Get On Board

Get On Board

Why Boating without Owning Is the New Way to Go

Words by Christine Van Dyk

On a chilly morning in early spring, the tide rushes out to the inlet. As it recedes, sandbars surface in its wake, giving a pod of dolphins a shallow shelf against which to wrangle the fish they’ve been chasing. Sunlight sparkles on the sea like scattered diamonds and aside from a few sailboats moored in the channel, there’s no one else around.

“When most people think of boating they picture a big crowd and a summer day—laughing, grilling, diving into a cooler full of beer,” Rebecca Henry says. “But on a cold day, taking the dog for a run on a sandbar or watching a manatee frolic near the shore is pretty good too.”

Few things bring people together like being on the water. Kids escape the pull of their devices, over-scheduled grownups step away from meetings, and friendships take root. It has become so popular that leisure boating and fishing are now the largest outdoor recreation activities in the U.S., according to The Bureau of Economic Analysis. As memberships in country clubs and golf courses decline, the number of boaters continues to grow.

Perhaps that’s because being on a boat gives you an entirely different perspective of the world or that coastal living is proven to make us happier and calmer. Maybe it’s because of all the things we can do on a boat. Whether it’s waterskiing or fighting a giant grouper, you get a workout that’s a heck of a lot more fun than going to the gym!

But what if you don’t own a boat? How can you enjoy the water without the cost and hassle of having your own? You join the club—a boat club that is.

A boat club is an organization that gives you use of an entire fleet of vessels. With other members, you pay a buy-in fee and monthly dues to access a variety of sizes and styles of boats.

“We like that we can choose different boats for different activities,” Rebecca says. 

But does membership really have its privileges? Is this really the best way to experience the water?

Aside from the fact you can check out a fishing boat one day and a deck boat the next, a pontoon for a floating party, or even a sailboat in some cases, boat clubs make getting on the water a lot easier. You have professionals to show you the ropes and you never have to bother with fixing a broken prop or maintaining the craft. There’s always someone to call if an engine stalls or a sudden squall makes navigating the channel tough. And, because the cost is shared among the group, it’s easier on your wallet than owning.

“There’s also the benefit of the concierge experience,” Bobby Parker, owner/president of Freedom Boat Club Central Florida, says. “All you do is pull up to the marina and there’s someone there to load your stuff, secure the lines, and catch the boat when you return. My family recently went to a local sandbar called Disappearing Island with some friends who owned a boat. At the end of a long day I’d already returned home, showered, and was watching TV while the other guy was still trailering and washing his boat. It’s the best off with none of the hassle.”

Perhaps the most novel benefit is that most boat clubs offer reciprocal exchanges. That means as a member you can request a boat anywhere there’s a club. So whether you’re vacationing on Lake Martin, Alabama or The Yards of Washington, D.C., Lake Austin in Texas or St. Simons Island, Georgia, a day on the water is never out of the question.

“When I started with Freedom Boat Club a decade ago we had seventy locations,” Bobby said. “Today there are over 370. I’ve gotten a boat just about everywhere from San Diego to Boston to Marco Island. It opens up all kinds of activity options that let you cater to any kind of experience you want for the day.”

So, imagine yourself cooling off in the river on the Fourth of July or cruising up the Intercoastal Waterway on a cold December bluebird day. Picture teaching your kids to wakeboard on the lake or heading off-shore for the big catch. Whatever your reasons, boating is a definite trend, and it’s definitely worth getting onboard.