Soon-to-be Boothbay Harbor residents Ed and Ashley Bernard are bringing Carefree Boat Club to the harbor. The franchise will be Carefree’s first in Maine and an addition to nearly 100 locations in North America, Tortola BVI, Panama and Philippines.
The Bernards wanted to find a slower-paced, community-oriented environment to raise a family while indulging in their passion for boating. Ashley is a Maine native and Ed is from Boxford, Massachusetts. Ed grew up visiting family in Woolwich and spent many summers boating up and down the Kennebec River. The couple met at University of Maine Orono in 2010, married in 2015 and, before moving to Portland in 2017, they lived in Boston, Ed working in financial services and Ashley in recruitment and administrative services.
“We both grew up in Maine and we knew this is really where we wanted to raise a family,” Ed said. “Boothbay Harbor was always the main destination for many of those childhood trips on the Kennebec. You know, I remember getting ice cream right down the street, I remember going bowling, and always was a huge fan of the food.”
Carefree came onto Ed’s radar while he lived in Boston. The business has a location there and in Danvers which is near his hometown. Citing the exorbitant costs of owning and maintaining a boat, he said the club is closer to the recreational experience he would prefer. Winterizing a vessel is about the cost of a yearly membership with Carefree, he said. “And that's before the most expensive part – the boat itself. If you own a boat and plan on, say, boating for the weekend, you're looking at I don't know how long showing up ahead of time, prepping before everyone gets there, whereas here you're just hopping online reserving a boat.
The club has one-time initiation fees for the standard, week-day and family and friends plans; and monthly dues for each plan. Every member goes through a one-to-two-hour initial training class and a two-hour on-the-water training. The membership also covers unlimited one-on-one training conducted by local certified sea captains, said Ed. The training is tailored so people can go at their own pace and members are responsible for taking the National Association of State Boating Law Administrator course, free through BoatUS, to be covered by Carefree's insurance.
The fleet will be starting with four boats – 242 CC with Twin 150’s, 220 Cobia DC and two 239 Sea Pro Deep V Series. All vessels are fully equipped including GPS, fish finder, anchors, flares, life-jackets, Bluetooth and electric heads; the only other cost besides membership is fuel. The fleet can add grow as as membership increases or demand rises; boats will be replaced every two to three years and the Boothbay Harbor Carefree franchise plans on keeping the lowest member-to-boat ratio in the industry, said Ed. Members can reserve boats online or by calling the dock phone; memberships are good for any Carefree franchise three times a year in each location.
Reserving a boat is like booking a hotel. When the member arrives at the dock to pick up the boat, deckhands will have it gassed and cleaned to Center for Disease Control standards, Ed said. The staff will help load the member’s belongings and, upon return, they will track the fuel use with their phones and charge the refill to the member’s card which is kept on file, he said.
Ed said Carefree does two things for its members: Provide boat availability and keep the fleet relevant to the region's demand. However, the Bernards provide more than just everything boating, they provide a great experience, in part by making it as safe as possible, Ed said. The safer people feel, the more boating they will want to do. In turn, that just means more fun, he said.
“Nobody's really gone anywhere, so a lot of people are looking for things to do recreationally, and you can't catch COVID out there, that's for sure.”
The other part is about providing a family and community-oriented service, Ed said. “We always knew there was a great boating community here. Now, transitioning from Portland up here into the community, everyone is so nice. You can just tell everybody wants everyone to do well, everyone seems so helpful. It's just a great place to be.”
For more information on membership plans, go to https://carefreeboats.com/locations/maine/