Thursday, February 2, 2023

There's More To Savannah's Freedom Boat Club Than Meets the Eye

What could be better than a ride on a new boat on a sunny Florida day?

We have been Freedom Boat Club members for 6 years or so, and it has been a fantastic deal for us. Before joining the club, we owned a 22' Sea Ray which we stored at Hogan's Marina for 12 years.  Living in Savannah, a boat is pretty much part and parcel of the experience. To live here without access to a boat is akin to living in Vail or Telluride without a set of snow skis. You can do it, but why live somewhere and miss out on one of the main attractions? So given that a boat is important to a Savannah lifestyle, the next question is how to accommodate that need as easily and inexpensively as possible. 

When we stored our boat at Hogan's, the storage bill alone was $290 dollars a month. That ship has left the dock. Per-foot dry or wet storage amounts go up as regularly and consistently as the rising sun, but unlike the sun they never go down. $20 a foot is the norm now, and that would be $440 for that old Sea Ray we had. 

Beyond storage, there are considerations; regular services like oil and impeller changes, insurance, tow-coverage, and never-ending cleaning. Your boat will need to be cleaned before it goes into the water, and again when it comes out. This fact led us to put our boat into the water only once during the last year we had it stored. It didn't make sense to own a boat. We just wanted to enjoy one.

So we traded in our boat for a membership and the first year's dues at Savannah's Freedom Boat Club. It was a no-brainer, and all of those detractor-factors I mentioned above no longer apply. We reserve a boat on our phone app, and wheel a cooler up to it when it's time to go. When we get back to the dock, we tie it up and walk away. Smiling.

This alone is great, but wait! There's more!

An additional benefit to a Freedom membership is the ability to reserve a boat at any one of the hundreds of other franchise locations as often as 4 times a year per location. (Disclosure: Clubs set aside certain boats in their fleets for reciprocal reservations, and planning ahead and reserving early--as much as 6 months is allowed--is key to a successful experience). We have done this at the Baltimore Harbor location, and most recently in Lantana Florida. And it was a spotlessly enjoyable trip. We took our daughter and two of our nine grands out for a cruise on the ICW. We saw the sights, and stopped for lunch at Two Georges,  with slips available to diners for free. 

Our boat for the day was a brand new deck. Lots of room!

Where better to deal with winter than Palm Beach County?
Two Georges Restaurant, on the ICW in Lantana.

Freedom was recently bought by Brunswick Marine, and they changed the reservation app right away, and the reciprocal function is not up to speed yet. Now a "team" has to evaluate and approve all requests. But perhaps that is why our recip requests are getting approved. Allowing reciprocals is a requirement of being a franchisee--for obvious reasons. The ability to get a boat anywhere makes the club much more attractive. Of course, a franchise owner wants to serve her own paying members before attending to some out-of-towner. So this has to be monitored I imagine. 

No phones required!

I can say that Tommy McCarthy, who owns the Savannah and Richmond Hill clubs has been recognized with an award for being a "Guardian of Reciprocity." (No surprise. Tommy is awesome in every regard, not just the way he runs his clubs) We have members from other clubs show up at the Savannah location (Savannah Boathouse Marina, 8020 Highway 80 East) all the time. And they love the rides. 

The Lantana area has public parks with dock access,
and clean restrooms!

We now own two charter boats, ( with all that this entails, and yet we still maintain our FBC membership. It's too easy and too good a deal to let go. Tommy's practice is to leave your dues level where it is when you start, forever. (Not all clubs do this). If we want to go for a ride with no paying customers, we take a Freedom boat. And if we want to go to Florida and go for a boat ride, we don't have to pull one down there or rent some ragged-out rental boat. We just enjoy our Freedom!

When momma's happy, everyone is happy.

FBC Lantana's dock master Tyler was polite
and professional. That kid's gonna go places.

Freedom locations are always nice. This is Loggerhead
Marina, Lantana FL, one of several affiliated clubs in 
the area. 

The boat is ready. Let's go!

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Jasper Seaport Plan

The Jasper Ocean Terminal Joint Venture, a partnership between the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) and the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), has proposed to develop a state-of-the-art marine container terminal on the northern bank of the Savannah River in Jasper County South Carolina between US Highway 17 and Fields Cut.

Click here to learn more

Sunday, March 20, 2022


 "Now which side should the marker be on again?"

Friends, remember, you should have the red aids to navigation on the right side of your boat as you return to your port from the ocean. "Red Right Return."


If the river becomes part of the intracoastal waterway, as the Wilmington River does at the junction with the Skidaway River as you proceed inbound from Wassaw Sound, you no longer want the red marks on the right side of the boat. In the ICW, you want the red marks on the mainland side, or "Red Right going South." 

