Boothbay Harbor’s Carefree Boat Club kicks off its second year on May 13. Franchise owners Ed and Ashley Bernard moved to the peninsula last year in an effort to open the flagship Maine location. The club is right next to the footbridge on the west side of the harbour.
After a successful first year with 40 new members on board, the Bernards have nearly doubled the fleet to seven ships, staying true to their promise of maximum availability. Pricing aside, if members couldn’t get a boat when they want one, the club would be useless, Ed said.
“So we certainly believe that with the fleet that we have now and with the group that we expect, there will always be extremely high availability,” he said. “We’re just trying to be creative with a wider variety of ships for our members here. We have had great success and continue to grow.
Even in peak season, Windjammer Days through August, there is ample availability to book a same day boat during the week. Weekends are a little tougher, but the worst case scenario is having to book seven days in advance, Ed said.
The Bernards also guarantee top-of-the-range boats. One ship is a 2021 model; the rest are 2022 models, Ed said. The fleet ranges from Down East cabin style to large dual consoles. Amenities include “all the bells and whistles”: global positioning systems (GPS), fish finders, electric heads, Bluetooth audio systems, state-of-the-art safety equipment and more. Several models also have windlass anchors, he said.
The Bernards said the biggest selling point for club membership was the cost-to-use ratio. Some members were only in the area for two or three weeks, but the club still made sense considering the cost and labor required to launch and haul the boats out of the water. Many said they sail more now than when they owned boats, Ed said. The most common point raised by members was the ease of showing up, getting out and coming back, he said.
“One guy said, ‘I think it takes me about 20 minutes from leaving the boat to returning whereas it takes me 20 minutes to get to your club.’ All you have to do is jump in the car and introduce yourself.
The Bernards employed local high schoolers and those returning from college, Ed said. They learned quickly, were proactive, and were not afraid to “roll up their sleeves and get things done.”
“You know, I don’t know everything. I can certainly explain to people how a certain process should work, but I always want our dock staff to have the ability to make suggestions. It’s a very customer-focused role: Yes, you have to clean the boats, you have to refuel the boats and that kind of stuff, but for me it’s also very customer service-focused. For example, how can we help improve the club and really the member experience? The dockers have been great at this.
The club still have openings for full-time seasonal work, they said.
The club has a one-time initiation fee and monthly dues for standard, weekday, and family and friends plans. All members complete a two-hour initial training course and two hours of on-water training. Membership also covers unlimited one-on-one training with certified captains, Ed said. Members are required to take the National Association of State Boating Law Administrator course, which is free through BoatUS and covered by insurance from Carefree.
Members have reciprocal access three times a year to all other clubs, approximately 100 across the continental United States and Canada, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and the Philippines.