Freedom Boat Club Staff MemberBy Andy Adams and John Armstrong

A Freedom Boat Club staff member does a careful check-in of a boat that was just returned.

As a life-long marine journalist, it has often occurred to me, that it’s a big leap to lay out the cash, (especially for those with no previous boating experience), to try it out. How does someone even know that they will like boating it if they haven’t tried it? 

Well, joining a boat club, or a yacht club that has boats available for members to use, can get you started without the big financial commitment and with the support of the club’s education and resources. Try before you buy.

That’s exactly the concept behind Freedom Boat Club. Across North America there are now 250 Freedom Boat Club locations and we went to the one located in Toronto Outer Harbor Marina to meet with VP and General Manager Amit Kumaria…and to go for a ride!

HOW Freedom Boat Club WORKS

In the summer of 2020 they had 1600 boats in the Freedom Boat Club locations with the expectation of expanding to 2000 in the coming year. Across North America and Europe, there are 250 locations and a member can access any of the club locations. Fleet access is unlimited and free training is available to all members. The group holds special events and activities for their members and they make it easy to experience boating. 

Helpful StaffThere is always a helpful staff person to help cast you off when you leave, and to catch and tie your lines when you get back.

The Freedom Boat Club staff handle all of the maintenance, fuel fill-ups, storage, insurance and repairs. There are a number of different membership plans, but generally you reserve your boat by phone or online, come and pick it up, head out and enjoy your boating session, and then you return it and pay for the fuel that you have used as you check back in. 

This year there was huge growth in membership and to keep the boat ratios at about eight members per boat, Steve McPherson, the owner of the Toronto Franchise, had to work overtime to ensure that ratio was maintained. 

Leslie Spit Bike TrailsAmit gazing at the Leslie Spit bike trails visible from the fairway at Outer Harbour Marina, Notice the boat moored in the secluded bay.

You can make a reservation in advance, but you can't book any more, over and above your standing reservation limit, until one is used, or released which is how they control the availability. The plan is to ensure all members can get out a reasonable number of times.

Support at all times

When the boat comes back, the Freedom Boat Club staff check it in. Staff check and replace fuel as needed, review the safety items and check to see if there has been any damage to the propeller, or other parts of the boat. The member using the boat is responsible and any damaged boats are repaired right away. One challenge that Freedom Boat Club faced this past summer was that propellers were very hard to get and there is some danger of grounding in the Toronto Islands, so they urged caution. 

Training and requirements

But new member training and education is important and easily accessible. To begin with, anyone planning to operate a power boat needs to get a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) and the Freedom Boat Club can refer potential members to reputable sources of PCOC education and testing, such as the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons who offer (in normal times) classroom training and also, online PCOC services. 

Outer Harbour Marina FairwayMore views from the Outer Harbour Marina fairway. Fishing is a popular activity here.

So, having a PCOC card is required and easily available. Next, members at the Toronto Outer Harbour location will need to get a Toronto Harbour license. They have a one-day course and test, so that is not too time-consuming. With your Toronto Harbour license, you can go out and cruise the scenic Toronto Islands, anchor out, go fishing, or dock at various places in the Toronto Harbour.

Plus, the boater education does not stop there. If a member feels they need more attention and training, that is available as part of the available ongoing education program. 

The hours of operation are from 9:00 AM till sundown. Members can take a boat out from 9:00 AM to 2:15 PM, or from 2:45 PM until sundown. All boats have to be back before dark. Boats are available seven days a week from the 1st of May to October 31. 

Typical member usage and activities

Freedom Boat ClubThe very special Freedom Boat Club member view of Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre from the water with the CN Tower dominating the skyline.

The average member makes a plan to use a boat about 15+ times and typically, they take family or friends out to see the spectacular Toronto Harbour scenery, stop to go swimming, sun-tanning, towing people on a tube, or fishing. You can also tie up in the Harbourfront / Queen’s Quay area to go shopping. 

Some more experienced members cruise to the Scarborough Bluffs and around the Toronto Islands. A popular activity is cruising to the Amsterdam Café, or The Cabana restaurant. Even with COVID-19, you can just call ahead and they will bring your order right down to the boat as your picnic lunch. They will let you use their washrooms as well. There is plenty to do in Toronto Harbour!

The Freedom Boat Club fleet during summer 2020

The fleet at Toronto Outer Harbor includes a pontoon boat (with a third tube for stability) a Jeanneau NC 695, three different Jeanneau Leader 6.5’s and a boat from Sea Ray, such as the SPX 210 with a Mercury 150 which is a great boat for up to 11 people. Amit tells us the Sea Ray skis and fishes very well. Their Cypress Cay pontoon is also great. Very easy to drive, it delivers a good ride and great performance. Most boats are a comfortable and secure size for the local waters and all were new within the last two to three years.

John Armstrong and Amit KumariaJohn Armstrong (CY Magazine) and Amit Kumaria (Freedom Boat Club Toronto) aboard the Sea Ray SPX210 approaching Cabana Waterfront Patio in Toronto Harbour.

Toronto currently has nine boats, but they expect to add to the fleet in summer 2021. 

Amit said that 75% of their members have never boated previously. Typically, the new members are in the 40 to 50-year old age group with kids aged 15 or so. Retirees and young professionals are also members. The training they offer is key to people's enjoyment.

Freedom Boat Club is a part of the giant Brunswick Corporation who build Mercury engines and make many brands of boats. Brunswick offers Freedom Boat Club franchaisees a boat buyback program and well-priced new boats as well as Brunswick resources to help with marketing. That is your assurance that the company will be run well and around for years to come. 

The AmsterdamThe Amsterdam is a popular place to visit in the Harbourfront Pier Four facility.

The Freedom Boat Club that Amit is running at Toronto Outer Harbour will soon announce a new location in Bronte Outer Harbour in the Oakville area, as well as one on Lake Simcoe for the 2021 season. Those locations will be furnished with brand new boats to open the season.  

So, how do the members like it?

You can check out their Facebook page

We did and we found lots of comments like;

KIRO – “I have absolutely loved experiencing the Toronto skyline from the water and enjoyed exploring the beauty of the surrounding islands! It's even easy to get started if you've never boated before!”

NICHOLAS – “Freedom Boat Club saved our summer and is an absolute no-brainer even if you are only remotely interested”

AJ – “Freedom Boat Club is a place to meet friends, spend time with family and is the perfect city getaway. No need to spend hours on the roads every weekend, enjoy the water and wash away life's stresses. I highly recommend…that anyone interested in boating check out the Freedom Boat Club Toronto.”