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Water sports, boat club popular in Portland during pandemic

Freedom Boat Club's membership lets you borrow any of five types of boats whenever you want, as often as you want, as an alternative to boat ownership.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Pools are closed. Most summer camps are not happening. Most vacations had to be canceled. It's why local kayak, boat and paddle board rentals are through the roof right now.

A few rental spots in the Portland area say that you need to make reservations well in advance for their water activities. Others are not offering rentals at all right now during COVID-19, for safety reasons.

Credit: KGW
These local businesses have rentals of kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and rafts available for reservation, but they have been busy.

But if you really want the wind through your hair and a full day on the water, you need a boat.

"There's nobody out there, it was peaceful. The water is getting warmer too which is nice," said Lyndsey Pierson of Portland. 

She is a member of one of Portland's newest offerings called Freedom Boat Club. It's a membership service where you reserve any one of five types of boats at their dock on Hayden Island, from sport fishing, to pontoon, to several types of ski boats anytime you want, as often as you want. You get on, play, get off and drive away. They do everything else.

Credit: Freedom Boat Club Portland website
Freedom Boat Club Portland's five boat offerings for a membership

"It's nice to not have to worry about towing it, storing it, or cleaning it or keeping up with maintenance and not dealing with any of the hard things that come with owning your own boat," Pierson said after she and a friend returned from a day of boating on the Columbia River. 

Freedom Boat Club is an international franchise. A membership means you can seamlessly rent a boat at 230 of their locations in the U.S., Canada and France. Visiting Seattle? Rent a pontoon on Lake Washington. Down in California, hop on a boat with your membership and motor around. It came to Portland last year initially with 10 local members, and now has over 25 with a number of them joining during the pandemic.

"We have members who are retired, we have members who have young kids. We have what we call 'never-evers' who have never been behind the helm," laughed Walt Crate, owner of Portland's Freedom Boat Club. "We also have members who are lifetime boaters and they know the expense of boating and they just want to wash their hands of it and come on down and jump on our fleet."

It's less hassle and less money than buying, storing and owning your own boat. But this is not for everyone. The one-time initiation fee is about $4,000 plus a monthly fee of between $250-$350 and you pay for the gas you use each time.

Credit: KGW
Freedom Boat Club Portland membership prices slightly vary but this is the average breakdown according to owner Walt Crate.

Don't consider it out of reach yet. Freedom Boat Club does let you split that cost of a membership with up to 3 other families or individuals. You just can have only one boat out per membership at a time.

Andy Beck, the club's training captain says with coronavirus happening, a lot of families are looking for healthy things to do outside, where it's easy to physically distance. 

"I do believe COVID-19 is starting to get people off their phones a little bit more and try to figure out what's really important like family, getting together and I think Freedom Boat Club and being out on the water in general, is the best way to go," said Beck. "You can't get more socially distant than having a bunch of water around you." 

Upon joining, you're required to have a safety and training course. Members can train as much as they want after that from U.S. Coast Guard-certified captains. Freedom Boat Club replaces their fleet every three years, so you're guaranteed to be using new boats. Learn more here.

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