Seniors Sing Praises Of Freedom Boat Club: ‘We Are Thrilled This Allows Us To Keep Boating’


Seniors Sing Praises Of Freedom Boat Club: ‘We Are Thrilled This Allows Us To Keep Boating’

VENICE, Fla — George Smith, 71, remembers when owning a boat was as much a part of his life as owning a car. For Smith, boating was a fun, invigorating, recreational activity that he shared with his wife, Mary, and their three children.

“I used to own my own navy,” Smith said, only half-jokingly. “We owned a variety of boats through the years, from a simple sailing dinghy to a 32-foot powerboat, and much in between. At one point, when our kids were teens, they all had their own boats. It was a wonderful family activity that kept us together for years.”

But, as every ship captain knows, navies don’t keep afloat by themselves. They require a great deal of attention: cleaning, repairing, replacing, waxing, winterizing, storing. At some point, a labor of love can lose its romantic appeal, even for the most passionate devotees.

“I retired at age 62,” said Smith, a former school principal in Rhode Island, “and looked forward to taking it easy and relaxing. We gave up the boats.”

George and Mary Smith, like many retirees, moved to south Florida to enjoy the ample sunshine and temperate winters. After five years of adjusting to their new environment and lifestyle, the Smiths never missed all the time and work associated with owning boats.

“But we certainly missed boating,” said Smith. “We missed being out on the water, enjoying a different perspective, and all the social aspects involving boating.”

It is a common quandary for boating enthusiasts in their golden years, who still have a desire to get out on the water but have no desire to scrub vinyl, repair props, replace broken radios, wax hulls or winterize motors.

“When you are young,” Smith said, “you might enjoy tinkering around on your boat on the dock. But after so many years it loses its charm.”

But after five years of retirement, and five years of not owning a boat, Smith believes he stumbled across the one discovery that turned out to be even more pleasurable than breezy, 70-degree evenings in January.

“When I heard about the Freedom Boat Club,” Smith said, “it sounded too good to be true.” It has been 25 years since Freedom Boat Club unveiled its innovative, hassle-free alternative to boat ownership. The Venice, Fla.-based company operates in 80 locations across the nation with a fleet of more than 800 boats. FBC has experienced a steady growth in membership based on its model of offering affordable, hassle-free boating for a simple monthly fee.

Members not only have a choice of multiple boats at each location but avoid the typical frustrations associated with boat ownership: maintenance, repair, storage, cleaning, towing trailers, etc. It is a model that works particularly well for retirees. “It is not only the best option for us, it is the only option,” Smith said. “You pay a reasonable monthly fee, you have access to a fleet of boats, and they take care of the rest.”

In addition to regularly taking out boats from the FBC fleet, the Smiths also take advantage of the various social activities hosted by FBC. “From a cost perspective and social perspective there is no comparison to being a member of Freedom Boat Club to owning your own boat,” Smith said. “We are part of a social group that not only enjoys boating but enjoys being together. And now we spend our free time on the water instead of working on a boat.” It is a sentiment shared by many other boating enthusiasts when they reach retirement age.

“It is an unbelievable deal,” said Marcia Rose, a member of Freedom Boat Club since 2011. “The boats are always spotless and ready to go. You simply climb on board, go out and have a great day, put gas in it when you return and go home. There is nothing like it.”

Rose and her husband, Jerry, retired to Jacksonville, Fla., from Texas.

“Freedom Boat Club is a perfect solution for seniors who do not want to fool with all the demands of owning a boat,” Marcia Rose said. ‘We are thrilled this allows us to keep boating.’

Jerry, 77, sees other big benefits for seniors who belong to FBC.

“We have a motor home and we like to travel,” Jerry said. “As members of Freedom Boat Club we have access to a variety of boats at marinas all up and down the east coast. We have probably taken our boats at a dozen different locations. It is fun and it is simple.”

Bob Fecitt, a former financial planner, has been a member of FBC for four years. He has owned a variety of boats during his lifetime, powerboats as well as sailboats. Before retiring from his job in Indianapolis and moving south, he sold his two boats.

“It is expensive to buy and maintain a boat,” said Fecitt, 71. “I can’t tell you how many times I used to go down to my dock and work on my boat for a couple hours and never even take it out. And with grandchildren and other activities, I just don’t have the time to mess with it. Joining Freedom Boat Club was a no-brainer. “I just show up, hop in and go. It is all fun.”

And there are other benefits of FBC membership that Fecitt enjoys.

“I recently attending a wedding in Fort Myers,” he said. “I decided to go a day early and take a deck boat out for the afternoon. It could not have been more pleasant. Six months later I was visiting in Destin, Fla., and spent a day fishing on the bay.”

Joe Colonnese, 69, has been an avid boater since he was 16 and living in New Haven, Conn. He has owned nine boats in his lifetime. Three years ago he retired to Venice, Fla., and joined FBC. “I don’t believe you can find a better deal anywhere,” Colonnese said. “The cost of belonging to Freedom Boat Club is trivial compared to the expense of owning a boat. I think 90 percent of members are former boat owners.”

Colonnese, who says he appreciates the option of taking out different models and styles of boats depending on who is joining him that day, also enjoys visiting FBC locations in other regions of the country.

“It is great knowing that I have access to a boat whenever I am visiting up north,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about towing a boat, storing one or maintaining one. I can just get in and enjoy the day.” Even though he is an avid boater, Colonnese also emphasizes the social benefits of his FBC membership. “Boating has always been a hobby that brings enthusiasts together,” he said. “Freedom has various social events where you can meet new friends and share stories and experiences. “I think this is the best deal on the street. Everybody wins.”

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