Freedom Boat Club lands at Outer Harbour Marina to help residents enjoy boating without owning a boat

Connor McBean, director of operations, and Denise Lopez, location manager, for Freedom Boat Club out on Lake Ontario with a Beach Metro Community News writer/photographer. Freedom Boat Club is locally based out East Toronto's Outer Harbour Marina. Photo by Jessica Shackleton.

By JESSICA SHACKLETON

For many residents, living in Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario means longing to spend a day boating whenever you want. What could be worse than looking out at the water and having no way to get on it? If you don’t have a boat, too bad…right?

Actually, there is a world where you can own a boat without owning a boat and you’re free to go on water adventures whenever you want.

This isn’t the plot of a new season of Outer Banks, it’s Freedom Boat Club. And it might have the key to getting want-to-be-boater Torontonians onto the water this summer.

The Outer Harbour Marina is one of Canada’s largest freshwater marinas, nestled by the Leslie Street Spit just west of Woodbine Beach. It is also home to a Freedom Boat Club location, a company whose aim is to provide a hassle-free boating experience to anyone who wants it.

Beach Metro Community News was recently invited to go out on the waters of Lake Ontario and learn more about how the club operates.

“It bridges the gap between boat ownership and boat rental,” said Connor McBean, director of operations at Freedom Boat Club of Greater Toronto. “It’s subscription-based boating that works like a country club or ski club.”

Here’s how it works: members pay a one-time entrance fee of $2,499 and monthly dues of $399. With this membership, they decide when they want to go boating, reserve an arrival time online and choose their vessel. Freedom Dock staff meet them when they arrive and they’re ready to head out onto the water.

Toronto’s Outer Harbour Marina is the biggest of the three south/central Ontario locations of Freedom Boats, which also includes Friday Harbour Resort on Lake Simcoe and Port Credit in Mississauga.

A Freedom membership to one location grants you access to all the area branches. By extension, you can use vessels at Freedom Boat Clubs everywhere from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Silkeborg, Denmark, to Brisbane, Australia.

With more than 400 locations, it is the largest boat club in the world. Freedom is part of Brunswick Corporation, which owns Mercury Marine – makers of the well-known Mercury boat motors.

The Freedom club has their own fleet of boats that’s constantly being refreshed and members can use bowriders, deck boats, centre consoles, and pontoon boats, depending on what their plan for the day is.

The club has a full time staff of 12 across Greater Toronto and four full time staff at the Outer Harbour location. They deal with every aspect of boat maintenance, so members don’t have to. The costs of maintain a boat and motor can often dissuade people from buying their own. 

The Freedom Boat Club location at Outer Harbour Marina in East Toronto. Photo by Jessica Shackleton.

 

“You don’t have to worry about storage, or when did I last put oil in? We take care of all of that,” said McBean.

They don’t keep a tight leash on their members, expressing the importance of ‘freedom’ boating.

“We’re dog-friendly, kid-friendly, and we allow water sports,” said McBean. “There’s many ways to enjoy (the water).”

You could even do your remote work from the middle of the lake, as one member was doing that day.

That’s not to say that anyone can simply hop on a boat and speed away with the engines roaring.

Members need to be certified with a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) and Freedom has a certified captain on staff who takes new members on training voyages. A PCOC is the basic competence of driving a power vessel and can be used anywhere in Canada. If anything happens on the water, members are covered by the company’s insurance.

The club was founded in Saratosa, Florida in 1989 and their head office is still there. Florida is also home to the most Freedom locations, which draws a lot of Snowbirds to the club, who can enjoy the benefits all year round.

Here in Toronto, the goal at Outer Harbour is to loosen the barriers of entry to the world of boating and let people know that they too can have access to this little oasis in their own backyard.

“You feel like you’re in a different world even though it’s just a few minutes,” said McBean. “You can escape the city without going too far.”

The local boating season is from May 1 to Oct. 31 and is a popular activity on weekends and summer vacation days.

To find out more about Freedom Boat Club, please visit https://freedomboatclub.com


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