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Carefree membership allows for ‘boating without owning’

People looking into purchasing a new boat often fail to consider the hidden costs and the burden of maintenance. For this reason, many who purchase a new boat end up regretting it, said Derrell Jones, owner of Carefree Boat Club in Chattanooga.

While living in Pensacola, Jones had the money in hand to purchase a new boat when he discovered a boat club similar to Carefree. He immediately saw the benefits and joined, and when he moved to Chattanooga, he looked for a similar club. Upon realizing Chattanooga lacked such a club, he decided to open Carefree.

He describes membership as comparable to that of a golf club. Members have unlimited access to Carefree’s fleet of boats at Lakeshore Marina, which the club’s employees clean and maintain.

“Membership is basically just enjoying all the good points of boating,” said Jones.

Members pay a monthly fee in addition to an initiation fee. The only cost beyond that is fuel.

Carefree supplies all the water toys members could want, including tubes, water skis, wakeboards and kneeboards. Members reserve their boat of choice ahead of time and Carefree employees will have the boat cleaned, fueled up and filled with the member’s choice of water toys when they arrive.

The majority of the club’s approximately 20 Chattanooga members have chosen a five-year membership, which features lower initiation and monthly fees than the one-year option. The benefit of the five-year membership is that members are locked in for five years at that monthly fee, which increases from year to year.

Members can look online to see which boats are available and can make reservations up to six months in advance. Each member can have up to four reservations scheduled at one time.

Boat club members tend to get out on the water more often than boat owners, said Jones. Most boat owners take their boat out about 14 times a year, while the average Carefree member gets on the water 19 times a year.

Carefree’s six boats can be reserved for six-hour periods. No boat is older than three years, and the types available include wakeboard, bowrider, pontoon, center console and a deck boat, with a cabined boat to be added soon.

“We’ve never had to turn someone down for a boat,” Jones said.

The club maintains a member to boat ratio of five to one.

When members travel, they also have the option to reserve boats at any of the 37 other Carefree Boat Club locations in the United States and Canada at no additional cost. Nearby locations include Boone Lake, Tenn.; Charleston, S.C.; Lake Lanier, Ga.; Lake Norman, N.C.; South Holston Lake in Tennessee and Virginia; The Landings, Ga.; and Watauga Lake, Tenn.

Jones opened Carefree in Chattanooga in June 2013, but the club has been around for 14 years in various locations. Not one location has closed, and most are growing, he said. Some fleets take up entire marinas.

The value of membership is clear when one considers the cost of keeping a boat at Lakeshore Marina, which is about $250 a month for the cheapest slip available, said Jones. The cost of an average boat is $45,000.

Club membership dues are $325 per month for five-year members.

“Members are getting more than they pay for,” Jones said. “There’s no better value in boating — no hassles, no headaches, no risk.”

One of the benefits of membership is the opportunity to try out different boat styles, he added. Carefree employees are available at any time for boating tutorials if a member is unfamiliar with a particular boat, said Jones.

“We’re continuing to look at growth and meeting the needs of our customers,” he said. “We have a strong desire to make everyone happy and make the boating community grow.”

Not one of the Chattanooga members has chosen to discontinue their membership, he added.

Carefree Boat Club is at 5600 Lake Resort Terrace and can be reached at 866-620-3333. Visit carefreeboats.com to learn more.