As illustrated in our many articles on boat clubs, joining one can be one of many highlights in your life!
Joining a boat club gives you unlimited access to the open water without the maintenance and work required if you were to own your boat. Many of these clubs even offer classy amenities so that you can embrace an entirely new lifestyle!
You may be excited to get out on the water, but there are a few things you should know first. Keep in mind that each boat club will have slightly different rules, so you will want to check with management to verify the details. However, this guide should give you a great starting point so that you know what to expect from your membership.
Here are some of the rules that you might want to familiarize yourself with before you join your very first boat club.
Can you Split a Boat Club Membership?
Maybe you like the idea of boating, but you know that you don’t have very much time to dedicate to this hobby right now. Sometimes, people find that they simply aren’t going to maximize the full usage of their membership.
This is why many begin to wonder if they should just split the membership costs with a friend or family member who also enjoys boating! Some clubs do not allow this, but some do.
Carefree Boat Club, one of the largest in the country, allows you to share a membership with someone else. In this type of situation, you can split the fee fifty-fifty with your friend or family member! This includes the initiation fee, monthly membership fee, and the online reservation system fee.
Each person included in the membership has equal access to make reservations throughout the year. They will have their unique log-in credentials that grant access to four rotating shared reservations.
However, all members can manage these reservations. You should make sure to keep the lines of communication open when it comes to making reservations for a weekend on the water.
Can I Sell My Boat Club Membership?
Not everyone enjoys boating as much as they thought they would. There is a possibility that you might want to sell your boat club membership if you aren’t having fun or have had a significant change in a work schedule that limits your ability to go out on the water.
Is it possible to sell your membership?
As with most of these frequently asked questions, the answer depends on the boat club. Freedom Boat Club does allow you to sell your membership independently and transfer it to someone else.
If you cannot find someone who wants to purchase what remains of your membership, then you may want to allow them to sell it for you. They will refund half of your money if you decide to go this route.
However, you may find that it is better for you financially to simply cancel your membership entirely. Most Freedom Boat Club locations only require a sixty-day written notice to void your policy moving forward.
Some locations do require longer lead times, so make sure to talk with management if this is something that concerns you.
How Much Can You Use Club Boats as a Member?
The number of times you can use club boats as a member depends on what type of membership you sign up for. Even among the two largest boat clubs, Carefree Boat Club and Freedom Boat Club, there are several different membership tiers available.
Club Boat Usage:
- Unlimited usage
- Weekdays only
- Weekends only
- Friends and family packages
During the time that the boats are accessible to you, you gain unlimited access to those boats! For example, you will have unlimited access to the boats Monday through Friday with a weekday-only plan. As long as the boats are available, you will have the option to sail them.
In most clubs, there are no daily costs for reserving and using a boat apart from the fuel that you use. This should encourage you to take full advantage of your membership and reserve a boat as often as you possibly can.
How Long Beforehand Should I Make a Reservation?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions about boat membership clubs. Will there be any boats available during the peak season? How far in advance should I book my reservation?
Both Carefree Boat Club and Freedom Boat Club try to stick to set ratios that ensure they have enough boats for all members to comfortably enjoy and experience being on the water. For every ten members, there should be one boat.
This ensures that every member has an opportunity to access their premier selection of boats.
There is a good possibility that you may be able to call your local marina and reserve a boat for the day of your trip. This is particularly true during the off-season when sailing is not quite as popular.
However, you may want to be safe rather than sorry if you know there are specific dates that you would like to use a boat. At Freedom Boat Club, you can make up to four reservations through their online app up to six months in advance. You can also make reservations up to six months in advance at Carefree Boat Club.
Who Can You Bring With You on Boat Trips?
Most people find that they do not want to enjoy open water all by themselves. Boating is a hobby that is best done in the company of others. The good news is that you can bring many different people with you on your boating excursions.
Boat clubs typically allow you to bring anyone you want, even if they have no sailing experience. Feel free to bring friends, family members, children, and possibly even your favorite furry friend. Some boat clubs have ships that are pet-friendly.
Boating is also an excellent opportunity for you to impress a client from work. You can take them out for an afternoon of boating that will allow them to see you and your company in a whole new light.
The only limiting factor in who you can bring onto the boat with you is the capacity. Each boat is designed to carry a limited number of passengers, so be sure to inquire about the passenger capacity when making your reservations. If you have too many people to comfortably and safely fit on the boat, not everyone will be able to join you.
Can I Bring My Own Fuel For the Boats?
Unfortunately, most boat clubs do not allow you to supply your own fuel for the boats.
When it comes to your boat membership, the only additional fee that you incur is the cost of your fuel consumption. There are no daily usage rates or rental fees that you need to worry about. However, many people feel that they would be more comfortable bringing their own fuel for the boat.
This is one way that some individuals feel they can save a few dollars. By hitting up the cheapest fuel station, you could save a substantial amount of money if you are an avid boater.
However, charging members for fuel consumption is one way that a boat club can ensure their boat receives quality fuel, helping them to manage and maintain their fleet.
Benefits to Boat Club Fuel
While you may not be able to bring your own fuel, there are benefits to paying a little extra.
Boat clubs will take care of fueling the boat up for you before you ever leave the marina! You’ll never have to worry about having enough fuel, and most clubs, particularly those with franchised locations, have their own fuel flow meters. This allows them to charge you appropriately for the fuel you used and to adequately prepare the boat for its next reservation.
