Boat enthusiasts contend the word “boat” itself is an acronym for “Break Out Another Thousand.” It’s hardly a joke: According to the appraisal group NADAguides, a new 21-to-24-foot power boat easily retails for more than $60,000.
The Capitol Boat Club, a new venture that will start operating on the north shore of Lake Mendota at the end of the month, says it offers an alternative to breaking the bank — not entirely, at least.
The boat club model is analogous to a program like community cars or Zipcar, in which members pay membership fees for shared access to a small fleet of vehicles.
“I guess it’s kind of a hybrid of something like that and a country club,” said the Capitol Boat Club’s founder Justin Sisley.
Membership to the club is pricey, albeit cheaper than buying new. The least expensive plan involves a down payment of $2,000 followed by $150 membership payments each month. That gets members weekday access to the new Harris pontoon boats and Bayliner water ski boats that the club has at a slip off of Northport Drive.
The next level of membership, which includes weekend access to the boats, entails a $4,000 down payment followed by $250 a month.
Besides money, nothing more is expected of members: Club employees take care of storing, maintaining, cleaning and refueling the boats. It’s a service that’s hassle and stress-free, said Sisley, that may be a luxury but far superior to other options.
“It certainly keeps people from trying to find three or four people to get a boat with,” he said. “That’s an easy way to end a friendship.”
A shared fleet also means a more efficient use of lakeshore space, said Sisley. Instead of a few people looking for a boatslip apiece, a boat club lets many people utilize a small number of slips.
“It all comes down to limited real estate, especially public real estate. There aren’t a lot of places where you can park your boat on the water,” he said.
Sisley, an ex-Madisonian accountant based in Texas, started the company after doing some work for a similar boat club in Austin. He realized that despite Madison’s strong boating culture in the summer, there wasn’t anything like it in the four lakes area. Plus, the model was lucrative.
“The concept has been around for a while,” he said. “There are franchises out there.”
Sisley has now bought some boats, claimed some slips, and hired some managers. The process of launching the venture has been expensive. He said it’s also been a bit of a challenge to market the club.
“It’s entirely a new concept to people in Madison in general,” he said. “The vast majority, they don’t even know what a boat club is. It’s not something they’re searching for.”
Despite the overhead costs and other challenges, the club’s performance this summer won’t make or break the business.
“Even if this year, we don’t get a whole ton of members and not make a whole lot of money, we’ll be in a fine position,” said Sisley.
Meanwhile, for those who do have a couple grand to drop, membership remains open for the inaugural 2017 season.