Boating Clubs Offer a New Path to Get Out on the Water

Boat clubs offer the convenience of simply showing up at the dock and having a boat ready and waiting for you. When you return, just drop off the keys and you’re done. Photo courtesy of Freedom Boat Club


Published: June, 2019


There’s an old boating joke: “The best two days a boat owner has are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it.” The obvious idea behind the joke—that owning a boat is both expensive and a hassle—has a lot of basis in fact.


The purchase price of a boat is just the beginning of the expenditures and responsibilities. First, unless you live on the water with a home dock, you need a place to store the vessel—and that means a berthing or storage fee that can run anywhere between $250 and $350 per month. And just like a car, you need to register the boat (at the DMV no less), get insurance and probably some training if you want to be safe and legal. Other upfront costs may include a trailer, bumpers, required life jackets, fire extinguishers and distress signals.


There are also the many chores that inherently come with boat ownership. These include basic maintenance and cleaning; boating adventures can be messy undertakings. The bottom line is that there is more to owning a boat than just cruising the Bay with the wind in your hair.


There is, however, another option. Increasingly, people are joining motorboat clubs to be able to enjoy that thrill of getting out on the water without the hassle of owning a boat. Boat clubs are designed for people who want access to a versatile fleet of boats on a regular basis, at an affordable cost of entry. While clubs in general may differ in their membership structure, most operate with a one-time entry fee and monthly dues. Once a member, you have unlimited access to the club fleet, but do not own them and never incur any service or storage fees.


One such club located in the Bay Area is Freedom Boat Club. The club opened its first location on San Francisco Bay in Emeryville last fall. It also operates out of Pittsburg and Stockton, and has over 180 other locations throughout the United States. An annual membership in Freedom Boat Club allows access to over 2,000 late model boats from coast to coast.


Traditionally, there are three basic ways to go boating. You either own a boat, rent a boat or go on a friend’s boat. “We’re trying to take the best parts of renting, just using the boat without maintaining it, and then the best parts of owning, which is the flexibility and bringing whomever you want when you want, and roll them into one with our club,” said Rob Fassett, president of the Freedom Boat Club of Northern California.


Membership in a boat club means no worrying about the fees, service or maintenance boat ownership demands and you don’t lock yourself into any particular vessel. Freedom Boat Club offers deck boats, fishing boats, bow riders, pontoons and cruisers through its three Bay Area locations.


In order to make sure everyone knows what they are doing, training is included in the cost of membership so that members feel both comfortable and confident at the helm.


Members go online, choose a vessel from the available inventory and make a reservation. When the time arrives, you show up at the dock and the club’s dockmaster helps you get your belongings loaded. Then, you and your guests head out on the water for an exciting day of boating. Only one person needs to be a member, and you can bring as many guests or even pets that the boat is legally allowed to carry.


Upon your return, simply turn in the keys and pay only for the fuel used that day. The dockmaster helps you transport your gear to your vehicle and then you drive away. No mess, no fuss, no work and no launch fees, slip fees, trailering, insurance, cleaning, maintenance, repairs or storage.


According to Fassett, a boat club is also a great way to find out if boat ownership is something you may want to do in the future. “It is an easy way to try out the boating hobby,” he said. “You can test the water, become a member and make sure this is something your family will enjoy. We cut out all of the work that’s involved in owning a boat so you just focus on the boating experience itself.”


We talked a lot about the joys of sailing in our Summer Sailstice feature (pages 12-13) this month, but if you want to cruise the Bay without relying on the wind this summer, a boat club could be just the thing for you.