The Fleet Boat Club also is proving popular with boating enthusiasts on Irondequoit Bay and the Erie Canal.
CANANDAIGUA — On this sunny Friday morning, Dan Spencer, originally from Irondequoit and now living in Canandaigua, sits on a pontoon boat docked at Canandaigua Lake.
As seagulls make their presence felt, and the humidity level begins to rise along with the sun, Spencer is waiting for a third person to arrive. They are headed out on the lake for a leisurely cruise.
Spencer doesn’t own the boat, but he is a member of the Fleet Boat Club, which gives him access to the boat. He said he doesn’t want the commitment to a full purchase of a boat like this, and he wants no part of the maintenance and storage, either.
Spencer just wants to have fun on a summer day like this.
“It’s like you get the milk without the cow,” Spencer said.
Ken Dens of Webster is the owner of the boat Spencer is using and the club, which on Canandaigua Lake provides access to 10 boats for members.
“We get all kinds. We get people who are brand new to boating,” Dens said. “And I get people who have had boats for 25 years and finally said, ‘That’s enough. I don’t need the hassle anymore.’”
Dens, 53, is a mechanical engineer turned software engineer with Progressive Insurance. The Webster man got the boating bug growing up in northern Minnesota, nicknamed the land of 10,000 lakes.
“We always had boats and we were always attracted to the water,” said Dens, from the dock area at Seager Marine, where the Canandaigua Lake portion of his business operates.
He started the Fleet Boat Club in 2006, on Irondequoit Bay. He came here in 2009 and this year added boats at Braddock Bay in Greece. Because of the extremely high Lake Ontario water levels this spring, he moved one of the boats to the Erie Canal in Fairport, which also has proved popular.
Boat clubs were not a new idea when he first tried it here, as they have been around since the 1980s in Florida.
“But it was a new idea for Rochester, and so it took awhile to catch on,” Dens said. “But once we came to Canandaigua in 2009, we grew pretty rapidly.”
Today, 10 boats — a mix of open bow and pontoon boats — are in service on Canandaigua Lake, he said. Eight are on Irondequoit Bay and one each on the canal and Braddock Bay. He also keeps two spares, just in case.
The business may grow even more.
The Fleet Boat Club is an option for the developers of the stalled Canandaigua Finger Lakes Resort project to pursue for dockage for the condo owners who may live there someday. A City Council committee denied the addition of 40 dock slips to service the site, but the club, which can be referred to as a boat timeshare, may be an alternative, according to Mayor Ellen Polimeni.
Here’s how the club works: Members join for the season by paying an upfront fee, ranging from $1,975 (weekday use) to $3,825. The basic plan gives a member two reservations at a time while the most expensive offers six at a time, which works out to twice a weekend all season long, he said.
On paper, the season is May 1 to Sept. 30, although additional days on the water depend on weather and water levels. Once a boat is used or a reservation is canceled, a new one is made.
“It’s kind of like how Netflix does DVD rentals, if they still do them,” Dens said. “You can have three DVDs at a time. As soon as you send one back, they send you the next one on your list.”
All the boater pays for is the gas used, at pump rates. Boaters are required to complete a four-hour orientation, which includes class time and hands-on training before hitting the water.
While the membership is based on advance reservations — weekends tend to fill up 10 days ahead of time — a short-term use option is available, he said.
The idea is popular. This year membership is capped. Right now, the club has a total membership of 158 at all of the bodies of water, and one employee is at each location to check the boat, clean and fill ‘er up.
The rest of the work is up to Dens.
Before he started the club, he wanted a boat that would be used to take the kids water skiing and tubing, but he also wanted a cruiser for longer trips. Sharing boats, he said, seemed the reasonable way to do that.
“It didn’t really work out that way. I don’t have the cruiser,” Dens said. “If I did, I wouldn’t have the time in the summer to go to the Thousand Islands for two weeks. It’s been fun all the same.”
If the weather is nice, most of the boats are out every day, he said, even if all he may have time to do these days is prepare a boat for someone else to enjoy.
“It’s a lot of work in the summer, but I enjoy just being down at the dock, even if I’m working on a boat,” Dens said. “It’s a nice break from the desk job.”
Spencer, who has been a member for a few years, said he tries to get out at least once a week. He said he is happy with the quality and the access to boats. As a fairly new boater, he appreciates that help is readily available.
“The overall experience has been very positive for us,” Spencer said.
What's up with that?
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