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Jul. 2, 2020
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Boat club membership has its privileges

By Pamela A. Keene 
 
Thinking about boat ownership? You have an alternative that offers less up-front capital outlay, no insurance or dock fees and the ability to step right on, turn the key and get out on the water. 
 
Lake Lanier is home to several  boat clubs, companies that offer boat accessibility for a monthly fee and a one-time initiation fee. Carefree Boat Club, Freedom Boat Club, and Nautical Boat Club and sell memberships that offer use of tritoons, pontoons, wake and surf boats and other watercraft 365 days a year. 
 
“Being a member of a boat club has many advantages,” said Grant LeRoux, owner of Freedom Boat Club’s Lake Lanier locations at Holiday Marina and Bald Ridge Marina. “If you’re new to boating, it will give you a chance to see what kind of boating you like without having to make a large investment. And if you’re a former boat owner whose active lifestyle allows occasional boating, being in a club gives you access to boats without all the costs of upkeep.”
 
Members of boat clubs typically receive training when they join to learn about boat operation and safety on the water. If they have experience, club management checks out their level of expertise and helps augment their training.
 
Freedom Boat Club, which opened on Lanier more than 21 years ago, started when the concept of clubs was new.  “At first, many of the boat manufacturers and dealers saw us as competition, and many consumers didn’t quite understand how joining a club would give them access to boats,” LeRoux said. “But as time has gone on, the dealers see us as a way to introduce new boaters to the sport who may purchase one for themselves, a real complement to the dealers. Members have found that they enjoy the choice of different types of boats and the convenience – and cost-savings – of being in a club.”
 
Freedom Boat Club has approximately 350 active members and 60 boats on Lake Lanier, including pontoons, bow riders and deck boats. Additionally it has several cruisers suitable for overnight rentals, and some center-console fishing boats. “Membership is reciprocal in every Freedom Boat Club location around the world,” LeRoux said. “For instance, in the Southeast, just about everywhere there’s water, we have a club, and people can go online to reserve a boat at any of our locations. It’s very convenient and a good way to enjoy the water away from your home lake or river.” 
 
Nationally, Freedom Boat Club has more than 300 locations. It also has clubs in British Columbia, Ontario and France. For more information about Freedom Boat Club, visit freedomboatclub.com.
 
“The cost of club membership is much more affordable than outright boat ownership,” said David Rothwell, owner of Carefree Boats at Lazy Days at Holiday Marina. “You don’t have the costs of maintenance, boat storage, insurance, repairs or depreciation. Membership is truly carefree. Most members save approximately 70 percent of the cost of true boat ownership.” 
 
Rothwell, who also owns Carefree Boat Sales, said the club has about 180 active members, and he has committed to add more boats to the fleet in response to growing membership, another boat for each 10 new members. Between the Atlanta clubs at Lanier and Allatoona, there are 20 boats in the fleet. With people using boats seven days a week, he said it’s fairly easy to reserve a boat. “Our members know that they will always have access to the latest models of boats,” he said. “We have a wide variety of boats and we replace our fleet every year.”
 
In addition to Lanier and Allatoona, Carefree Boats has four locations around Georgia: LaGrange, Savannah/Isle of Hope, Savannah/The Landings and Lincolnton/Soap Creek. “Not only can our members use any of our facilities in Georgia, they have access to boats in the more than 90 Carefree Boat Clubs across the country,” he said. “And we have the highest horsepower motors on our high-performance tritoons of anyone around, at 250 hp or higher. People like to go fast and this sized outboard will do just that, give them the speed and the highest quality of boats to use.”
 
When Rothwell opened Carefree Boats seven years ago in Atlanta, he researched the market and subsequently tweaked the boat club model to make Carefree stand out. “We found out that people are willing to pay a little bit more for bigger, newer boats at their fingertips,” he said. “More power and premium models keep our members happy.” 
 
Carefree members have access to paddleboats and kayaks, as well as other amenities that are included in the monthly membership fee. Carefree Boat Club members can reserve boats for either a half day or full day. For more information, visit carefreeboats.com.
 
Nautical Boat Club, based at Harbor Landing at Lanier Islands, bills itself as a Boating Country Club. “Located in the Margaritaville entertainment complex, our members have year-round access to Margaritaville’s restaurants and activities,” said Tim Kiser, owner of Nautical Boat Club Lanier Islands. “And when they show up to go boating, we can outfit them with all boat toys from skis and boards to tubes. One of our most popular boat types are our double-decker pontoons with water slides, but we also have wake boats and surf boats, sport boats and fishing boats.” 
 
Kiser said that the fleets are sized according to member usage. The club offers late-model boats and when boats are added, they are the current year models. “The ratio of members to boats allows for availability on the weekends,” he said. “Time slots may vary, depending on when you reserve, and members can reserve boats for half days or full days.”
 
Nautical Boat Club also allows its boats to be kept overnight with the restriction of no usage between dusk and dawn. “If people have a campsite and they want to use a boat and keep it at their campsite at night, they just let us know when they reserve,” he said. “We allow this Tuesdays through Sundays, except for holidays.” Boats at Nautical Boat Club may be reserved as early as 30 days ahead of time to same-day usage, if available. 
 
With more than 40 locations across the country, members of Nautical Boat Club may reserve boats at any location. “We’re seeing a real increase in membership since people have canceled their trip plans for this year,” he said. “This is a great alternative for having a stay-cation close to home and it’s a fraction of the cost of boat ownership.” For information about Nautical Boat Club, visit www.nauticalboatclub.com.


Posted online 5.28.20 
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