Boats available for rental in Crisfield

CRISFIELD — Tracy Keiper and Christopher Mincarelli found Crisfield a few years ago when they were sailing the Chesapeake Bay.

Now, they’ve opened a business in a harborside shed they discovered at 913 Spruce Street in Crisfield.

It’s called Crisfield Boat Rentals and it’s the only motorboat rental business in Somerset County.

“We have two pontoons and a selection of smaller boats — 16-foot flat bottom skiffs, also called Carolina skiffs, and 18-foot Smith Island skiffs built locally,” Keiper said. “We also have boats at Janes Island State Park. We don’t rent kayaks, but Billie Jo Chandler does, so we refer anyone who wants one to her.”

Chandler owns Crisfield Kayak Canoe and The Pizza Shop, and she is well-known for her efforts to improve Crisfield and its attractions. Most recently, she organized a volunteer group to clean up and renovate the town’s only beach.

Mincarelli said the couple’s boats come with life vests, lines, anchors and other necessary safety equipment. Fuel is also included. Rentals are for half a day or a whole day, and cost $100-$475, depending on the length of time and the size of the craft. The business carries insurance and there is a rescue boat ready to launch should one of the rentals have an emergency.

“Come ready to fish,” he said. “But if you need poles, we’ll rent them to you. We also sell bait, tackle, cold drinks, ice and snacks, plus a selection of sandwiches made by Billie Jo.”

Crisfield Boat Rentals is open seven days a week from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. The rental season is from May to Oct. 1, or later, depending on the weather.

For reservations, call 410-968-0068.

Of course, as with any rental business, there are some rules. The Coast Guard requires anyone born after July 1, 1972, to pass its boater safety course before taking a boat out. It can be taken online and is often hosted locally by a yacht club or other organization. Keiper and Mincarelli can administer a temporary test for boaters who don’t carry an ID stating they’ve had the course, but only for the first and second time they rent there.

A valid driver’s license and a credit card for a deposit are required to rent one of the couple’s boats. Boaters are instructed to stay within a mile or mile-and-a-half of Janes Island.

“A chart of local waters — we don’t call it a map — comes with each rental,” Mincarelli said. “There are plenty of good fishing spots like Puppy Hole and some clean, sandy beaches nearby. We don’t want people heading for Smith or Tangier Islands because those trips take so long that there’s a good chance that a storm could crop up. There are big cruise boats in town for people who want to go to the islands.”

What about fishing licenses? Yes, they’re needed. Keiper and Mincarelli are happy to help customers buy licenses before setting out.

Mincarelli remembers Frank’s Marina on a lake in a quiet Pennsylvania town similar to Crisfield: “When I was a kid, I fell in love with the boats and the little shack with an old screen door where we went for ice cream.”

“We’re both sailors. That’s how we found Crisfield. When we found our shed (we call it the shack) here on the water, we knew this is where we wanted to start our business.”

“This is our ideal life,” Keiper said. “We can rent out our boats during the summer and then continue to sail south in the winter. I’ve retired after 20 years as a hospice nurse. Mincarelli is still working. He’s the computer geek in the house. He designs international corporate websites. He can do that from the boat or from anywhere.”

Crisfield Boat Rentals’ headquarters is now a charming spot. When the couple discovered it, it was anything but. Their shack now houses the office, their equipment and a snack and gift shop.

The couple repaired it and painted it in neon Key West colors, inside and out. New steps and a back deck now lead to the office entrance — a wooden screen door that looks and slams like the one back in Pennsylvania.

Beyond the deck, down some steps, is their new white sand beach, a boardwalk and the bulkhead where the pontoons are docked. On the beach are wooden picnic tables with umbrellas and Adirondack chairs with arms wide enough to set a drink on.

A battered signpost at the water’s edge points the way to Key West (950 miles) and Savannah (595 miles) and informs visitors of the owners’ credo: “No shoes, no problem!”

Keiper and Mincarelli said they were afraid they would have a hard time starting a business since they moved to Crisfield just two years ago — they weren’t sure they would be accepted by the locals. What they got was a warm welcome.

“It was an amazing reception, more than we could have imagined,” Mincarelli said. “The local officials made everything easy for us. The members of the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce were wonderful, especially the local business owners.

“When it was time to paint the shack, people came and helped without being asked. The pace of life is slower here. We like that. And it took us a while, but we finally figured out that when people wave at us, we might not know them and they might not know us. They are just being friendly.”

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