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Everything you wanted to know about renting boats in Okoboji but were too afraid to ask

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Okoboji Boat Works

The In-Convenience Store at Okoboji Boat Works carries everything you need for a day on the lake, Friday, April 8, 2022, in Okoboji, Iowa.

The first thing to know about renting boats and other aquatic equipment in the Okoboji area is that there are options aplenty. Even a cursory Google search for places to rent from yields more than 10 options on or near the lake. 

Okoboji Boat Works, which has been doing business since 1890, has one of the more varied rental lists of the bunch. They have pontoons, speedboats, WaveRunners, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards for the smaller fare and then nine fleets of "private excursion boats" which include cruisers, barges and yachts, for the big stuff.

According to Tara Messerole, a cruise director for the business, the smallest cruiser, "The Jezebell," will run aqua enthusiasts $295 for the first hour and $195 for each additional hour. On the other end of the spectrum is "The Fish House" which demands a two-hour minimum for $1,995 and $895 for every hour after. "Right now, we have that one rented out 15 times for this summer," she said. 

When it comes to the more personalized watercraft, Messerole said folks have to check in with the harbormaster who gives them maps and explains where to stay away from. "They get a good crash course," Messerole said. 

Okoboji Boat Works

The In-Convenience Store at Okoboji Boat Works carries everything you need for a day on the lake, Friday, April 8, 2022, in Okoboji, Iowa.

Okoboji Boat Works

Okoboji Boat Works apparel is sold at the In-Convenience Store where boats can be rented, Friday, April 8, 2022, in Okoboji, Iowa.

Those lessons don't always mean things return in pristine condition though. 

"There have been damaged props due to the low-water levels," Messerole said. If a boat ever breaks down, which she said doesn't happen often at all, renters give Okoboji Boat Works a call and staff go out to help.

Allison Waltman, who's operated Make-A-Wake Watersports with her husband, Dustin, for 16 summers, said the most common calls will be from people who are unfamiliar with the lake getting lost out on it. According to Waltman, it's more of a trend on weekends. More than once, she said people will be right outside the business and not know where to go and will have to make a call.

"We’re located on the left side of the lake, and you can’t see (us) when the sun’s going down," Waltman said. 

The fleet for Make-A-Wake includes: kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, Maui mats, tubes, wakeboards, jet skis, pontoons and speed boats. Customers can buy a certain amount of rental hours from the business, which is located at Village West Resort & Hotel, and then use them all throughout the summer. With the boats, Waltman said she won't soon forget the times staff had to help someone start theirs because they had the key in upside down.

At Extreme Water Sports, owner Tim Marler is clear about what happens if renters don't feel compelled to adhere to guidelines.

"We don’t rent to them if they don’t listen to the rules," he said.

If anyone gets stuck, Marler said staff will tow them back in. As for where to go, Marler said customers get a map and a recommendation to stick to the western portion of the lake because it's "deeper, cleaner and safer." Not unlike some of the others, what's rented at Extreme Water Sports has to be back in by closing time.

Having to rent and train and tow folks throughout the summer means a lot of the staff at the rental places in Okoboji tend to not have a lot of time to enjoy the water themselves. "Our job is tourism," Messerole said. "We’re after hours," said Waltman.

Marler's response: "We’re pretty busy all summer."

That busy-ness doesn't bug him though because of what working on the lake affords in terms of memories. "We get people who came when they were 15 years old and are now coming back with kids. So we have fun."

Okoboji Boat Works

The rental shop at Okoboji Boat Works carries everything you need for a day on the lake, Friday, April 8, 2022, in Okoboji, Iowa.

Jared McNett is an online editor and reporter for the Sioux City Journal. You can reach him at 712-293-4234 and follow him on Twitter @TwoHeadedBoy98.

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