Imagine that you have access to a private fleet of clean, well-maintained vessels: bow riders, deck boats, center consoles, pontoon boats and more. Visualize arriving at your local boat club. You’re greeted by a dock concierge who relieves you of your coolers, fishing tackle, picnic hampers and totes full of gear and securely stows everything away on the watercraft you’ve reserved for the day.
You walk to the slip where your vessel awaits. You cast off, and you’re ready to relax with friends and family, take a soothing sunset solo tour of the lower Chesapeake Bay, or put in a good day’s fishing. Best of all, when you check your boat back in, your gear is offloaded for you by friendly dock staff; all you have to do is drive home, refreshed and renewed by a day spent cruising your home waters. Chances are you’ll already be planning your next voyage.
Freedom Boat Club (FBC) is North America’s oldest and largest boat club. Full-time members get reciprocal access to vessels and amenities in 31 U.S. states, Canada and Europe. In our region, there are currently two locations: in Portsmouth at the Tidewater Yacht Marina, and at Norfolk’s East Beach. In addition, local FBC franchise owners Andy and Janet Sutter are opening a location in Hampton at the Blue Water Marina in 2022. Andy is a retired Senior Chief Petty Officer. Janet, his wife and business partner, is FBC’s welcoming office manager.
“The FBC occupies the middle space between renting and owning a boat,” Andy relates. “It makes having access to an expansive fleet of boats an extremely affordable option, plus it’s a hassle-free way to enjoy life on the water – no cleaning, no storage or trailering, no expensive insurance or maintenance worries. We offer multiple tiers of membership so there’s something for everyone including corporate plans, and our USCG Certified Captains provide free, comprehensive training for members who’ve always wanted to learn how to navigate and handle a boat, but thought it was beyond their reach.
The boating community tends to be very social,” Andy continues. “So we enjoy hosting a variety of activities throughout the year, both on and off the water: wine tasting events, fishing tournaments, sunset cruises—even seminars that teach people how to fish.
Fishing is the preferred pastime of Andres Afocx, owner of AKK Painting and an FBC member since 2020. “I love the fact that I can drive brand new boats,” Afocx explains. “As a small business owner, if I’ve had a really busy week, I can simply call the club and see what boats they have available. I’m fishing a lot more now, usually stripers, flounder, spot, croaker, blues and trout. I’ve owned boats in the past, and I know the headaches involved with ownership. Now, I have no worries, just fun.”
FBC members who never considered themselves “boat types” have become boating converts due in part to FBC’s safety orientation and individualized, hands-on training. Kim Erick is owner of Home Time Business Services. “We were looking for a different type of recreation better suited to our ages,” she says. “Going out clubbing just isn’t as cool when you’re in your 40s. We like hanging out with our friends, especially in the pontoon boats, and our dog loves it too. The great training Captain Andy provided was key to our enjoyment. After our training sessions, we felt confident on all fronts: driving, navigating, cruising, docking and tying off. Our experience with FBC has been positive at every turn.”
Andy and Janet Sutter love the boating lifestyle that FBC supports. “Our goal is to run a great organization. We emphasize safety and we’re passionate about providing our members with superior customer service,” Andy shares. “Boating is a way for people to relax, connect with friends, and create family memories. We want more people to experience everything that the boating lifestyle has to offer.”
Learn more about Freedom Boat Club at FreedomBoatClub.com.