The Sharing Economy’s Latest Thing: Boat Sharing

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The Sharing Economy’s Latest Thing: Boat Sharing

Michael Johnston, left, and Michael Ginter of Freedom Boat Club share a ride

Michael Johnston, left, and Michael Ginter of Freedom Boat Club share a ride

The two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it. Boat owners know that’s not just an old joke in Chicago, where they’re lucky to get 12 warm weekends a year.

Michael Ginter has an alternative for these Airbnb times: boat-sharing. Ginter, 47, chief operating officer of Chicago Parking Meters and a lifelong boating enthusiast, owns Freedom Boat Club in Chicago. A Sarasota, Fla.-based chain, the club offers members use of a boat for a monthly fee. Unlike a timeshare, which restricts outings to specific times, this arrangement can give members access to the club’s fleet whenever they want to set sail, though reservations are encouraged, especially for holiday weekends.

Since launching Freedom in Montrose Harbor in May 2014, after investing $234,500, Ginter has signed 40 members. He aims to open two more locations in Chicago. After that, he wants to add a facility in Wisconsin, either on Geneva Lake or Milwaukee, giving him as many as 300 members altogether.

Ginter’s payback comes from club members; they pay year-round monthly dues that start at $99 for weekday access to boats smaller than 22 feet and go up to $549 for a corporate plan with unlimited access to bigger boats. Right now, Ginter has a fleet of six 1-year-old boats and says he always will maintain an 8-to-1 ratio of members to watercraft. Freedom also requires a one-time initiation fee from $2,500 to $10,500.

CHEAPER THAN OWNING

Michael Johnston, Freedom’s director of sales and marketing, says that with the initiation fee, a first-year member will wind up paying about the same amount he would during the first year of boat ownership. But over the course of three years, a typical Freedom member will spend about $21,000, while a typical owner will shell out more than $70,000, he says.

What’s more, members don’t have to refuel the watercraft, deal with storage or slip rentals or worry about replacing batteries or repainting. Instead, they can show up at Montrose Harbor, coolers in hand, and be on a boat in five minutes. Newbies can take unlimited basic driving and safety lessons from Freedom’s staff.

“Neither of us had ever driven a powerboat, so the overall concept of boating was pretty overwhelming,” says Stephanie Saghy, 29, who works in finance in the Loop and joined Freedom with her husband, Kevin, 30, in July. “We looked at the cost of a slip (from about $4,000 to $5,000 per year) and that was all we needed to feel comfortable with Freedom’s pricing.”

Now, she says, they take a boat out after work at least one weekday, if just to float around the harbor for an hour and unwind. They also spend most summer weekends on Freedom boats with their friends.

Anchors aweigh.

The Sharing Economy’s Latest Thing: Boat Sharing

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