When the people of Earth were told to stay away from one another in 2020, outdoor activities like boating and fishing became much more appealing. As it turns out, they liked it ... a lot.
“You have a bunch of people who were never out on the water before and they’re loving it,” said Bev Rosella, co-owner of the local Freedom Boat Club franchise. “Now, they’re telling their friends how great it is.”
Freedom Boat Club is one part of a thriving boating industry that saw one of its most successful years ever in 2020. Locally, Rosella added 317 new memberships last year, a 166 percent increase. They also recorded more than 5,800 trips, a 180 percent increase over the 2,000 trips recorded in 2019.
“People just wanted to get out,” Rosella said. “Everybody was just tired of being cooped up. By the time summer came around, they had had enough of this COVID thing. Nobody knew where it was going and what it was about; they just wanted to get out and get out safely.”
Rosella opened a Lewes franchise in 2018 with her husband Tom and nephew Josh. They started with four boats split between the marinas at Irish Eyes and Riverside Park at the end of Pilottown Road. Before their first summer season even began, they opened a second location with four more boats in Long Neck at Pot-Nets near Paradise Grill.
In 2019, they added locations at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal on Cape Henlopen Drive and another in Somers Point, N.J. They increased their fleet to 19 boats.
2020 saw the addition of locations in Bear on the C&D Canal and in Cape May, N.J., increasing the boat total to 45.
Growth continues this year for the Rosellas, as they are opening locations in Delran, N.J., and three in the lower Hudson Valley in New York. They’re also planning to open an annex to the Lewes location at the new marina near the Love Creek bridge, where members can enjoy quick and easy access to Rehoboth Bay.
“We needed more slip space in southern Delaware,” Rosella said.
They’re planning to add 64 more boats to their fleet in 2021. After selling a few, they expect the total across all their locations to be 106 boats. They’re also planning to hire about 100 part-time employees for the summer season.
They continue to offer a variety of different vessel styles and brands to members. Favorites continue to be Cobia center and dual consoles as well as Sweetwater and Cypress Cay pontoons and Sunrays. For 2021, they’ll be introducing Bayliner, Trophy, NauticStar and Brig Eagle 6.7.
Giving back to the community has been a focus since the Rosellas opened in 2018. They’ve sponsored the Fourth of July boat parade in Lewes, and donated to Beebe Healthcare and the Rehoboth Foodie/Touch of Italy scholarship fund and other charities.
They plan to continue that in 2021, working with Giving Hope Network and Children’s Beach House to take children out on the water for an experience unlike any other. The outing will be followed by a fundraising event at Children’s Beach House.
To learn more about Freedom Boat Club, go to freedomboatclub.com.
By the numbers
Freedom Boat Club in 2020
• 40 new locations (265 worldwide)
• 10,000 new memberships (39,000 memberships total)
• 400,000 trips across network
• 317 new memberships
• 5,800 trips