Savvy Charterers Use Floating Billboards to Defray Costs

Fort Lauderdale-based Photo Sails connects companies with sailors, bringing brand advertising to the high seas.


Since Surprise Charters began using Photo Sails, people have started referring to the company's catamaran as "The LaSalle boat."Michele Durkin

If you're dreaming of cruising but worried about the cost, you might want to do what some charter companies have done and strike a deal with Photo Sails. The brainchild of CEO Aaron Kiss, this Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based marketing operation supplies Fortune 500 companies with a radical new form of ad space-sails.

Here's how it works: The company advertising with Photo Sails supplies the boat owner with a brand new set of sails displaying a billboard-sized logo or advertisement. Additionally, the company pays the boat owner a "media fee" for using the sails.

The idea of Photo Sails was actually born out of necessity when Kiss was running a charter business in Florida and struggling to make ends meet. Tired of wasting money on tiny ads in newspapers, he realized that the best place to advertise a boat business is on the water.

In the early '90s, Kiss began by painting his company logo and phone number on the sails of his charter boats. Since then, Photo Sails has grown into an international business and has acquired two U.S. patents. The latest Photo Sails are made of four-layer laminated sailcloth and are 100 percent opaque, which allows for double-sided, magazine-quality imaging. They're also coated with a liquid laminate, similar to what's used on cars, which won't peel off and lasts for years.

Michele and Mike Durkin run Surprise Charters out of Chicago and have just completed their second year flying a LaSalle Bank sail on their charter catamaran. They were actually considering closing their business before Photo Sails helped them turn a profit. "Customers do call us the 'LaSalle Boat' because the sail ad is very memorable," Michele said.

Another satisfied Photo Sails user is Tropical Sailing Catamaran Charters. The Fort Lauderdale-based company's business has grown between 50 to 60 percent since it first hoisted a Photo Sail. The value in exposure and brand recognition also pays dividends, causing a company representative to quip, "We probably couldn't have purchased such positive branding through any other medium short of a Super Bowl ad."

If Photo Sails can turn these charter operations around, just think what it can do for your 30-year-old O'Day.