That red beacon near the Savannah Yacht Club? Don't put it on your right as you head for Thunderbolt.

Your trip will be delayed:-)

(Look for the small yellow mark on an ICW lateral aid to navigation, be it a beacon or a buoy. Triangle or rectangle. It's small but it's there!)

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Bull River Disaster--Averted!

 The two adult men and their tween-aged sons had enjoyed a fine day of fishing in the ocean waters near Wassaw Island. As the bite was good and the boys were having fun, they had waited until the sun was low on the horizon before beginning their return trip. Their path home would take them into the Wilmington River channel at the Red 2W buoy, across the throat of Wassaw Sound, and then up the Bull River towards home. As they turned up the Bull and left the south end of Little Tybee in their wake, the sky lost its light. 

The captain wasn't concerned about this as he had navigated this river many times in both daylight and darkness. He had his GPS chart-plotter display dimmed to preserve his night-vision and he peered ahead in the darkness with extra vigilance looking for hazards. The boys were sitting in the bow seats facing backward, both engrossed in their smartphones, while his best friend set about cleaning and organizing the boat in preparation for arrival at the dock. 

Running at twenty-five knots as they rounded a bend in the river, and with the lights of the Bull River Condominium tower visible in the distance, they struck an invisible three-thousand-five hundred-pound partially-submerged section of concrete dock. Running in dark-night conditions, the captain never saw it coming.

The boat hull was thrown up and sideways and the motor was ripped free. The boys in the bow grabbed hold of the chrome rails as the boat jumped, rolled, and capsized, trapping them underwater. They were so startled and unprepared for this that they both panicked and yelled out, and then ingested river water. In this case, the life preservers they were wearing didn't help. Their bodies would be found trapped beneath the inverted hull.

The father organizing the stern area was thrown clear of the vessel as it flipped, and his type-5 inflatable vest saved his life. Even though he was startled and disoriented, the water sensor on the vest triggered the gas cylinder and inflated it immediately upon submersion. His vest lifted him to the surface and turned him face up. He would live to tell the story.

His best friend, who had been at the helm and didn't own an inflatable, had decided against wearing a life preserver. He didn't perceive a risk and didn't consider that darkness changed things. He too was thrown clear and had the air punched from his lungs during the ejection. Under water and disoriented, he inhaled water, drowned, and sank slowly to the bottom. 

During the investigation, it was determined that the partially-submerged and derelict dock section was a portion of a recently-demolished commercial dock facility that had somehow gotten loose from its lines and traveled on the tide down the Savannah River. This unseen or unreported hazard to navigation made its way into Elba Island Cut, and then down Saint Augustine Creek and into the Bull River. The odds of this happening were incredibly small, and yet happen it did. The result was tragic.

Editor's note. This tragedy never happened, and yet it could have easily occurred during one of the last few evenings. All the needed components and conditions for this tragedy were present. The only thing that prevented you from seeing this in the news were the moral, ethical, and humanly-decent efforts of Mr. Thomas McCarthy and his team at the Savannah Boathouse Marina. 

As a 30-year helicopter pilot, medevac-industry safety advocate, and student of crashes; I know that accidents occur as a result of a "chain of events." While no one factor pre-determines the outcome, when linked together the accident chain leads to disaster and all too often--death. The secret to accident prevention is to recognize when an accident chain is forming and remove one of the links. This is what removing a link to an accident chain looks like.

Imagine hitting this in the river in the dark at speed...
Thanks to the Savannah Boathouse crew for 
removing this hazard to navigation, and perhaps saving lives.

Amazingly, this is not the first time that Savannah Boathouse Marina staff have discovered a partially-submerged dangerous object drifting into their dock area (the first time it was a large rectangle of submerged dock decking) and rather than simply pushing it clear and letting the outgoing tide take it away to be someone else's problem, the dock crew secured it and alerted Tom, a marina owner who repeatedly does the right thing. 

This hazard - discovered and removed last summer - was not of  the Savannah Boathouse's making.
But they removed if from the river, cut it up with chainsaws, and disposed of it responsibly. You should know about this and, if you traverse our rivers, you should be grateful for what these folks do.

I am proud to be his friend.

Tom McCarthy's actions are an example of what a good man does when faced with a difficult situation. No one will pay for the time and labor and expense to haul such debris out of the water. It's not his debris. He didn't create the problem. He could easily make the problem go away. But he doesn't do this. He anticipates the worst that could happen and takes the steps to prevent it.You should know this and you should be grateful that such a man and such a business exist in our community. 

An ethical person is concerned with more than immediate profit. Decisions matter, and we all make the world we live in through those decisions. The next time you cross Tommy's path, please let him know that we ALL appreciate his doing the right thing, so that you never have to read this story in the paper.


