When Andy Matovich needs to relax, he heads out on the water.
Whether he’s cutting his boat through the waves or anchored out in the ocean, his worries and stresses disappear the further the shore is in the distance.
“When I get on that water, I’m just in a different place,” the Coral Springs business owner says. “Something about the ocean, the smell of the water, the atmosphere, that’s my go-to place to rejuvenate.”
What makes his getaway even better? Matovich doesn’t have to stop to fill up the boat with gas, spend an hour prepping the boat, wash off saltwater at the end of the trip, worry about storage or deal with maintenance. Once he gets back to the dock, he gets his keys from the dockmaster and is on his way home.
That’s because Matovich is a member of a boat club. The appeal of being able to go out on the water without worry about the nitty-gritty of ownership has drawn many like him to join boat clubs. Thanks to these clubs cropping up around the country, the activity is becoming more accessible to both travelers and seaside residents.
“Time is money for people and for us we wanted to make it a full-service boating club and get everybody on the water,” says Katie Hall, sales director at Carefree Boat Club.
Founded in 2002 in Virginia, the boat club has since expanded to hundreds of members across 52 cities in the United States including Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and Miami. The types of boats vary by location but South Florida offers bow riders, cabin cruisers and center consoles.
With a ratio of roughly 10 members per boat, members can reserve a boat up to six months in advance at any location. When they get to the dock, the dockmaster ensures it’s ready to go. When they return, the club has the goal of the member being off the boat and back in their car in less than 10 minutes.
Naturally, Florida is home to a number of boat clubs. Founded in 1989 in Sarasota, Freedom Boat Club claims to be the oldest and the largest in the nation. Since then, more have opened in the Sunshine State and beyond. Each might vary in cost and services, but they all have the same goal: boating without the hassle of owning.
“It was the happiest day when I bought it, and the happiest day when I sold it,” Matovich says of owning a boat. “It’s a lot of work.”
Not only do boat owners have to take the cost of the boat into account, but there is the added cost of fuel, storage, maintenance and time spent on upkeep. Whether you’re an experienced boat captain or a newbie wanting to learn the basics, this can be a hassle.
Thus, the boat club lifestyle has been growing in popularity. After a lifetime of boating and water skiing in Wisconsin and South Florida, Matovich says he has no interest in owning a boat again. In fact, Carefree Boat Club isn’t the first club he’s been a member of. Previously, he joined another club, but was not impressed with the boat selection. Now he’s out on the water as little as once a month or as much as three times a week, both for relaxation or to take out clients.
Joining the club includes a one-time sign-up fee and memberships that start at a cost that is cheaper than renting a slip in a marina. Costs are beneficial for frequent boaters, snowbirds who only want seasonal access, or international travelers. The same dockmaster is at every location, caring for the fleet and getting to know the customers. For less experienced boaters, there is also training with seasoned captains depending on what kind of boat the customer wants to use.
“We have this staff of support to make boating a true lifestyle and hobby rather than a one-time experience,” Hall says. “You watch these families grow on these boats and their kids fall in love with it.”
Carefree Boat Club is offering its On the Water skills training at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Certified captains will lead five classes in subjects ranging from basic docking to advanced powerboating. Eventually, Carefree Boat Club would like to open a powerboat school that would be available to the public all year.