Bruce Jarrard used to attend boat shows armed to battle misinformation. Potential customers would tell him they had no interest in renting a boat. And Jarrard, membership director of the Charleston branch of the Carefree Boat Club, would try and patiently explain "that’s not what we do."
Nine years later, he doesn’t have many of those conversations anymore.
“It’s tremendously different than it used to be,” Jarrard said. “We used to be looked down upon as kind of a budget rental fleet kind of thing. Now people have come to realize … we’re high-end boats. We cater to high-end (members).”
It took time, but in a booming maritime market like Charleston’s, boat share clubs have gradually established themselves as an option for those who want to get on the water without owning their own craft. Jarrard said Carefree, which is based at the Daniel Island marina and has 22 boats, has gone from nine members when it first set up shop to over 200 now.
Karen Berry, membership and marketing director of Freedom Boat Club, tells a similar story. Freedom started 11 years ago with five boats in North Myrtle Beach, and now has 45 boats and nearly 400 members across six different locations — five in coastal South Carolina, and one in Southport, N.C. The club’s local branch is at the Charleston Harbor Marina at Patriots Point.
Both companies operate in a similar manner, charging an initiation fee and monthly dues, and scheduling non-boating activities such as oyster roasts and holiday parties to enhance a country club feel. The goal is to enable what Berry calls “spontaneous boating” — getting on the water with a minimum of hassle.
Members range from retirees, to people who are curious about boating but not yet ready to buy, to former boat owners who “don’t want to spend an hour before cleaning and an hour after cleaning,” Jarrard said. “They're the ones who say, ‘I’m never buying a boat again, but I love boating.’”