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All Aboard

Published May 31, 2016 by

What’s new and cool with boats.

By Pam Houghton

Whether it’s a speedy powerboat, the laid-back pontoon or a fishing boat with the latest GPS technology, there’s a boat for every person. Some boaters, like retired Warren City Council member George Dimas, prefer boats that go fast and provide the elusive “wind-in-your-face excitement.” But it’s the trendy boats with “the center-console concept that are becoming very popular,” says Dimas, a boating enthusiast since 1990 who keeps up with the latest industry news.

“The whole day-boating market is what’s really hot,” says Chip Miller from the family-owned Miller Marina, which offers year-round boat storage in St. Clair Shores.

Many center-console boats that don’t provide sleeping accommodations — as yachts or cabin cruisers do — still fit the criteria (although larger center consoles offer a cuddy cabin with a V-berth and portable head). Because the console, which hosts the steering, ignition and electronic controls, is in the middle of the boat, Miller says there is more room to walk around on deck. As day boats, they can be ideal for fishing, skiing and tubing.

Go Fish

If fishing’s your thing, Carl’s Boats and Motors Inc. in St. Clair Shores sells small fishing boats 14 to 20 feet long. “We’re centrally located for the Great Lakes, kind of the middle of everything, so our customers come from the west side, downriver, Up North and even Canada,” says Gloria Kelly, business administrator.

Newer features include GPS technology “that is really up-to-the-minute” and depth sounders that help anglers identify fishable waters.

“The technology is so far advanced on boats now,” Dimas adds. “It will show you charts, GPS, the shoreline … it’s like looking at a TV set when you are driving these boats.”

Kelly adds, “Most of our customers buy the less-complex depth sounders [separately], which we install for them.” Her father started the business in 1964. Their fishing boats serve other recreational needs as well, including “tubing, wake boarding, water skiing, all the fun things. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing when you are out on the lake and splashing around, either fishing or skiing — there’s just so much to do,” she says.

Not Your Grandpa’s Pontoon

Fishing boats that double as recreational boats are hardly the only family-friendly entries in the market. The popularity of pontoons — boats with two floatation-like “toons” underneath — and even tri-toons, which are better equipped to handle the rougher waters of the Great Lakes — are booming in popularity.

According to Boating Industry magazine, pontoons represent the fastest-growing boating segment, thanks to their versatility, flat floor and spacious accommodations. And with advanced outboard engine technology, today’s pontoons can pull skiers and tubers, unlike the “floating living rooms” of yore.

With upgrades such as comfort seating and fully equipped kitchens, “they are the perfect party boat, especially with older crowds,” says pontoon owner and Clinton Township resident Dan Lapensee. He keeps his boat on a lake near Alpena where, he says, “one-by-one, small power boats are being replaced with pontoons.”

Their cost has appeal: Don Waldeck, a sales rep from Colony Marine in St. Clair Shores says new pontoons are less expensive than other boats. “Prices can start at $20,000 to $40,000, but can run up to $60,000 to $80,000,” depending on one’s preference for some or all of the bells and whistles.

What’s New

Another interesting development is the movement toward “outboard engines and away from stern drive or inboard engines for all the boat lines,” Waldeck says.

“The technology of the engines is greatly improved, making them more efficient and very desirable. They are quieter, easier to maintain and easier to repair because there are fewer moving parts.”

According to a magazine published by the Boat Owners Association of the United States, they also “free up space inside the boat” and provide a slight advantage in fuel economy.

But outboard engines with advanced technology aren’t the only cool development. Joystick technology “takes the intimidation factor out of docking the boat,” Waldeck says, particularly for larger boats that take considerable skill and talent to dock.

If the boat that captures your imagination is a yacht, you can opt for glass door walls and climate-controlled upper salons with heating and air-conditioning. Other premium add-ons include china cabinets, BBQ grills and flat-screen TVs with premium sound.

The icing on the cake, however, might be underwater LED lighting. Tom Eckert, co-owner and vice-president of meat processing firm Alexander & Hornung in St. Clair Shores, has witnessed such displays in recent years. The lifelong boater says they are impressive. More for show than utility, “they make a beautiful scene at night.”

If you are going to invest all that time and money into a boat, why not show off? NS

FOR MORE INFO: Miller Marina
24770 Jefferson Ave., St. Clair Shores, (586) 771-9000, millermarina.com

Carl’s Boats and Motors Inc.
24100 Harper Ave., St. Clair Shores, (586) 773-4545, carlsboats.com

Colony Marine
24530 Jefferson Ave., St. Clair Shores, (586) 772-1550, colonymarine.net

MacRay Harbor
30675 North River Road, Harrison Township, (586) 468-1900, 
macray.com

Wilson Marine
36355 Jefferson Ave., Harrison Township, (586) 307-3180, wilsonboats.com

Freedom Boat Club Launches Fleet on Lake St. Clair

Not ready for the commitment of full-time boat ownership? No worries. Now you can use a boat whenever you want and leave the hassles of ownership to someone else.

Freedom Boat Club, the world’s oldest and largest boat club with 110 locations in 21 states and Vancouver, Canada, with a fleet of more than 1,000 boats, launched in Lake St. Clair in Harrison Township last month.

New franchise owners/operators Steve and Rick Dobreff are Harrison Township natives and avid boaters who grew up on Lake St. Clair. Steve Dobreff is a longtime practicing attorney in Macomb County, while Rick Dobreff works in the robotics engineering field and is an experienced marine, auto and robotics mechanic.

“Boating with Freedom Boat Club is so easy and hassle free,” Steve says. “You just make your reservation, show up at the dock and a new, clean and fueled-up boat is waiting. You hit the water, enjoy a great adventure, return the boat when you’re done, pay for the gas you used and go enjoy the rest of your day. Freedom takes care of all the cleaning, storage, maintenance and insurance. It truly offers the best of boating.”

The Dobreff brothers have partnered with lifelong family friends Rick and Rob Velger, owners of Hideaway Harbor Marina (36290 Jefferson Ave.), to bring this much-needed, one-of-a-kind boating experience to Lake St. Clair.

The new Freedom Boat Club will offer a fleet of new, name-brand boats including center-console fishing boats, bowrider, tri/pontoons and deck ski/wake boarding boats. The boats are available for unlimited usage to members.

“No experience or license is necessary,” Steve says. “Our instructors provide free unlimited classes and on-the-water one-on-one instruction for every member.”

Cost of the standard membership is a one-time entry fee of $5,500, which locks in the monthly rate of $249. The monthly rate never changes.

For more information, call (586) 873-7791, email sdobreff@freedomboatclub.com or visit www.freedomboatclub.com.

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