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Original URL: http://www.jsonline.com/bym/news/may03/137813.asp
Boat club frees members from ownership hassles
Last Updated: May 1, 2003
Joe Lipira has experienced what some say are the two best days in a boater's
life - the day he bought his boat and the day he sold it.
This summer, when Lipira wants to go boating on Geneva Lake, he will choose
from about 10 new watercraft at the Lake Geneva Boat Club and let someone else
worry about cleanup, maintenance and storage.
Johnston (right), who owns a boat dealership in Fontana, on
Tuesday prepares one of the 21-foot Ebbtide Bow Rider boats
that he is offering for use on Geneva Lake. Meanwhile, David
Gagnon installs the canopy. The boat club, now limited to 40
members, opens this
|Lake Geneva Boat Club, based at M.J.'s Lake Geneva Marine of
Fontana, opens this month. For annual fees that range from $4,500 to
$6,000, members can use any of the club's boats up to 20 times a
"I like that aspect of it," said Lipira, from Bloomingdale, Ill. "And with
two kids in college, it was a little hard to justify spending $40,000 on a new
The club, based at M.J.'s Lake Geneva Marine of Fontana, opens this month.
For annual fees that range from $4,500 to $6,000, members can use any of the
club's boats up to 20 times a year.
The only additional cost to members is the gas they use. There are no per-use
fees and no fees associated with maintenance, trailering, slip rentals or
"We think this is an idea whose time has come," said M.J.'s president, Mike
Johnston. "We have such a short season here that many people don't use their
boats more than a dozen times a summer. Unless you go out on a fairly frequent
basis, or actually live on a lake, the time and costs associated with boat
ownership . . . often aren't worth it."
Popular in the South
Wisconsin has non-profit boat clubs in which members pay as little as $45 a
year for the use of several types of watercraft such as small sailboats on
For-profit boat clubs have become popular in Florida and other Southern
states but still are a novelty in the Midwest, according to marine trade
"In the current economy, especially, it's a unique approach that might bring
some people into boating," said Phil Keeter, president of the Marine Retailers
Association of America, based in Chicago.
Lake Geneva Boat Club members will be able to choose from 2003-model Ebbtide
boats, including 23-foot bow riders that carry about 10 people, a fiberglass
version of a pontoon boat, a water ski boat and a wake-board boat.
Each of the watercraft falls into a retail price range of about $40,000 to
$55,000, Johnston said, adding that he plans to replace the boats with new
models every year.
Johnston said he expects that many club members will be like Lipira: former
boat owners who grew weary of the cost and hassle of ownership, yet want to
entertain their families and business associates on the water.
Unless you tell them, your guests may never know they are on what,
essentially, is a time-share boat. "We don't put signs, or anything like that,
on the sides," Johnston said.
Johnston modeled the club, in part, on a similar business on Lake Minnetonka
in Excelsior, Minn. That business, Bay to Bay boat club, is limited to 75 members who
share 10 new Glastron, Bennington, and Crestliner boats.
"We take all the hassle out of boating," said Tom Jacob, Bay to Bay boat club
president. "We will even valet park the boat when you're done and cart your gear
back to your car."
Jacob has operated Excel for three years and before that had a similar
business in Montana. He has considered selling franchises.
"I have had calls from people wanting to do this in Ohio, Florida and the
Carolinas. It sounds like Lake Geneva would be a good location because of the
draw it gets from Chicago."
Bay to Bay boat club members can use the club's boats 25 times between Memorial
Day and Labor Day. After Labor Day, uses are unlimited until the boats are
pulled out of the water in mid-October.
"We get a lot of empty-nesters who really like being out on the lake in the
fall," Jacob said.
To start, Lake Geneva Boat Club is limited to 40 members. There are some
restrictions on reservations, and the boats are intended for day-use only.
The boats are insured for damage, and members are not held responsible for
routine wear. "Abuse is a different issue," Johnston said.
Club members will receive training in boating safety and operations. They can
apply their annual dues toward the price of a new boat at Johnston's dealership
- should they decide to take the plunge into ownership.
"It's a good way to try before you buy," said Scott Croft, spokesman for the
Boat Owners Association of the United States, based in Alexandria, Va.
In St. Petersburg, Fla., VIP Boat Club offers the use of power boats that
range from 17 to 26 feet long for $179 a month, plus a one-time $600 membership
fee. VIP boat usage is unlimited, provided the boats are available.
"I would say that 80 percent of our members are former boat owners," said
business owner Felice Levy.
From the May 2, 2003 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel