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Clubbing It and Loving It

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Isabel (left) and Eva Heimsoth enjoy their family's Quest Express Boat Club membership.

Quest Express Boat Club

John Giglio, president and owner of Freedom Boat Club, said its members have unlimited use of their home location and four boating days per year at each of the other locations. With 50 locations, that can translate into a lot of days on the water.

One of the oldest clubs, Freedom began in 1989 in Sarasota, Fla., and now has more than 650 boats nationwide. Members run the gamut from “former boat owners who have owned boats from 5 feet to 100 feet to complete rookies,” he said. There’s an online reservation system where you chose date, time and type of boat. Freedom is expanding into the Midwest, with franchises so far in Sandusky, Ohio, and Knoxville, Tenn.

The membership costs vary with the location, Giglio said, generally with an entry fee of $2,500 to 5,550 and a monthly payment of $99 to 199. At the 11 locations he owns on Florida’s west coast, the entry fee is at the high end of the range for use of his fleet of pontoons, inshore and offshore fishing boats, bowriders and center consoles.

So, boat clubs have their advantages, but they’re not for everyone.

“If someone wants to boat all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday all year, it’s not for them,” Howard said. “But someone who uses the boat 20 times a year?” He said a club could be the answer.

Before you sign up, Giglio said you should do your homework.

“First and foremost is the condition of the boats,” he said. Next is insurance. “A lot of boat clubs have limited insurance. Make sure as a member of the club that you are actually insured.” And finally, he stressed looking at longevity. Has the boat club, the sponsoring marina or dealership been in business for a while or just sprung up over night?

For Nelson, choosing a club close to home is the best of both worlds for now. He spent last season cruising the Illinois River from Starved Rock to Seneca and the scenic back channels in between, sometimes three times a week. He renewed his membership in Quest Express this season.

“Maybe one day I’ll have another boat,” he said, “down the road a ways.”

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