BOLTON A national boating club will have a franchise on Lake George this year, marking the first club of its kind on the lake as the sharing economy continues to make waves.
Husband and wife Matt and Rebecca O’Hara, of Saratoga Springs, will launch their franchise of Freedom Boat Club in May at Beckley’s Marina at Diamond Point.
Here’s how it works: Members will have access to the club’s fleet of new boats, including a bowrider, deckboat and two pontoons. The franchise owners will start with the four boats and intend to grow the fleet according to demand, Matt O’Hara said.
Membership includes classroom and on-the-water training, so the club is accessible to new boaters. Upon completing the training, members will be able to reserve boats using an online reservation system.
Membership packages in Lake George range from $2,500 to $3,600 per year with a one-time initiation fee. There are a variety of packages, including weekends-only and friends and family plans. Discounts are available for veterans and first responders. Those rates are locked in for life and include access to any of the boats at about 100 Freedom Boat Club franchises in 19 states in the U.S.
The advantages of buying a membership versus a boat include not having to find marina space and storage, not having to worry about maintenance or boat insurance, not having to travel with a boat and having access to a variety of vessels around the U.S., Matt O’Hara said.
“We own the boats, maintain them, store them, clean them. All you have to do is make your reservation and show up at the dock ready to have some fun,” O’Hara said. “At the end of the day, aside from the hassle-free aspect of it, the value is giving people their time back.”
Members can confirm four rolling advance reservations, selecting the boat, date and time.
A membership grants boaters access to the Lake George fleet as well as the fleets of any of the roughly 100 Freedom Boat Club franchises in the U.S. The club has about 10,000 members in 19 states.
“Boating is so different around the country. What people want and need in Florida is so different from what people want and need on Lake George,” O’Hara said.
In a report on boatingindustry.com, John Giglio, president and CEO of Freedom Boat Club, said boat clubs are the new “entry-level boat” that allows customers to dip their toes into a hobby that can become expensive.
By partnering with dealers and manufacturers, the club can move customers who have fostered a love for boating toward someone who can help them purchase the true boat of their dreams. Giglio said this is actually better for the industry in the long term, rather than focusing on the micro goal of selling a single boat today.
Boat rentals are nothing new on Lake George, but there have been no clubs like this. It is also different from a fractional ownership program in which boaters share time on a boat and are responsible for a fraction of its price and the cost of maintaining it.
O’Hara said they met with the Lake George Park Commission to get approval, and their marina owner has existing rental permits that they are transferring for club use, which means they aren’t adding to the amount of traffic on the lake.
“A big focus for us is that all members are required to go through on-water training. We want to make sure we put safe and responsible boaters on the water,” he said.
The couple, in their early 30s, recently moved to Saratoga Springs from the Boston area. Matt last worked as a sales manager for CBS Television in the Boston market. Rebecca, who grew up spending summers on Lake George, most recently worked in development and fundraising at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The couple, who are both avid boaters, saw the club’s franchises in Massachusetts and decided to bring it to Lake George. They’re now working on it full time, Matt said, going to boat shows and events, doing franchise development, marketing and taking care of other off-season responsibilities.
Freedom Boat Club was founded in the 1980s in Florida. In addition to the Lake George franchise, the club announced new franchises in Buffalo, the Poconos, Lake St. Clair in Detroit and two in Tennessee. It also opened another corporate-owned club in Florida last month.