The Freedom Boat Club has gotten more Mainers out on the water this season than ever before.
“We saw a significant increase in members last year and into this continuing year,” said Steve Arnold, owner of the Freedom Boat Club’s Maine franchise. “COVID was a big push for people to get outside and reconnect with their families. Boating was the perfect thing for that.”
Buying into Freedom Boat Club means access to the fleet of boats that are shared among its members. Started in Sarasota, Fla., in 2009, FBC now operates across the world and is considered the single largest marine franchise in the U.S.
“You’re allowing more people to get access to the water by joining Freedom…”
Steve Arnold has worked for, and owned, marinas for a long time. He purchased the Yarmouth Boat Yard in 2004 and in 2013 bought the Moose Landing Marina in Naples.
When Arnold decided to purchase FBC’s Maine franchise in 2017, he made the boat sharing service available at his own marinas as well as expanding to additional locations in Portland, South Portland, and Boothbay Harbor.
“The whole sharing aspect really resonated with me,” said Arnold. “You’re allowing more people to get access to the water by joining Freedom versus just coming into the marina and requesting a slip.”
A slip is like a single parking spot for a boat at a marina. Arnold explained that there’s not much turnover for slips, so marinas get crowded fast.
“With Freedom Boat Club at our locations, you can theoretically have eight members to one boat,” said Arnold. “It’s great to own a marina while also offering FBC. They’re very complementary,” he said. “We’re big advocates to join Freedom.”
Once a customer joins, the costs are easy to compute.
“All you do as an FBC member is pay for gas. If you go out and burn up ten gallons, that’s what you pay for,” said Arnold. Things like maintenance costs and insurance are covered by Freedom, and if an FBC user decides to purchase their own boat within the first year of membership, the club will refund their entry fee.
“If I decide I want to go and buy a boat in the end, this gave me access to all kinds of boats to try,” said Vickie Ducharme, an FBC customer from Falmouth and frequent visitor of Arnold’s Yarmouth boatyard. “When I began boating, I didn’t know at all what kind of boat I wanted.”
FBC also offers special maritime training by licensed members of the Coast Guard, including two hours of on-water instruction.
“If there are things that I want particular training on, like docking the boat or navigating, I can also get private trainings,” said Ducharme.
Ducharme has always wanted access to a boat, but she’s never wanted to own one.
“The season in Maine is so short. You have to winterize and store the boat and haul it in and out of the water.” FBC is an easy option for her.
Also, buying a brand-new boat today can usually cost upwards of $60,000. For most customers, FBC is the far more economical choice. The club requires a one-time lifetime membership fee of $7,000-$8,000,and then monthly fees ranging from $275 to $500, in addition to the fuel.
Freedom Boat Club often run special promotions offering discounts and savings.
“It just makes it worth it. Our coastline is so spectacular.”
But Maine is by no means the final frontier for the boat club. FBC has close to 300 franchise locations across the U.S. and Canada, and they’ve recently made acquisitions in Europe.
“A member in Maine can join, and now you have reciprocity all over the world,” said Arnold.
Still, Arnold says that the hundreds of miles of coastline, and 360 islands in Casco Bay alone, make Maine an ideal spot for adventure by boat.
“From there you can see things that you just never would be able to see from the car.”