Smaller boat clubs that don’t have access to fuel pumps at the marina may allow you to supply your own fuel, though. Simply check with the management to determine what facilities are available and what rules will apply when it comes to the provision of fuel.
How Far Away From the Marina can I Take the Boat?
Most boat clubs do not dictate the specific distance that you can take the boat away from the marina. However, they do specify how soon you need to return the boat. You should keep this timeframe in mind to help you decide how far out of the marina you can take the boat.
Some clubs allow you to reserve the boats in split shifts. This means that you may reserve the boat from sunrise until mid-afternoon, and someone else will reserve the boat from the afternoon through the evening. Shorter shifts like these will keep you tethered close to the marina to prevent you from being hit with penalties for not returning the boat on time.
If you know that you want to venture further out into the local waterways, you should plan to reserve the boat for the entire day.
Extended Hours for Boating
Depending on your location, some clubs offer extended hours so that you can rent the boats early in the morning and stay late past sunset. There is even a possibility that you could take the boat out overnight, perhaps docking it on a local island so that you can enjoy an evening under the stars.
While there are no hard and fast rules about how far you can take the boat away from the marina, you should be cognizant of how much time you have with the boat. Plan ahead to account for boating against the wind, against the current, and other factors that can influence how much time it will take to return to the dock.
Can I Take Boats Outside of the United States?
Most boat clubs are not going to allow you to venture outside of United States waters with their boats. This would severely limit the number of ships they have available to rent out to other members if you are gone for days or weeks at a time on an international journey. It would not be practical for them to allow you to take the boats out for such long periods.
Major boat clubs like Freedom Boat Club do have international locations in other countries. If you are granted access to their reciprocal boat program, you can reserve their boats worldwide, including European and Canadian locations.
Keep in mind that there are unique rules that apply to use club boats in international waters. For example, you may be required to have a boating permit that has been translated into the local dialect. Many states do not require this type of licensing, so it may be a rather tricky document to obtain.
You may also be asked to prove that you are competent enough to drive a boat in foreign waters. As an international boater, you would be required to maintain specific paperwork and comply with their local legislation.
Do some homework on the requirements you may be asked about before heading out on a trip like this.
What About Boat Safety Rules?
New to boating? It may feel overwhelming to consider all of the safety rules you must learn before you can be released onto the open water. Boating safety is one aspect of sailing that you can never overlook or underestimate. Should an emergency come up, you will be glad that you knew just what to do!
Fortunately, many of the most popular boat clubs offer some form of training for new skippers. For most of these locations, safety training is a mandatory part of your membership. You will not be permitted to reserve a boat until you have completed the necessary safety training.
Some clubs have members of the United States Coast Guard on hand to train their members and do official walk-throughs of their boats.
Freedom Boat Club offers both classroom training and on-the-water classes to get you up to speed quickly. Their courses cover basic safety and operation of the different types of boats included in their fleet.
Carefree Boat Club offers similar training. You start by reading their training manual and follow-up with a hands-on class that covers the same concepts.
Both clubs give you numerous opportunities to ask questions and see the demonstrations in person before being asked to perform them on your own. If you finish both training sessions, and still feel like you need more assistance, don’t be hesitant to ask for more help.
Every boat club would instead take the time to teach you how to sail safely rather than risk injury to you or the boat.
What Are the Rules About Footwear?
Many boat clubs do not have hard and fast rules about footwear, but you will want to take a common-sense approach to it. Some types of shoes can easily damage the interior of the boat, and you may be charged for this damage.
The easiest thing to do is to make sure that your shoes are clean before entering the boat. This means wiping them off on a mat at the dock or simply removing them before you step onto the deck of the boat. If you are going to wear shoes, make sure you stick with soft-soled options such as flip flops or tennis shoes.
Another helpful hint is to avoid shoes with dark soles. These can cause scuff marks across the deck that is difficult to get rid of.
Quite often, people find that they are most comfortable without their shoes while navigating through the open water. Consider bringing a small bin for all of your passengers to safely stash their shoes while you are enjoying an afternoon on the boat. Most people will already be wearing flip flops during the peak season, and these are easily cast aside.
You should also avoid putting shoes on the upholstery, as this can cause wear and tear. Similar to your rules at home, you would not expect guests to stand on your furniture with shoes on. Extend the same courtesy to the boat that you happen to be using.
No matter how much you want to dress to impress, you should never wear high heels on the boat you reserve. This can cause serious damage to the deck and result in little dents all over the wooden floor. Tennis shoes and flip flops are the best options unless you have shoes made specifically for boating.
Preparing for Your Boat Club Membership!
Spending money on a boat club membership can be a major financial investment.
Even though it often makes more sense to join one of these clubs instead of purchasing a boat, the cost is significant. It is so important to understand the ins-and-outs of the most popular boat clubs before you make a final decision to sign on the dotted line.
With some of your frequently asked questions covered, you can be confident about what you will encounter with your local boat club. Make sure to ask your local club for their specific rules as they may vary slightly from what you see here.
Every club is different, so make sure to do a little homework to figure out which one is right for you!
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Shelby Sullivan is our specialist when it comes to pontoon boats and recreational watercraft. She is often found sailing the freshwater lakes of Michigan. She is also a light-traveler who enjoys camping and traveling the world. Read more about Shelby here.