Logan Speights’ and his family spend many toasty summer weekends wakeboarding or tubing on Eagle Mountain Lake. Sometimes, they bring along friends for a leisurely putter around the lake.
But Speights doesn’t own a boat and has no plans to purchase one.
Instead, he is a member of the Suntex Boat Club at Eagle Mountain Marina at Eagle Mountain Lake. Membership is akin to time-share boat ownership that comes with access to a top-of-the-line fleet of ski boats, wakeboard boats and pontoons without the cost and hassle of outright ownership.
“It is all the joys of having a boat and none of the headaches,” Speights said.
The timeshare concept is a recent development in the boating industry and has caught on quickly in the Eastern United States, where marina slip fees and other ownership expenses are higher. Suntex, which operates 30 marinas nationwide, is making a push to establish its brand as an industry leader with the concept and its marina facilities.
Of Suntex’s nine marinas in Texas, five are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including three at Eagle Mountain Lake. Besides Eagle Mountain Marina, Suntex operates its boat clubs at Chandler’s Landing on Lake Ray Hubbard and Pier 121 on Lewisville Lake.
“Our goal is to be the Cadillac of the industry in terms of customer service and amenities,” said Jason Hampton, general manager of the three the Eagle Mountain Lake marinas.
Boat-sharing is just beginning to cruise in Texas with Suntex leading the way to popularize the concept as part of its business plan.
Hampton said membership requires an initiation fee of $2,000 (although discount promotions are frequently offered) and then a monthly fee of between $275 and $375 a month, depending upon the level of participation selected. Members also pay for the gas they use.
“At the highest level, you get full access to the fleet with no time restrictions on weekend use,” Hampton said.
Members can have three active reservations at the same time, say for a Saturday, Sunday and the following Saturday. When one booking is complete, another can be added, Hampton said.
Since the Dallas-based company introduced the concept at Eagle Mountain Marina in 2013, membership has grown to 34 members and a fleet of seven boats that includes three pontoons, two wakeboard boats and two ski boats.
The company will purchase a new boat for each eight members it enrolls in the boat club to maintain its level of service and access for members, Hampton said.
“We’ve about doubled our membership since last year,” he said.
The advantage of membership for many boating enthusiasts is the ease of being able to enjoy the boating experience, Hampton said.
“You just show up at the marina and you’re ready to go,” he said. “All the legwork is done for you.”
Mike Johnson, manager of the boat club and the rental operation at Eagle Mountain Marina, said ownership is expensive and time-consuming, factoring in boat payments, insurance, a heavy-duty vehicle to tow the boat or slip fees. Getting the boat ready for an outing can take hours between cleaning, fueling, towing and getting the boat in the water – and then again in reverse.
“About 50 percent of our boat club members have owned boats in the past and have said they never would again,” Johnson said.
Speights said he did the math and said it would “take too long to be on the right side of the investment.”
Besides, through the boat club, he has access to different types of boats for different types of experiences.
Johnson said another perk for boat club owners is the ability to call at the last minute on weekdays and get a boat for a sunset sail. Boats are typically available during the week so it doesn’t count against pending reservations for weekends.
For some, the boat club is a gateway experience for developing enthusiasm for boating and, eventually, ownership, Hampton said.
Even boat dealerships support the concept.
“It gets more people involved in boating and maybe then want to own their own boat,” said Brad Wallace, a co-owner of family-owned North Texas Marine in Fort Worth.
Suntex also wants to drive boat ownership to support its marina business. Hampton said the company also plans to begin its own boat sales operation to round out its offerings in the boating industry.
Overall, this summer has been a vast improvement for industry operators in the Dallas-Fort Worth area compared with previous years.
“We had the drought and then we had the flooding so the last few years have been difficult,” Wallace said.
Prior to the prolonged drought, which was most severe in late 2010 and 2011, the aftermath of the recession kept boat sales at bay, he said.
“People are definitely in the mood to buy this year. There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” said.
Wallace said boat sales are up about 10 percent year-to-date this year compared with a year ago. New boats priced from $30,000 to $75,000 account for about 55 percent of the company’s sales and used boats costing from about $10,000 to $30,000 accounting for about 45 percent, he said.
Suntex has also seen a big uptick in its revenue this year from slip fees, day rentals, ship store rentals, restaurants and the boat club.
“Last year, business didn’t really start until July because of the flooding,” Hampton said. “We’ve seen a 25 percent increase in use this year.”
While boating is possible nearly year-round, the busiest time is between Memorial Day and Labor Day when school is out, Hampton and Wallace said.
“Once school starts and families get busy with sports and other activities, people don’t go boating as much,” Wallace said.