Dealing with this hazard took the entire marina team more than an hour. It and its twin are positioned safely out of the water, and will still have to be disposed of. Guess who is going to pay for that disposal? With much gratitude to Tom and his family, and the crew at 
Savannah Boathouse Marina. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

It Was Almost a Disaster!

I was conducting new boater training yesterday for a couple of young guys, and I wanted to show them the importance of understanding the difference between lateral aids to navigation marking a "river returning from the sea," and the aids that mark the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. The "red" river "marks" or lateral aids to navigation are kept on the right side of your boat as you travel upstream. ICW marks are DIFFERENT. On the ICW  the red marks should be kept on the mainland side; or on the right side of your boat as you travel south on the ICW. ICW marks have a small yellow mark within the larger green or red mark.

There is a hazardous situation at the cut between the south channel and the north channels of the Savannah River.

The Coast Guard emphasizes this by having two red marks very close together! A large rock pile was deposited on the "wrong" side of those two marks, probably during the making of the cut. (Red #2 and Red #4). 

Here's the trap. A green mark is marking the north channel of the Savannah river near these two red ICW marks. THAT GREEN MARK IS NOT AN ICW MARK.

Yes, I am shouting, just as I was shouting yesterday with those two kids on the boat.

I saw a family-sized runabout coming out of the river from downtown. He was aiming  between a green river mark and a red ICW mark. And they were headed  directly for that submerged rock pile. I first thought to get some good pictures for training. Then I saw kids on that boat.

"Stop the boat! Stop right now! I've got to try and stop that boat over there!"

I stood in the bow and waved my arms rapidly over my head to get the other boats attention. Then I swept both arms in the direction AWAY from where I knew the rocks to be. Repeatedly.

Thank God the dude stopped, then turned back toward the river and safe water. I drove over by him and stopped.

"Sir, there is a pile of rocks just under the surface right (pointing) THERE! You almost ran right up on it. That would have been bad.

In the ICW you need to have the red marks on the right side of your boat as you go (pointing) SOUTH. That green mark you were looking at over there is a RIVER mark. Not an ICW mark!"

He looked embarassed, and said "Thanks! We didn't know."

So I felt a little dumb for being overly dramatic, but the kids didn't get ejected. 

Friends, it is one thing to run up on a mud bank, and many of us have done it. Rocks are different. They will hole your boat, remove your lower unit, and maybe flip your boat and eject you and your loved ones. Training is FREE at FREE!!! 

Pay attention, please!!!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Docking Like A Pro When You're Not

 For a new boater, docking is perhaps the most stressful part of a day on the water. Time and again we see boaters struggle with control of their boat as they put on a show for bystanders and boaters alike. But it doesn't need to be that way!

The first thing to do is consider the environment around the dock you are approaching. You can do this before you get there. You absolutely don't want to be repositioning fenders and dock lines as you are on the final approach to your mooring point. 

"Prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance." Expand your time available for the docking maneuver by thinking ahead!

Is there a tide running? (crab trap floats?) Is the wind blowing? (flags?) Which of these two forces is having the greatest effect on your vessel? If you know how your destination dock is oriented you can plan to put your fenders and lines on the side that allows you to make your approach INTO the current or wind, whichever is stronger. It's a very good practice to stop your boat well away from the dock, pointed at it. Observe what the wind and current are doing to you. Now verify or place your fenders and lines.

Current isn't something to be afraid of, it's something to work with. If you are working against a current as you approach a dock, it's very easy to get rid of headway; just go to neutral with your shifter! Come to think of it, when you are approaching a dock, neutral is your friend. Only use as much time in gear as absolutely needed to maintain control of the boat.

Think of balancing a baseball bat that is standing upright on your palm; as long as you keep your hand under the bat, you can do it. If you let the bat get too far off-center, it's going to fall. When you have your boat's bow into a strong current, the current is like the gravity that works on the bat, and the motor is like your palm that must stay under the bat. Don't let it get away from you. Easy with the power and steering...

Never make an approach to a corner of a dock! (read that again!) Your fenders will protect the side of your boat as you make contact with a flat dock face. But a corner will hole your boat!

One sure sign of a boater in a panic is loud bursts of full power near a dock. This often ends badly. Think ahead, take the easiest option available and take your time. If you don't like how the maneuver is going, break off the approach, go away from the dock, and collect yourself. Relax, calm down, and try it again. Slow and steady, friend!

Keep your dock lines clear of knots and snags. You may need that line to slide
smoothly from around the horn of a cleat someday.

