Freedom Boat Club has opened a franchise in Tacoma to allow people to enjoy boating without all the costs of moorage and repairs.

South Sound boaters, or more specifically people who want to become them, have a new option to enjoy the waters of Puget Sound without the cost of actually owning a boat.

Shawn Ottenbreit has opened a Tacoma franchise of Freedom Boat Club, a national boat membership company with some 140 locations around the United States and Canada, that allows people to enjoy the open water without the hassle. The concept works much like a time share, vacation package. Members pay an initiation fee and a monthly membership charge. In exchange, they receive access to not only the five boats moored locally at Foss Marina but at any of the Freedom Boat Club locations.

Boaters can reserve pontoon crafts for leisure trips around the Sound or cruisers and fishing boats to fit their activities. Freedom Boats has a policy to add boats for every 10 members to ensure vessels are available whenever members want them. Membership includes unlimited training and covers all the expenses of boat ownership except for fuel used during an outing.

The Tacoma location currently has five vessels and is growing much faster than expected. Ottenbreit had hoped to have 10 members by December and had that number after the first month of operation and has reached about 40 members after starting late this summer.

“The reception has just been fantastic,” he said. “I think there was just so much pent up demand.”

The leisure boating industry was hard hit by the Great Recession of 2008, so the improved economy is bringing people back to the recreation, albeit slowly. That temperate increase is feeding into the time-share business model since members can try out different types of boats before they drop $80,000 to $100,000 on a boat or avoid that expense altogether and continue their membership.

“The strong response in new memberships in Tacoma isn’t just good for Ottenbreit but it’s just another sign that people are continuing to connect the concept that Tacoma is a port city and has recreational activities all along its waterfront, said Foss Harbor Marina General Manager Ian Wilkinson.

“We are seeing more and more activities down here,” he said, noting that recreational boating through membership programs like Freedom Boats is fitting into the urban lifestyle of millennials who aren’t buying houses or having children until later in life but enjoy recreational activities, especially without the long-term commitment and expense borne from boat ownership.

“This is perfect for them,” he said. “When you buy a boat, you pay for it if you use it or not.”

—Steve Dunkelberger

Boaters can dip their feet in the waters with new option

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