Carefree Boat Club launches 2nd season

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 10:00am

Carefree Boat Club of Boothbay Harbor starts its second year May 13. Franchise owners Ed and Ashley Bernard moved to the peninsula last year with the goal of opening Maine’s flagship location. The club is just off the footbridge on the west side of the harbor.

After a successful first year with 40 new members aboard, the Bernards have nearly doubled the fleet to seven vessels, staying true to their promise for maximum availability. Price aside, if members could not get a boat when they want one, there would not be much point to the club, said Ed.

“So, we certainly feel that with the fleet we currently have and with the group that we're expecting, there is going to still be extremely high availability,” he said. “We're just trying to be creative with a larger variety of vessels for our members here. We've had good success and continue to grow.”

Even at peak season, Windjammer Days through August, availability is great enough to book a boat same-day during the week. Weekends are a little harder, but the worst case scenario is the need to book seven days ahead, said Ed.

The Bernards also guarantee premium-level boats. One vessel is a 2021 model; the rest are 2022 models, said Ed. The fleet ranges from Down East cabin-style to large dual consoles. Amenities include “all the bells and whistles”: global positioning systems (GPS), fish-finders, electric heads, bluetooth sound systems, the latest safety gear and more. Several models also have windlass anchors, he said.

The Bernards said the biggest selling point for club membership has been a cost-use ratio. Some members were only in the region for two or three weeks, but the club still made sense considering the cost and labor of launching and pulling boats out of the water. Many have said they are boating more now than when they owned boats, said Ed. The most common point members brought up was the ease of showing up, going out and coming back, he said.

“One guy said, 'I figure it takes me about 20 minutes between getting out there and bringing back the boat whereas it takes me 20 minutes to get to your club.' All you have to do is hop in the car and show up.”

The Bernards have employed local high school students and those coming back home from college, said Ed. They have been quick learners, proactive and unafraid of “rolling up theirs sleeves and getting things done.”

“You know, I don't know everything. I can certainly teach people about how a certain process should work, but I always want our dock staff to have the ability to provide suggestions. It's a very client-based role: Yes, you need to clean the boats, you need to gas the boats and those kinds of tasks, but to me, it's also very customer service oriented. Like, what are ways we can help improve the club and really the member experience? The dock hands have been great at that.”

The club still has openings for full-time seasonal work, they said.

The club has a one-time initiation fee and monthly dues for standard, weekday and family and friends plans. All members go through a two-hour initial training class and two hours of on-the-water training. Membership also covers unlimited one-on-one training with certified sea captains, said Ed. Members are responsible for taking the National Association of State Boating Law Administrator course which is free through BoatUS and covered by Carefree's insurance.

Members have reciprocal access three times per year at all other clubs, about 100 throughout the continental U.S. and Canada, British Virgin Islands, Panama and Philippines.