EVERETT — Retired and living her best life in her 70s, Carolyn Duncan looked into buying a boat.
“I wanted my grandchildren to know boating,” said Duncan, who grew up in the Everett area amid a family of avid boaters.
But shelling out for a new boat — even a used one — gave her sticker shock. A new sailboat can cost $75,000 or more. A new powerboat can be $12,000 and up. And then there’s the annual maintenance, which, according to boating enthusiasts, can be as much as 10% of a boat’s cost.
“I looked into buying a used boat. I even thought I could pull a trailer,” said Duncan.“Not a great idea.”
Her son-in-law suggested an alternative: Freedom Boat Club, which offers members access to its fleet and 360 locations in 34 U.S. states, Canada and Europe.
Its newest location is the Everett Marina.
To join, members pay a one-time entry fee for a lifetime membership and then pay monthly dues, depending on the plan.
The club covers the cost of the boat, storage, maintenance and cleaning. Membership includes standard marine insurance coverage.
Freedom Boat has a fleet of more than 1,000 members and 180 boats at 13 Washington locations. The armada of 20- to 25-foot vessels includes pilothouse cruisers, fishing-equipped boats, bow riders and pontoon boats for water sports and cruising.
Other locations around the state include Edmonds, Kirkland, Poulsbo, Bremerton, Port Orchard, Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle.
Duncan signed up, determined to go boating twice a week.
“It’s like a gym membership, it’s up to you how often you use it,” said Duncan, who joined the club a year ago. “It solved all the problems of boat owning.”
The alternative was buying a boat or renting boats through Boatsetter, which is like Airbnb for boats. In the Puget Sound area, most boat rentals start at more than $100 an hour with a minimum two-hour commitment. However, unlike Freedom Boat, the boat-sharing platform does not have a membership structure.
After paying the one-time entry fee, Duncan’s monthly dues are the equivalent of a “car payment,” she said.
The Everett location has six boats and approximately 40 members, said Sean Jones, membership executive for the Everett site.
The club maintains a ratio of eight boats for each member. It adds boats as membership rises, Jones said.
The franchise launched an Everett chapter a year ago. Its office is currently housed at Hotel Indigo, but next year the club will take up residence at a building that’s now under construction at the Port of Everett’s Waterfront Place.
Freedom declined to disclose its entry fees or monthly dues. But Jones said a slip at Everett’s public marina costs about $300 a month.
“Monthly dues are less than the cost to put a boat in the water,” Jones said.
The expense of owning a boat can swell, especially when you add in upkeep, Jones said. The estimate includes painting the hull every year, cleaning the deck and replacing the sails every few years.
Freedom Boat was founded in Sarasota, Florida, in 1989. It is now a division of Brunswick Corp,, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol BC.
Members can bring as many people along on trip as they want, up to boat’s maximum capacity. Dogs are also welcome.
On a recent summer morning, Duncan and her friend Anna McNally filled a cart with cat food and crab pots and waited at K dock, on the south side of Hotel Indigo.
The pair planned to go crabbing off Mukilteo and Hat Island.
“The boats are always nice,” Duncan said of the selection. She planned later in the week to go salmon fishing near Tacoma with her brother, and had reserved a boat for the excursion. The company buys new boats every two or three years.
The club employs about a half dozen people at the Everett club, Jones said.
“The crew fuels and cleans the boats and helps people to the boat,” Jones said. “We want to make people feel like a million bucks and make sure everything is good to go.”
“Boating with us is sunrise to sunset, seven days a week,” Jones said. Reservations can be made six months in advance or the same day, depending on availability, Jones said.
Boats are available year-round at all locations in the state, he said.
Membership fees includes training.
“I didn’t even know how to drive a boat when I joined,” Duncan said. “I was always with someone else.”
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” she said of the courses she took.
Jones said the club counts several Waterfront Place Apartments residents among its members.
“They come down and do a spur-of-the-moment reservation,” Jones said, adding that availability is the club’s “prime focus.”
“The best day of a boat owner’s life is the day they buy a boat and the day they sell it,” Jones said. “We handle all the headaches.”