Sharing Allows For Budget Boating

By Toni Waterman

Jul. 18, 2011

Clayton Iliof drives Matt O'Conor (left) and Leah Sorrentino (right) in a runabout owned by the Freedom Boat Club.(Luke Boelitz for WGBH)

Ski Condos in the Alps, beach homes in Costa Rica, yachts: Living a life of luxury comes at a price. A very high price. But there’s an increasingly popular way to enjoy the rich life: On a budget.

Brad Miller is a nautical natural. He’s been planted behind the wheel longer than he can remember. As soon as he could afford it, he bought his own boat, saying it was the happiest day of his life. But the honeymoon was short-lived. “I sold it and experienced the second happiest day of a boat owner’s life,” Miller said.

Clayton Iliof drives Matt O'Conor (left) and Leah Sorrentino (right) in a runabout owned by the Freedom Boat Club.(Luke Boelitz for WGBH)

For Miller, the cost of owning the boat was weighing him down like an anchor.

“You know what ‘boat’ stands for? Break Out Another Thousand,” Miller jokes. “For the dockage it was about $3,500 a year and then there was about another $1,000 in the winter for storage and then all the maintenance.”

Like the time he blew a head gasket, setting him back $4,000 dollars. Frustrated and broke, Miller turned to Matt O’Connor at the Freedom Boat Club in Quincy, a members-only boating club.

But members don't own the boats they use at Freedom. Instead, they share them.

For a one-time membership fee of $5,500 and then monthly dues of $299, members have unlimited access to a fleet of boats, without the hassle of cleaning and maintaining a boat. There are 14 docked at Marina Bay in Quincy that members sign out online on a first come, first serve basis.

“You show up the boat is cleaned, full of fuel, detailed and ready to go. The staff is there waiting for you. They check you out, you get out on the water. Come back in, fill up the boat – enjoy your day,” said O'Connor.

Freedom has been at Marina Bay for six years and has since expanded to four other locations around Massachusetts. To keep up with a growing group of members, Freedom adds a boat for every six new customers.

The membership also gives access to Freedom’s 60 other locations nationwide, a perk Brad Miller says he used on a recent trip to Clearwater, Florida. “I called the boat club here and talked with the manager, told him what my plans were. Got down to Clearwater, walked in and it was the exact same thing. The boat was ready to go,” Miller said.

Since joining, Miller says he’s already saved thousand of dollars. The one drawback, says Miller, is that you have to give the boat back at the end of the day. “You don’t have the ability to just walk on the boat and go sleep on it at night. That’s probably the only set back, not have the full flexibility to just walk on whenever you want to,” Miller said.

Still, Miller says he has had some unique experiences.

“I actually went out and did my own little personal whale-watch. I went all the way out to stock bank and saw some whales, did some fishing on a 17 ft boat. It was great,” Miller said.

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