By Melissa Sorge
Boating is synonymous with the summer season being that it is the ultimate escape. For many of us, it simply does not feel like summer until we spend some time on a boat. An outlet that allows us to sign off for a little while, boating lets us leave the clutter and chaos of everyday life back on land, where it will wait patiently for our sunkissed return. Out on the water, the mind focuses on the present: the gentle (or perhaps rough) waves, the warmth of the sun, the comradery from passing boaters. Yet, despite the joys of boating in the summertime, there are many obstacles that often prevent us from spending as much time on the water as we would like.
For starters, boat ownership is a hefty commitment that involves a large investment of time, and boat rentals often leave us wanting much more in terms of quality, aesthetic, and reliability. Fortunately, the future of boating seems to be changing, and we may just be able to break-in our sea legs a bit more this summer season. Bridge Marina, with its flagship in Lake Hopatcong and a brand new location in Highlands, New Jersey, is taking steps towards making boating more accessible.
Since 1956, Bridge Marina has been a focal point of the tranquil Lake Hopatcong. Family owned and operated since its humble beginnings, the marina prides itself on exceptional customer service. The current president of Bridge Marina, Ray Fernandez, has not been around since the ‘50s, but he certainly knows a thing or two about life on the water: “I guess I was born on the water—not physically, but my mother and father owned a small marina. I was born in upstate New Jersey, and I assume very soon after I was brought to the marina where we lived. I lived my entire life around the water; it was always second nature,” Fernandez explains. While his friends were asking for toys and video games for birthday and Christmas presents, Fernandez was asking for fishing lures and spending his free time playing around boats and the marina.
Given his long history on the water, it came as no surprise that Fernandez took over Bridge Marina in 2003. He had a new vision for boating and for Bridge Marina. He wanted boating to become more accessible for those with a love of the water but a distaste for the nuisances often involved in the sport of boating: “Boating loses a lot of boaters because it has barriers to entry as well as barriers to continue: the cost, the time, waiting on the weather—it’s a hard sport to be involved in sometimes,” Fernandez says. To remedy this problem and jump the hurdles that keep boaters out of the water, Fernandez launched an innovative boating club in 2006.
Bridge Marina’s boating club is unique, as there are few marinas offering this type of club membership in the United States. Members of the boating club can forgo all the commitments of boat ownership and allow the team at Bridge Marina to take care of everything from cleaning and docking to insuring and repairing their fleet boats. With something for everyone, the boating club offers six tiers of membership ranging from a trial level to an exclusive diamond membership that allows boaters unlimited access to boating throughout the season. Because Bridge Marina prides themselves on their high level of customer service, every level of their boating club membership includes in-depth, personalized training, unlimited use of recreational gear, safety gear, tubes, floats, and access to a pristine fleet of Starcraft and Four Winns boats.
Fernandez attributes much of the success of Bridge Marina to the high-quality fleet of boats provided for boating club members and daily renters alike. A barrier that keeps many boaters from getting out on the water as much as they would like is the quality of boat rentals: “We’re changing the perception of what a boat rental looks like, and what guests should expect from a boat rental experience. We only offer beautiful, well-maintained, newer boats in both of our rental and Boating Club fleets, and our guests really value and appreciate the experience,” Fernandez says. Now, Bridge Marina’s Lake Hopatcong facility is running at full capacity, and as a result, Fernandez felt the time was right to open a second location and bring the boating club concept and boat rentals to another waterfront town.
This past Memorial Day weekend, Bridge Marina made their debut in the burgeoning New Jersey shore town of Highlands, with a soft opening featuring their boating club and service-oriented boat rentals. Bridge’s first shore location will run from the inside of Baker’s Marina on the Bay, a full-service marina just a few minutes outside of Sandy Hook. At this recently-opened Jersey Shore location, customers can expect the same high-quality boat rentals and customer service the flagship marina provides, as well as full access to all tiers of the boating club. With the help of Bridge Marina’s team of experts and their convenient boating club concept, everyone can spend some time out on the water this summer, and the club may be coming to waters by you very soon.