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Smooth sailing for Charlotte-area boat business with new location

The River Hills Marina in Lake Wylie, S.C., where Marc and Oana Graveline opened their second Carefree Boat Club location this spring.
The River Hills Marina in Lake Wylie, S.C., where Marc and Oana Graveline opened their second Carefree Boat Club location this spring. Courtesy of Carefree Boat Club

▪ A year ago, Marc Graveline walked away from a 20-year career in engineering to build his boating business. After this past Memorial Day, he doesn’t regret it.

Graveline (pronounced “Grav-A-Lin”), 48, estimates that all 150 members of his two Charlotte-area Carefree Boat Club locations were out on the water, sailing for hours over the holiday weekend. This time of the year is the biggest for his business, which he started with his wife, Oana, in Lake Norman in 2010, he said.

There’s no sign of it slowing down. In April, the couple opened a second Charlotte-area Carefree Boat Club location at the River Hills Marina in Lake Wylie, S.C. And last month, they added to their fleet the Bryant 233X, a wake sports boat manufactured with Volvo’s Forward Drive propulsion system – a feature Graveline and Volvo Penta will demo to the media on Wednesday.

“We introduced the boat to our members at our May 2 member social and they went crazy,” Graveline said in a news release.

Founded in Virginia in 2002, the Carefree Boat Club gives members unfettered use of ski, sail, pontoon, bow rider and fishing boats. It has expanded to about 40 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

The Gravelines signed a licensing agreement with the company so they have more freedom than a franchise, Marc Graveline said.

Members pay a one-time enrollment fee, which starts at $1,750, and then monthly dues, which can be as low as $200-a-month and give members access to all the Carefree Boat Club boats in the Gravelines’ fleet and across the country, he said.

When the Gravelines started the Charlotte area’s first Carefree Boat Club, they only had two boats, he said. Since then, they’ve grown their business 50 percent each year by purchasing a new boat with every new membership deal they sign. So far this season, they’ve bought eight new boats, bringing the number of boats in their fleet to 23, Marc Graveline said.

Marc Graveline worked on his business part-time until last year, when he faced a tough choice: Abandon a job working for someone else or walk away from a business built around his passion.

“It was my full-time career or part-time business,” he told the Observer. “It wasn’t going to be my business.”

▪ Over three days, children ages 11 to 14 will learn to think like entrepreneurs at a summer camp exposing them to business planning and decision making.

Registration is under way for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Youth Entrepreneurship Summer Camp on Aug. 3- 6 at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.

The camp teaches adolescents leadership skills and how to generate business ideas. By last Friday, only 10 spots were open. Enrollment is $125 per child. To register, contact Allison Kitfield at allison.kitfield@rccc.edu or 704-216-3546.

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