LAKE WYLIE -- After the Carolinas' severe drought shut down his boat-based business a year ago, the idea of jumping right back into the water may seem a little strange. Chip Traub, however, believes it's going to work.
Traub, along with wife Julie, began an exclusively online boat rental service, wylieboatrentals.com, on Lake Wylie in February.
"This is something that she and I love to do," Chip said.
Chip, who sold boats at Wher-Rena Boatland in Lake Wylie before the company announced it would close earlier this year, is the first person to admit boating businesses on Lake Wylie depend on water being up and access being easy.
"When you can't sell boats and put them in the water, that's a problem," he said.
But it was another lesson Chip brings from his time at Wher-Rena that is helping him make a splash with his new business, a lesson he learned from would-be customers.
"Every single day that I worked there somebody came in and asked about renting a waverunner or pontoon boat," he said.
Now, the Traubs man a fleet including a 24-foot pontoon and four waverunners.
All five boats are 2008 models, and the popularity of wylieboatrentals.com already has the Traubs planning to add a larger pontoon next year.
"It's a beautiful boat," Julie said of the pontoon. "It's been very popular. Our weekends are crazy. We're booked through the middle of July."
In fact, all of the vessels were booked for the Fourth of July two months ago, Julie said. The Traubs are finding all sorts of customers, from out-of-town guests only in for a short stay to parties, groups of couples and even boat owners who need a larger pontoon for a special occasion rather than their bowriders, fishing boats or other power boats. The Traubs even have repeat customers already.
"We turn down 10 rentals for every one that we book," Chip said.
Interest has been so high that the Traubs often send interested renters that they can't serve on a particular day to other rental spots on Lake Wylie like Tega Cay Marina and Pier 88 Yacht Club at River Hills Marina.
"There's room for all of us," Julie said.
Wylieboatrentals.com is a "mobile business," she said, in that customers can book a boat or waverunner online and have it delivered to Buster Boyd Access Area, or other spots like Nivens Creek if customers prefer. Unlike some Charlotte-area rental companies, wylieboatrentals.com only focuses on Lake Wylie and will not bring boats elsewhere.
"We want to just be known here on Lake Wylie," Julie said. "It's this area we want to service."
Rentals are available in all-day, half-day and weekly time slots. All-day rentals run 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and weekends, while half-day rentals last any four hours within that same span. Cost ranges from $170 for a half day and $350 for a full day to $950 for an entire week. Those costs include everything except fuel, which the Traubs get at the "land rate" at local service stations.
Renters must be at least 21 years old with a valid drivers license and credit card, and reservations can be made online or by phone. Renters must have some experience, Julie said, just as anyone renting a car would need to know how to drive.
With customers lined up and expansion on the way, the only thing that seems to present a problem for the Traubs is more drought.
"We're at its mercy," Chip said. "There's nothing we can do."
For the Fort Mill couple, that business pressure just puts them in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to weather.
"Pray for rain," Julie said. "That's all we can do."