Boating Without Owning: What is a Boat Club and How Does It Work?

Between golf clubs and sports clubs, it’s not surprising that boat clubs are now trending. But what is a boat club, and who can join one? Read on for everything you need to know about boat clubs, including how much they cost, how membership works, and who can participate.

What’s the Purpose of a Boat Club?

Joining a boat club allows you to go boating—often in exclusive areas—even if you don’t personally own a boat. Clubs exist for all types of watersports, too—from kayaking to jet ski riding to sailing—so you are bound to find something you enjoy.

Boat clubs bring together people who enjoy watersports but, for whatever reason, may opt out of boat ownership. And it’s understandable when you look at boat prices—it can easily get expensive, depending on the type of boat you prefer.

Checking out a boat payment calculator versus membership costs can give you a good idea of the affordability of boat clubs. In many cases, the cost of a boat club membership is a fraction of what boat ownership (and upkeep) would cost you.

How a Boat Club Usually Works

Boat clubs usually involve an up-front enrollment fee and then a monthly charge for continued participation. Membership dues vary from a month-by-month price to a yearly enrollment charge, and rates vary widely. In areas with more water access, fees tend to be lower. In areas with high demand and fewer available waterways, dues can be higher.

Once you pay the fees, you have access to the club’s collection of boats. You can borrow a boat—without paying extra charges—on a reservation basis at one or multiple locations. Most boat clubs maintain the vessels and oversee regular cleaning, fueling, and other concerns. You just make a reservation—or stop in—get in a boat, and you can head off into the water.

Boat clubs can often include boating lessons or similar services. Chartered boating excursions may also be part of the club offerings.

General Costs Associated with Joining a Boat Club

How much does it cost to join a boat club? Here’s a brief overview of the general costs of boat club membership.

Up-Front Costs Associated with Boat Clubs

To join a boat club, you will likely have to pay an up-front fee for enrollment. Fees can vary from around a thousand dollars to nearly ten thousand, depending on the scope of services (and types of boats) available to members.

You can join a boat club for smaller watercraft or yacht clubs with full chartering services. What type of club you choose will dictate what the fees are and if there are additional surcharges or upcharges for other services.

Monthly Membership Costs

Monthly membership costs for joining a boat club range from a hundred or so dollars to upwards of five hundred. Again, the pricing varies based on the scope of services, the types of boats available, and the level of service you receive when you arrive at the club to go out on a boat.

Like a gym or other membership, a boat club membership can also have perks like free passes for friends, monthly discounts for enrollment in automatic payments, and other unique offerings. You may also have additional services available at different price points. Plus, you won’t be paying for boat insurance, storage, or upkeep costs—making every rental a great deal.

What Membership Fees Go Toward

In contrast with boat rental services, your membership fees go directly toward the upkeep of the boats you use. Prices are lower because many members contribute to the overall care and proper use of the boats. Plus, members invest in their boat club and care about the quality and condition of the vessels available to them. In contrast, many boat rental companies focus more on profits than they do on maintaining their fleet.

What to Consider When Joining a Boat Club

Boat clubs aren’t one-size-fits-all, and many newer models have sprung up in recent years. What to consider when looking for a boat club depends on a handful of factors. Boat ownership status, the type of boat or vessel you have, geographical considerations, and whether you live in the area the boat club operates in all come to mind.

Boating without Owning

Boat clubs use membership fees toward the purchase and maintenance of a fleet of boats. Membership then grants you the usage of a club boat for a set number of hours per period. These boating without owning models attract many people who have no place to store a boat but love getting out on the water regularly.

If you boat without owning the vessel, your club often covers upkeep and insurance costs. You may receive towing assistance and other services if the boat breaks down while you are operating it. Charges for gas are often additional, beyond the cost of membership, but other perks are often available.

Of course, even with the extra fees, boat clubs can prove far more affordable than owning a small boat. Even parts like used outboard motors can quickly drive up your maintenance and replacement parts costs. Consider the tradeoff when shopping for a boat or when looking at rental and club programs.

Boat Ownership

Though boat rental clubs are becoming more popular, other boat clubs require you to own your vessel before you can become a member. These are few and far between, however, and limited in geographic scope. If you do own a boat already, however, you may be able to enroll in a club for access to a private lake and other facilities.

Types of Boats

Rental vessels can range from personal watercraft to luxury yachts. Offerings vary depending on location, the local market, geographical features in the area, and other factors. Whatever type of boating or watersports you enjoy, there’s a club to cater to your preferences. Water sports equipment is also available at most locations. That means you don’t need to bring water skis, wakeboards, surfboards, or any other supplies.

Geographical Considerations

Though you may want to go kayaking as part of a boat club, what’s available in your area depends on geographical location and features. Some waterways aren’t safe for specific types of boating, while other areas may have protection policies in place to preserve ecosystems.

For example, kayaking or canoeing may be the only form of boating a club offers due to its location in an environmental protection area. Other clubs may only offer smaller boats due to boat insurance costs or the depth or width of the waterways.

Water Access

Some boat clubs function like golf course clubs do, granting membership to anyone who wants to pay the fee. In contrast, other clubs limit membership to people living in the immediate area. For example, if you live on a private lake within a gated community, you may find that membership benefits are only available to residents of that community.

Similarly, you may need to purchase a lakefront (or ocean- or river-front) lot to have membership opportunities with your local boat club. Fortunately, club specifics such as this are rarer in the days of ride-sharing and other peer-to-peer services. The move toward the boating without owning model is becoming more common.

Reciprocal Membership Options

Many boat clubs offer reciprocal memberships at nearby or partner clubs. For example, if you visit a lake and sign up for a membership with one company, you may be able to access the boats of ten other companies at the same site. Similarly, many boat clubs extend their services to multiple cities, states, or even countries. Reciprocity allows you to rent a boat no matter where you live or travel.

Ask about reciprocal membership when you visit your local boat club. Plus, consider the investment in a boat club in comparison with purchasing your own boat, kayak, or yacht. In many cases, boat clubs are an excellent deal—and more affordable than buying a brand-new boat.