YARMOUTH — A new club at the Yarmouth Boat Yard gives members the freedom to coast the Royal River and beyond without worries about boat upkeep and repairs.
Since it started in 1989 in Sarasota, Florida, Freedom Boat Club has expanded and now offers memberships to more than 150 boat yards in the U.S. and Canada, and even has a few locations in Europe.
This year, it opened its first two locations in Maine: one in Yarmouth at 72 Lafayette St. and the other at Brandy Pond’s Moose Landing Marina in Naples. Steve Arnold, who owns the Yarmouth Boat Yard and Moose Landing Marina, purchased the franchise for Freedom Boat Club in September, 2017.
According to President Ed Bernard, the plan is to open a location in Portland next year.
“Maine has one of the best coastlines in the country,” he said. “To us we’re creating the ability for members who can’t afford or don’t have to time to maintain a boat.”
Membership costs $5,000, plus a monthly fee of $349, or $249 for only Monday-Friday use. Other than that, members are only responsible for gas, which Bernard said typically costs around $40 for a day on the water.
Yarmouth’s club has four boats, but Bernard said they’ll likely add a fifth within the next few weeks.
“As membership grows, so will our fleets,” he said, noting that each Freedom Boat Club offers a range of boat styles, from pontoons to wake-boarding boats, all ranging from about 22-25 feet.
Each boat is replaced every one to three years.
The club is for users with all levels of boating experience, from first-timers to experts. Members receive one-on-one boating lessons with certified sea captains –even those who have been boating for years.
“We never know anybody’s experience when they first join the club,” Bernard said. “The point is for everybody to go at their own pace.”
Bernard said he expects the club to attract new boaters, but was surprised to see that about 50 percent had previously owned boats or are skilled boaters.
Once trained, Bernard said members are free to use the boats at any Freedom Boat Club.
Reservations for time slots can be made online, via an app or by phone. Typically, Bernard said, reservations are for half days, from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. or 2 p.m. to a half hour before sunset. However, he added, special requests can be made for those who want to take a boat out at sunrise or dock or moor one overnight somewhere.
Insurance provided by the club allows members to travel within a 25-mile radius of Yarmouth Boat Yard, or as far north as Boothbay and south to the Saco River.
Chris Philbrook, who does communications work for Freedom Boat Club, joined the club as a member this year.
In terms of convenience, he said, the club has been fantastic. He said his daughter loves to lounge on the boat and read, even when it’s docked.
“The point of the club is to make the boat feel like it’s yours,” Bernard said, noting that none of the boats say “Freedom Boat Club” anywhere on them.
While Freedom Boat Club is the oldest and largest boat club in the nation, Bernard said each location does its best to make it about the community they serve.
“We really just want to allow access to the best part of Maine,” he said. “The goal is to offer all the joy of boating without the headache.”
President Ed Bernard steers one of Freedom Boat Club’s four boats down the Royal River in Yarmouth on a sunny Friday afternoon.