Boating Memberships Up As People Look For Safe Hobbies

Freedom Boat Club of Pittsburgh Owner Michael Hills says memberships are booming.

Video Transcript

- Forget breadmaking and organizing your closets. During the pandemic, people are turning to boating. The Freedom Boat Club of Pittsburgh says memberships are booming as more people want to enjoy safe and fun ways of social distancing on the water. Joining me now live over Zoom to talk about it is owner Michael Hills. Michael, we picked a beautiful day to talk about the fun in the sun. Thank you for joining me tonight.

MICHAEL HILLS: Happy to be here, Meghan.

- I'm so curious, and I'm sure some other people are, how does a boat club even work?

MICHAEL HILLS: So it's pretty simple. We are a members boat access club. We buy, own, and maintain a fleet of brand new boats. In fact, we'll have over 20 of them this year at the marina in Station Square. Members joined by paying a one-time-only entry fee and then monthly dues 12 months a year, and that gets them unlimited use of our fleet of boats here in Pittsburgh as well as reciprocal access at 265 other Freedom Boat Clubs around the country. So they can boat year round in places like Florida or the Carolinas or wherever they're going.

- So they can take the boats out of Pittsburgh.

MICHAEL HILLS: No, they can use boats in other clubs. Our boats--

- Oh, OK.

MICHAEL HILLS: --stay in Pittsburgh but they use them anywhere.

- Got it. Good to know. That's a good point to express. What is the price comparison between being a member of the club and owning a boat of your own?

MICHAEL HILLS: So I've been a boat owner in Pittsburgh for the best part of 30 years, and boating's an expensive habit. And, you know, if you're comparing buying a brand new boat and owning it and maintaining it and paying for insurance and all that kind of stuff, and boat slips and winterization and storage and all that, it's about 40% to 50% cheaper to join Freedom Boat Club.

- How often-- because they're not your boats-- how often can you reserve a boat and what's the process like?

MICHAEL HILLS: Well, you can reserve a boat as many times as you like. It's unlimited use. And we maintain an eight to 10 member per boat ratio, and then we buy more boats. So, you're not competing with 50 other people to reserve a boat. You're competing with about eight. And the reservation system also does put some limits on members, so that-- with reservations-- that everybody gets a fair shot every week and nobody's reserving 12 weeks in a row on Saturday and, you know, sort of gypping everybody else.

- Yeah, exactly. You mentioned that you saw a spike in memberships during the pandemic. What type of spike are we talking about?

MICHAEL HILLS: Well, you know, in April of last year we really weren't sure what was going to happen. But once governor Tom Wolf lifted restrictions on limited outdoor recreational businesses like campgrounds, golfing, and boat clubs, you know, it exploded and we quadrupled our membership by the end of the season last year.

- Wow. If someone's considering this, looking ahead to this summer, is there a deadline or an ideal time?

MICHAEL HILLS: No, you can join any time because you can boat year round, you know, in other locations. But we are opening May 1st, so if you want the full season, now's a good time to start.

- All right. May 1st, be here before you know it. Michael, thank you for joining us tonight and I hope you have a happy boating season.

Thanks Meghan.