How to go boating when you want without buying or renting a boat

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Two clues are a coincidence, but three make a proof.
Axopar
,
Beneteau
, e
Brunswick
are hands down among the largest powerboat manufacturers in terms of volume and have a spread in every corner of the globe.

All three have unveiled the cards on their intention to further develop, each in their own way, boat clubs in Europe, but not only. Unlike classic “chartering” and leasing, this type of mobility on the water is closer to the view of the sharing economy where private ownership of an asset is succeeded by its “availability” through subscription.

Phenomenal boat club: ready to explode in Europe?

What does it mean? That I can have one or more boats from a fleet at my disposal, use them when I want through a reservation managed by an app on my phone, go out to sea and come back “stress-free.” If younger generations (in general) have less purchasing power than earlier generations at the same age, this formula becomes as simple as it is attractive. Instead of a substantial cash outlay, you get access to the asset at a significantly lower figure and without long-term commitments as are, in the case of purchase, e.g., nautical leasing, but also the cost and time of maintenance and management.

Axopar 22 Spyder

“This boating solution is the future, ” explains Marianela Clavier, Operations Manager, Freedom Boat Club EMEA. not only because of the change in mentality whereby more and more people prefer to rent than to buy, but also because it solves many critical issues that are part of the quotient for boaters today. The lack of berths is a real problem in Europe that a great many people have been confronted with at least once, as is that of finding even marinas that are not particularly well equipped. Then there is the price issue whereby the 6- to 8-meter boats continue to increase every year, but for a public that does not have unlimited economic possibilities.” We are in that price range where the indecisive owner may also be forced to give up because of these reasons.

An expanding universe

Yet the Boat Club in the U.S. is far from new. Suffice it to say that Freedom Boat Club alone, a company part of the star-studded giant Brunswick, has 400 affiliated facilities worldwide and has been in existence since 1989, the year it was born on Florida waters. The American model has different solutions than Europe: there are many more bases and the idea of club membership is quite foundational. Axopar also seems to have given it a major boost by signing a partnership with Agapi Boat Club. “The Axopar x Agapi Boat Club ,” says Peder Asplund, CEO of Agapi – will be present on at least three continents by early 2024. Although the goal for 2024 will be to create a wide network in Europe’s most attractive destinations, the plan is to include five continents in 2024. We believe that most of Axopar’s +110 dealers will join within the next four years.” The ultimate goal, after all, is to reach 200 centers as early as 2030.

Antares 7 Beneteau

The latest generation of boat clubs

The boat clubs we surveyed all aim for boats between about six and 12 meters. So there is not the big “flybridge” to mean, at least for now, in the offerings, but rather nimble and fast boats, cabin cruisers even, but suitable mainly for day trips. At the same time, it should be pointed out that although affiliated with well-known brands, boat clubs tend not to be single-brand, but instead also host different brands based on what the needs of the local market are such as inflatable boats, for example. Neither Axopar, Beneteau nor Brunswick have them in production, but some facilities have them in their fleet because they are needed in that territory.

Depending on how much you want to spend and the type of boat(s) you want to have available, you subscribe to some sort of annual or monthly subscription. Each organization, clearly, then has its own rules for use and management. Digitization and the use of technology, for example for booking is definitely one of the prerogatives to enable “smart” and commitment-free access. For example, Beneteau’s Wizi boat app available on smartphones focuses on short-term self-service rental of shared boats.

Pricing and sustainability: how much do boat clubs cost

Looking at the old continent, however, this phenomenon seems ready to explode in earnest on this side of the Atlantic Ocean as well. On the one hand because it is a kind of anti-inflation recipe: you pay, in most cases, a one-time entry fee and then a monthly fee based on the type of boat you want to have available.

In the case of Axopar X Agapi, membership ranges from about €4,000 to €35,000 per year, depending on the category or range of vessels chosen.

Membership lasts 12 months, renews automatically, and you can choose between annual or monthly payments. For Freedom Boat Club (Brunswick) depending on the club and costs associated with the proposed marina and boats, the price changes. For example, however, in France and Spain the starting prices are about €1,999 for enrollment (one-time) and then €299 for monthly membership.

For Wizi Boat (Beneteau Group) it starts at €149 per month. Given the increases that have affected, for example, watercraft in recent years, it is easy to see that at the end of the year the amount spent will be significantly less impactful. It is not that boats in general have not increased, but certainly on an “entry-level” hull, the increase has definitely been felt more in the boater’s pocket.

Young people want boat clubs

The economic discourse is also generational. “Baby-boomers” are often super-enthusiasts who have always had the boat as a status symbol, but especially the willingness to buy one when they were young. Today the discourse is quite different. Millennials and Generation Z tend to arrive much later at the same spending capacity, and the boat slips back in the priority ranking after the house and the car. In addition to the economic issue, there is also a change in generational perspective: young people have much more diverse interests such that boating is no longer the only activity, but one of many.

Sea Ray - Sundancer 370 - View from aft - Beach
Sea Ray – Sundancer 370 – View from aft – Beach

From this perspective, therefore, it becomes even less convenient to disburse money such as purchase. The price point is also compounded by a greater propensity to embrace the sharing economy whereby access to a good rather than its possession is preferred. The idea of putting fewer disposable products on the market or otherwise sharing a good in order to produce and thus generate fewer emissions is gaining increasing acceptance. The point is to give rise to a more environmentally virtuous circuit as well, as, in part, is already happening with the automobile world. Boat clubs have then, other tricks up their sleeves as well. In fact, the real added value over classic chartering is also seen in all those activities parallel to simply providing a hull.

Boat Club: A safe way to get started

“Boat clubs are not simply places to pick up and return your boat,” Pual Blanc, head of VP Boat Club development at Beneteau Group, tells us. – But they have much more to offer. There is one fact you need to know to fully grasp the phenomenon: in our European Wizi Boat we have 80 percent of the members who are newbies. Add to that the fact that on average they are 15 years younger than the usual boaters. So we have a totally new audience that also needs to be, in a sense, educated. After the boom related to covid a lot of people bought the boat, but there were several cases where as total beginners they had bad experiences and finally gave up by reselling it. With boat clubs, we offer training courses, tricks to sail better, and also practical tips to enjoy the boat. Again, clubs can arrange appointments with experienced fishermen or other people who bring their experience and share it with others.”

When we think of our summers on the boat, in Italy but elsewhere, we certainly think of several people we met along the way who lack a bit of nautical culture. It is not just the license that creates people capable of going to sea. Having such a reality as a starting point certainly would be a step toward creating more knowledgeable sailors. This approach, in fact, is shared by most of the boat clubs we analyzed: in this case precisely Agapi X Axopar, Wiziboat Beneteau, and Freedom Boat Club of Brunswick.

 

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