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Vacation Rule: Rent and Run : * Recreation: Don’t buy boating, camping, canoeing or scuba equipment for your last-minute summer getaway. Low-cost rental gear won’t break the bank.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trying to take a little late summer vacation without squandering the family savings on expensive boating, camping, hiking, canoeing or scuba equipment?

You don’t have to buy much of what you’ll need. You can rent it, and often at the last minute, unless it’s a holiday weekend.

Westwood stockbroker Fred Stern learned the rental lesson early on. He’s been sailing for 30 years and has always rented boats. He rents sailboats for day sails or weekend trips with his family and friends.

“If you own a boat, you have to use it,” says Stern. “You have to pay slip fees, insurance, maintenance. Chartering is a $150 to $200 one-time investment, and I get my sailing done. If you own a boat, it’s an expense every day.”

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Stern charters from Ragtime Sailing, a San Pedro company that rents boats (from 25 to 45 feet long) that you can sail yourself--called a “bare-boat” rental--or have skippered. Rates range from $50 to $400 a day, depending on the size of the boat and whether you want a skipper. There’s a $100 cleaning deposit, and Ragtime owners Jill and Mickey Ursich insist you take written and water tests before sailing yourself.

Rentals are cheaper if you belong to Ragtime’s sailing club and pay dues of $22 a month, but rentals are also available to non-members. “It’s $50 to $100 a day more if you’re not a member. The advantage to membership is how often you want to use a boat. If you only want to go once a year, it wouldn’t be worth it,” says Jill Ursich.

Like other boat chartering companies, Ragtime carries insurance on all its boats, but renters are responsible for paying the deductible, which ranges from $500 to $1,250, if the boat is damaged.

Ursich and representatives of sporting equipment stores report that rental business is up this summer and add that people seem to be taking shorter, less-costly vacations. National travel experts say the latest American trend is toward “the mini-vacation.”

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Although Americans are traveling at the same record level they did last summer (326 million vacations), representatives of the U.S. Travel Data Center and the American Automobile Assn. confirm the shorter vacations and say they involve more stays with friends and relatives and more automobile and RV travel.

“Americans still want to take their vacation trips this summer despite the current economic conditions,” says Suzanne Cook, executive director of the Travel Data Center in Washington. “They are just changing the way they traveled in past summers.”

Family camping vacations are also the most affordable, according to a recent study for the camping/RV industry.

RVs also are easy to rent and range in fees from about $80 to $125 per day, depending on the size, says Phil Ingrassia of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Assn. in Reston, Va.

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Ingrassia says rentals are the fastest-growing segment of the industry, doubling annually in the last several years. Of the 25 million current RVers in the United States, 3 million are renters.

The trend toward mini-vacations is also affecting sports equipment rentals, according to Austin Broadwater, a manager at Adventure 16’s West Los Angeles store: “This is our most popular season, and we’ve been quite busy. Our store tends to do well when the economy goes down. People take less expensive vacations. They’ll go for two or three days or a week.”

The six Adventure 16 stores in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties do a large rental business in addition to selling sporting equipment, according to Broadwater. “The intent (of rentals) is to give people experience with the equipment,” he explains.

It is recommended that you reserve rental equipment at least a week in advance, but it is possible to get recreational gear a day or two before your trip, except on popular holiday weekends.

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Stores like Adventure 16, the three REIs (Recreational Equipment Inc.) and the 12 Sport Chalets, as well as some smaller stores, offer an impressive array of camping, hiking, climbing and backpacking gear for rent--from sleeping bags and tents to stoves, lanterns and climbing shoes.

A two-person tent at the larger equipment chains costs $9 to $12 for two days; a four-person one, $17 to $20 for two days.

REI and Sport Chalet also rent canoes and kayaks to vacationers. A canoe at REI rents for $40 for two days; at Sport Chalet, $38.

The recreational area where you are planning to go also may rent equipment, so you’d be wise to check what’s available there.

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At Lake Perris, located between Perris and Moreno Valley, aluminum fishing boats and pontoon boats are available for rent at the marina, as are Wave-runners, “personal water crafts” that are best described as water motorcycles. A 14-foot aluminum boat, which accommodates up to six people, rents for $19 for two hours with a 6-horsepower motor; the 24-foot pontoon boat (which holds up to 10), $60 for two hours. Wave-runners cost $30 for half an hour, $45 for an hour.

Sport Chalet rents scuba equipment on a single-item or package basis. A package, which includes a stabilizing jacket, tank with air, regulator, wet suit and weight belt and hood, is $30 for the first day, $45 for two days. Masks, snorkels and fins “are inexpensive, so we don’t rent them,” says Phil Greenberg, a manager at the Sport Chalet Marina del Rey store.

Recreational equipment stores also rent equipment for winter sports: skis and poles, snowshoes and items for snow camping.

Although rental equipment is abundant, many California beach or lakeside campsites are sold out early on summer weekends.

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Most state park and national forest reservations are handled through Mistix Corp. Call (800) 444-7275 for state parks and beaches; (800) 283-CAMP for national forests. Most national park reservations are handled through Ticketron, (800) 452-1111.


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