Thursday, April 26th, 2018

S Shopper Stories


Making boating fun, safe and easy

by Eric Hodies

Kevin Bonnema

Kevin Bonnema

For many, the dream of boating ends every time it meets the reality of boat ownership. There is an alternative. For members of the Carefree Boat Club, fishing, wakeboarding and exploring the endless miles of rivers, bay, and ocean in the area are easy, fun, safe and affordable. The emphasis is on enjoying the water, and left behind in the wake are the responsibilities and costs of boat ownership.

“First and foremost, we make boating easy,” owner and general manager Kevin Bonnema says. “When members arrive, the boat they reserved has already been serviced and cleaned. Dock staff quickly transfer their gear and supplies from car to boat. Then we provide a float plan and an up-to-the-minute weather briefing. Typically, our members are underway five or 10 minutes after they park their car.”

As membership grows, additional boats are added to the private club. Docked at the Long Bay Pointe Marina in Virginia Beach are various fishing boats, deck boats for water skiing, tritoons, sailboats, and cruisers with sleeping berths for overnight trips.

“People like their toys, so the key to our success is the variety of boats we have on hand,” Kevin states. “Within every family are people with different needs and interests. Mom wants to relax in the sun and dad is into fishing, while the kids are excited about trying some other activity. It’s unrealistic for someone to own different boats for fishing, water sports and cruising. At Carefree Boat Club, we offer unlimited boating, and a different type of boat can be taken out every day.”

The nautical experience can also be had in the Hampton and Williamsburg clubs.

With membership comes the knowledge and security that the club’s boats have been properly maintained by a trained staff of dock hands and mechanics. Only members gain access to the boats, and a reciprocal agreement allows members to enjoy any boat from any of the 57 locations nationwide and in Canada. In response to the growing number of people who would rather not deal with the costs and issues that arise with boat ownership, Carefree Boat Club continues to expand with new locations throughout North America, and is seeking opportunities worldwide.

The cost of membership is less than the cost of a slip fee, taxes, repairs and maintenance for one boat.

Boating can create very special memories,
and it’s one of thefew times when families can get together,
enjoy each other without interruption, and have fun.

—Kevin Bonnema

Dr. Kent Reifschneider, a Virginia Beach resident and member for five years says, “I’ve crunched the numbers and club membership works in the member’s favor, especially considering the convenience.”

“When the weather is nice, I fish almost every weekend, mostly around the pilings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel,” Dr. Reifschneider says. “I make my boat reservation and just show up. After a day of fishing, I hand them the keys. The boat is cleaned and scrubbed, while I fillet my fish. They take care of the upkeep, storage and maintenance. I don’t deal with the headaches of owning a boat, and I save a great deal of time in the process.”

From left,  Mike Prince, Jason Harrison, Kevin Bonnema, Owner, and Cody Coulson

From left, Mike Prince, Jason Harrison, Kevin Bonnema, Owner, and Cody Coulson

For those new to fishing, obtaining a license does not have to be a barrier. Kevin maintains the saltwater fishing license for each fishing boat, so everyone can drop a line. Providing each member with a high quality boat experience also includes a comprehensive training program.

“We make good boaters,” Kevin states. “Some members join as complete novices, so our club provides a safe and easy way into boating. Our training begins with classroom time, followed by on-the-water sessions. We cover navigation skills and boat handling skills during the four to six hours we spend on the open water. We also provide on-going training, including fishing and scuba seminars.”

The three-phase training program is key, because Kevin believes the number one barrier to boating is lack of training.

“People want to get on the water, but often they’re scared because they don’t know how to do it or where to start,” he explains. “The training we provide takes all that away. For newcomers, it’s a great chance to try to figure out what they like and don’t like about boating. Others  are avid boaters with plenty of boating experience. We ask them to demonstrate their skills, and then they’re on their way.”

In 2002, following a career in the Air Force as an F-15 fighter jet mechanic, Kevin founded the Carefree Boat Club location in Virginia Beach. Partner Frank Fahringer is a fellow aircraft mechanic, while partner Doug Zimmerman spent time working in the financial sector of Marriott.

A Smithfield resident who values his time on the water, Kevin notes, “Our area has so many estuaries, rivers, bays and coves to explore, I couldn’t possibly explore them all in my lifetime.”
“Many in Hampton Roads never discover all that our waterways have to offer,” he says in conclusion. “Our location - within minutes of Broad Bay, the lower Chesapeake Bay, the Elizabeth River, and the Atlantic Ocean – is perfectly situated for exploring. Freshwater or saltwater fishing, from here, it’s all easy to get to. Around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge -Tunnel structure we have some of the best fishing on the east coast. And for kids, the dolphin and whale migration is a big draw.

“Boating can create very special memories, and it’s one of the few times when families can get together, enjoy each other without interruption, and have fun.”

Carefree Boat Club

2109 W. Great Neck Rd
Virginia Beach, VA 23451