tourist experience and, for locals, it’s a way to enjoy their own city from a unique angle.”
From her observations, Weatherby says newcomers to boating are always surprised at how easily they can handle the vessel and that sense of satisfaction and achievement. “We welcomed a group of girls recently who hadn’t been boating before. It was great to see them experience it for themselves and feel proud of themselves.”
The multi-generational appeal of GoBoats is another drawcard. As Weatherby explained, “We see proposals, anniversaries, birthdays and grandparents with grandkids – all different generations. The boats are so fun and so safe, even for toddlers.”
Thousands of people have responded to this premise. According to Tyrrell, 120,000 people boarded a GoBoat in the 2022 financial year. “From surveys, we found 90 percent of them had never driven a boat before and the majority don’t have boat licenses,” he continued.
This revelation sparked the next initiative: the GoBoat Academy. With the aim of removing the barriers to boat training and obtaining a recreational license, Tyrrell envisages a new form of training that demystifies the requirements and rules of boating, cutting through the jargon while still adhering to strict guidelines and equipping clients with the skills and confidence to drive planing hulls of varied horsepower.
“From our experience in the boat hire space, we have a unique insight about first-time boaties to make gaining your boat license less formal and priced affordably.
“We’ll make the online component easy to understand in a contemporary format, and the practical, face-to-face part more welcoming. We’re coming from the consumer-focused point of view, assuming people know nothing.”
The GoBoat Academy project has been developing for 12 months with the aim of opening in September 2023, at first in Queensland before rolling out nationally.
GoBoat’s egalitarian approach to clean, green boat hire has attracted enquiries from all over the country, including regional towns with lakes and waterways, as well as international organisations inspired by the positive package of emission-free, easy boating.
“We’re in discussions with the Singapore Tourism Board, and exploring the option of having skippers on board to drive the boats as there is considerable interest in just sitting back and taking in the views,” said Tyrrell.
The potential for expansion is so great, Tyrrell will soon seek investment partners to ensure the scalability of his venture. “The demand is there and so are enquiries from interested councils and local governments.”