If the wind is blowing onto the dock, and you have a spot to go to on the outer face, all you need to do is make your approach slowly and under control (use short pulses of power by putting the motor just in gear for a couple of seconds, then back to neutral). You can make a shallow angle approach or even an approach parallel to the dock. When you are abeam your spot, stop and let the wind do the work of moving you sideways.

If a strong wind is blowing OFF the dock, make your approach angle steeper. Position an assistant near the bow (or ask for help on the dock) to place a bow line around a cleat. (Keep fingers from between cleat and line). With the front of the boat attached to the dock, turn the wheel toward the dock and place the engine just in reverse (minimal power). The engine will pull the rear of the boat into the dock. The fenders will cushion the contact. And you can then fasten a stern line to a cleat. 

Warn your passengers to keep feet and hands inside the boat during docking. Fiberglass is cheaper than fingers. They should stay seated and still while you are working the boat to the dock. 

Make sure that boat is secured to the dock at both ends and protected by fenders before leaving. You might need to adjust lines more than once. If you need to move the fenders, do so. Take the time to do this right. Make it look like a pro did it!


Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Pie of Knowledge

 With the exception of a few years early on, my entire adult working life has been focused on moving people and cargo from one place to another. I spent 12 years flying the massive CH- and MH-47 Chinook Helicopter, carrying soldiers on the inside and 18000-pound howitzers slung underneath. 

In Honduras, I took doctors and veterinarians on "MEDRETS" to assist rural villages located far from any modern anything. I flew tons upon tons food to starving people in the interior. In Liberia, I flew men, women, and children who were at risk of being brutally murdered to safety.

At the end of my military career, I flew special forces operators who drove their inflatable boats straight into the back of my helicopter while we hovered with our cabin partially submerged. 

As an avid boater, it was only natural that I would come to move people by boat. I mean, what a great place to work! Mike Neal, the owner of Bull River Cruises, gave me my break into commercial boating and has counseled me every step of the way. He also recently hooked me up with one of the greatest adventures of my life, an eleven-day boating marathon that had us working on the water from first light to twilight. It was epic.

A production company is in town filming the "Devotion" movie. As much of this film involves aircraft flying over water, safety boats were needed in case an aircraft was forced to ditch. Divers stood on standby, ready to go into the water and extract pilots. They did this on a boat that I captained. Fun? You betcha.

Offshore and on duty. Ready to respond. Captain Mike Neal.

Savannah Firefighter, USCG officer, and rescue-diver Scott
speaks with stunt-man and rescue-diver David as we depart a
new Savannah Boathouse Marina in the 28'.

I put this route into the 28's SIMRAD EVO3 in order to help
with exiting the Wilmington River. There are numerous bars
and breakers off our barrier islands, and "you must follow a
channel or you risk losing the boat." (Cpt. Scott) Our track
lines tell a story.

Our boat for this multi-day lifeguard mission was the 28' NauticStar owned by Tommy McCarthy and Savannah's Freedom Boat Club. A special lease agreement was reached with the understanding that I would operate the boat. #winning

I ran her 829 miles and burned 457 gallons in 11 days.
I'd start again tomorrow.

Good Morning!

Our days started early and ended late, and often I ran home solo, alone with my thoughts but certainly not lonely. The 28' proved herself to be a fine friend. The 600 horses helped.

Rescue divers have a lot of gear. And David brought the snacks too.
I had my first ever "Clif Bar" but not my last.
Movie people don't go hungry.

Wyatt; an actor, stunt-man, former USCG member, and current
rescue diver. He was a constant source of laughter and fun, as indicated
by the look on Mike's face. Hey, I thought it was funny!

So did Wyatt...

One thing about boating; the more you do it, the more you learn. Scott mentioned something he has become aware of as a platform instructor for both fire-service-related and maritime-related topics. 

"If you consider knowledge as a pie, there's a little sliver that constitutes what you know. Then there's another little slice that's the stuff you know you don't know. But the vast majority of that pie-of-knowledge? That's all the stuff that you are simply unaware of. You don't even know all the stuff you don't know. So never stop digging and learning." (Captain Scott Boyd)

Ignorance is no excuse for damaging equipment or hurting someone. If you don't know what you are doing on the water, don't do it. Ask for help. If you don't know how to dock a boat, get some instruction. The fact that the government lets you take to the water without a clue is no reason to do this. Take a class (the one from Boat US is F.R.E.E.). Click here to see for yourself.

As for me, I'm 64 years old and have been boating my whole life. I know a lot about operating a boat. And then again I don't know crap. So I took full advantage of the experience around me on those eleven days and asked a thousand questions; continuously eating from the pie of knowledge.

"Clutch In!"

There's More To Savannah's Freedom Boat Club Than Meets the Eye

What could be better than a ride on a new boat on a sunny Florida day? We have been Freedom Boat Club members for 6 years or so, and it has ...