Carefree Boat Club Offers Another Way to Set Sail in Milwaukee

The boat rental company begins its second season on the water in Milwaukee.

Between the Milwaukee River flowing through Downtown and the expanse of Lake Michigan lining the city, water access is an appealing notion to visitors and residents looking to indulge their inner shipman. But owning your own water cruiser means handling maintenance, winter storage and schlepping a boat from home to dock. Members of Milwaukee’s Carefree Boat Club, however, don’t have to worry about these inconveniences.

Carefree Boat Club is a private boat rental company that provides members with unlimited access to speedy cruisers, pontoons, fishing boats and more from April 15 to Oct. 30. Certain boats at Milwaukee’s Harbor Front Marina can hold up to 13 passengers and can be worth more than $100,000. The membership fee, a one-time initiation and monthly charge, takes care of training for boat handlers, repairs, insurance and even boat clean-up.

Paul Standring, co-owner of the Milwaukee location, says the appeal of boat rental lies within the cost and time commitment of owning. “With the thought of having to trailer the boat and the other long processes, busy families just don’t have the time.”

Instead of hauling, dropping and upholding a boat of your own, members pick up keys when they want to go boating and drop them off when they’re finished. The cost to become a member is roughly $4,000 for an initial cost and $400 per month. The sticker price may seems high, but Standring says it doesn’t add up to nearly as much as owners pay. “You don’t have a storage fee or anything like that. If your boat breaks down in the summer, you’re going to pay and arm and a leg to get it fixed. It’s about one-third to half the cost of owning a boat, but now you have access to boats all over the country.”

Memberships aren’t exclusive to one location, so reservations can be made at more than 40 locations around the country, including Wisconsin locations in Lake Geneva and Delavan in addition to Milwaukee. Members can have up to four active reservations at once, but boats are often taken out spur of the moment with a quick call ahead.

Though not a common reservation request, overnight excursions are also an option. “The idea of it is popular, but people haven’t taken advantage of it yet. A lot of times people will just use it to sit on the dock and hang out with their friends,” said Standring.

There are plenty of dock locations in downtown Milwaukee to fit your ideal boating day, whether that involves sightseeing, grabbing a bite, or stopping for a brew. A laundry list of summertime hot-spots have made docks available to Club members or the general public. Boat accessible locations include Discovery World, the Historic Third Ward and Lakefront Brewery, to name a few. Some riverfront restaurants, like Water Buffalo, will send linens, plates and food aboard for a dining-on-deck experience.

The Carefree Boat Club often appeals to people seeking these downtown boat excursions and the ease of summer cruising without all the inconveniences. One could say that it is the carefree way to become a summer sailor.