If you’re like most boat owners, then this time of year you’re thinking about getting your boat ready for the season. And as much as you look forward to getting out on the water again, you aren’t looking forward to the process.
You’ll have a good bit of cleaning to do – and you’re hoping the critters haven’t made a mess. You’ll have to check the battery and check for mechanical issues, which are often found when you’re de-winterizing.
And timing can be an issue. Do you de-winterize early, and risk not being past the last freeze? Or do you play it safe and wait until mid-April – at which point you can get in line; everyone else has the same idea, and you’ll be lucky to get your boat in the water by Memorial Day.
Of course, there’s also another option for people who like to get out and enjoy the lake: boat clubs. A boat club operates in a similar fashion to a country club: for a monthly fee, members have reserved access to a fleet of boats on local lakes and some other destinations as well.
So what are the differences between boat ownership and boat club membership, and how do you decide which option is better for you?
Pros and Cons
The biggest “pro” for boat clubs by far is convenience. When you want to go boating, you simply go to the marina at your reserved time and head out on the water. Another benefit is that the boats you’re using will likely be new and nice.
Joining a boat club will mean no more maintenance or seasonal headaches with your boat, no more slip fees, and no more driving a trailer around. Also, you will likely be able to use boats at different locations, like when you’re traveling out of town to visit relatives.
Of course, there’s also a downside: If you belong to a boat club, you have to plan ahead and reserve your boat because if you wait until the last minute, you might not be able to get the boat you want at the time you want it.
Also, the cost of a membership is as consistent as a boat payment: it comes due every month. So if your boat is already paid for, then joining a boat club may be an extra monthly cost; the money you get from selling it may only pay for a few years’ membership.
Money: Which costs less?
To figure out which option is more cost-effective for your family, you must take everything into account: boat payments, insurance, slip fees, transportation costs, and ongoing and seasonal maintenance.
If you have a newer boat, your payment alone is likely to be higher than the monthly cost of a boat club membership. While membership may cost you less than $400 a month, a boat payment can easily be $600 or more. And the more expensive your boat, the higher your insurance.
When your boat is in the water, the slip fee can easily add another $250 to your monthly cost, and you still have to pay for maintenance on the boat. If you trailer your boat back and forth instead of storing at a marina, fuel costs can add up quickly.
If you store your boat on your own property, you save on slip fees – but you spend more on transportation. Depending how far it is from the lake, this may be a considerable cost.
If you have an older boat, you may have a smaller payment – or maybe it’s already paid for. But with an older boat, your maintenance costs are higher – especially when you start having mechanical problems. It’s important to take an honest look at what it’s costing you, in dollars as well as in time.
Once you take everything into account, it’s not unusual for boat owners to spend more than $1,000 a month on keeping their boat operational – but of course this varies widely.
If you have a paid-for boat that’s stored at a home near the lake, then boat ownership may be the cheaper option. If you’re making payments on your boat and paying slip fees, then a boat club membership is likely to be cheaper.
Time: What Are your Priorities?
For some people, owning a boat is about the sense of pride that comes from giving it your personal touch and calling it yours – and the joy you get from taking care of your boat is more important than spending a few extra weekends on the water.
If this is your primary goal, then boat ownership is likely to suit you better than joining a boat club. After all, using the club’s boats is never going to feel the same as having one of your own.
If your goal is less about having a boat and more about using one, however, then a boat club membership may suit you better.
This option is the one that will maximize lake time and eliminate the need to spend time fooling with your boat off the water; statistically, boat club members go boating significantly more often than boat owners.
If working on a boat is your favorite hobby, then boat ownership is an investment you will likely enjoy for many years. If family fun on the lake is your goal, then boat club membership may be a better choice.