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'Freedom Boat Club' makes it more accessible for people to enjoy boating on the James River

Posted at 12:29 PM, May 26, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. — Brenden and Nancy Dean sought to attract more visitors to Richmond’s natural resources for those who aren't able to afford a boat.

The Dean family owns and operates Freedom Boat Club at Rocketts Landing along the James River. They also have locations in Woodbridge, Stafford and Lake Anna.

The club is membership-based and offers access to a fleet of boats without the expenses and hassles associated with boat ownership, according to their website.

“Having the river, the water access here and it should be open to everybody. The opportunity should not just be limited by, ‘I have to buy a boat.’ It's very expensive,” Nancy explained.

The required extensive training for everyone who gets on one of their boats sets them apart from the rest, they said.

Freedom requires members to complete an online, nationally-certified boat safety course. New member orientation also includes a virtual online training with one of their licensed, Coast Guard certified training captains before they move to on-the-water training.

“Regardless of how many times a boater has been out, whether it's their first time or their 100th time, we always orient them toward all the safety equipment. We ensure that everything is where it’s supposed to be and the layout on all of our boats is essentially the same across all four locations,” Brenden noted.

Sgt. Joshua Thomas with Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources echoed that safety is paramount when boating.

“The first mistake that often proves to be fatal in some of these incidents is forgetting a life jacket,” he explained.

In fact, he said 80% of boating fatalities involve victims that didn’t wear a life jacket.

Every motorboat operator that drives a boat with 10 horsepower or greater must take a state-approved boating safety course.

The law also requires boaters to slow down if you’re passing within 50 feet of another boat, person or fixed object.

There is a similar “Move Over law” for the water just like on Virginia’s highways. Operators must slow to a “no wake speed” when they’re within 200 feet of an emergency boat with their lights on.

Brenden showed CBS 6 the must-have safety equipment while you’re boating. Each of their boats includes an emergency radio, flares, an anchor, several Coast Guard certified life jackets and a GPS.

“This is all about creating the memory with your friends or family,” Nancy stated. “This whole experience needs to be hassle free, comfortable and feeling safe. That's why safety is our priority here at the Freedom Boat Club.”

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