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I am the Rear Commodore for Chesapeake Bay Yacht Clubs Association. We recently had a summit for our member clubs' officers where one common issue amongst about 90% of the clubs was declining membership due to aging members and not enough incoming members to boost membership numbers.

I'd really love feedback from those SailNetters who do NOT belong to boating clubs/associations, etc. about what prevents you from joining.

The sailing club I belong to is $35/year for two of us so in my case, the cost of joining wasn't an issue. I joined to learn how to sail. I didn't buy my first boat until a year after joining. I maintained my membership over 20 years in order to give back to the club my time in various officer positions because the members gave me so much when I needed it (and still do). John and I went from crossing the lake to crossing the Atlantic in our time as members.

Our club is mostly made up of lake sailors. John and I along with one other couple keep our boats on the bay. A couple who sail in Europe and the Caribbean joined a few years ago. Our membership has dwindled steadily since I joined.

When I teach boating classes (USCGAUX) and students ask "What next?" I always encourage them to find a local club to join because it's a great way to learn on a variety of boats. I don't know how many actually do.

Every so often we (OK, I) think about joining a yacht club but John knows that if he waits long enough I'll talk myself out of it and he breathes again. We may join another virtual club that has a lot of social events within walking distance of our boat and although they keep their boats in Rock Hall, MD, most members live near-ish us in SE Pennsylvania.

I realize that some people just aren't joiners. But what else prevents you?

Very curious.
 

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For us it's cost versus value. Way back when, reciprocity was simple and welcome among clubs. The few times I've checked lately the clubs I talked to had made no effort to reach out to other clubs so that their members would be welcome to take a transient slip or even enjoy the drinking and dining available.
At us$500.00 a year or so for a non-resident membership, as a cruiser, I'd want the use of the facilities of most clubs that might be on my itinerary.
I understand you are more interested in local members to increase the participation in your club activities, but having members from other clubs involved when they are in the area could be beneficial, too.
 
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Thanks Capta for that information.

Reciprocity was another issue that came up at our summit. CBYCA encourages reciprocity amongst all its member clubs. The clubs with facilities wondered what the clubs without had to offer in return.

When I visit clubs with facilities I always do so with the question in the back of my mind "Would I feel comfortable joining this club?" because I'm seriously shopping. So I'm one virtual club member using the reciprocity with an eye toward potentially requesting membership. Even if I'm just visiting for a day or two, I'm spending money in their restaurants and bars. By not being welcoming, they've lost my potential business.
 

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There are so many different kinds of clubs from virtual, to member owned, to full service clubs.

I was an officer and Commodore of a full blown club and member for 10 years. Aside from boat slips, the social aspect at the time was important for my wife to learn sailing and commradiere of other women sailors.

However the clubs politics ruined the last few years of our experience, probably because I got involved in it as the Commodore. The club was failing financially slowly. Was not run as a business, but run as a place to party. The club was held up financially by the resident members ( those with boats) paying over $5000 a year. The social members only paid $500 and they got a pool with that. This group became the the loudest at meetings and any attempt to increase their fees was met with threats. Meanwhile the boaters who supported the club financially really just wanted a safe place for their boats and weren’t interested in partying at the club on the weekend. They were out boating many times with each other.

The politics of this lead to a definite conflict. They wanted a cheap neighborhood place to party and actually resented the “yacht club “ history and it’s officers and tradition.

This discourse drove people away as well as their prices up for slips and it became a cyclical process. This clubs members were not willing to work on beautification projects together and felt they paid their fees to not to have to do that. I watched other successful member clubs who had healthy participation. They had some hour requirements. The only successful financially clubs controlled their social me,bet ship and their voting rights, and ran them as businesses too. While social members would want a restaurant, parties, they weren’t willing to support it financially.

My point is the politics of the club may be a real turnoff to membership. The club has to decide whether it’s a serious yacht club with boating/ sailing or a drinking party club for its neighborhood.

It has been and always will be a discussion of dwindling membership. Reputation helps drive increased membership as do its members attitudes to outsiders.

I was a member of CBCYA for years and have many many good friends from their who I continue to boat with.
Saying that I am glad we left where we were and find that our boating experiences have improved since we did.
We didn’t need planned parties or some member waiting at the dock for me to return from my weekend out to complain about the club or another member.
 

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Interesting question, Donna...will be curious to hear what the range of collective opinions and experiences are on this.

For me, my folks were members of a sailing club when I was a kid and that's where I learned to sail. After I graduated from high school I held my own membership at that club through my twenties because I had made a lot of friends there over the years and enjoyed the racing and social aspects of being in the club. If I hadn't finally graduated from college and gotten a job (at 30!) I'd probably still be a member there today - if its still around after 35 years or so.......but, I got a job, sold my Nacra, let my membership go, and moved around the country for about 20 years before I landed in south Florida and got another boat. At that point in my life sailing was an escape - I was working 80 hours a week and when I had time to sail I was looking for the peace and solitude of time alone on the boat, not a social scene, so a quiet marina in the keys was what suited me best. Over the next 10 years or so I moved the boat from the Keys up to Port Canaveral and back a few times as I got moved around for work, but each time looked more for a quiet marina rather than a club.

Now that I'm retired, however, I have become more interested in sailing club or yacht club membership. I joined the Royal Marsh Harbour Yacht Club last spring when I was in the Abacos because I had met some fellow cruisers in the anchorage at Green Turtle who recommended it as a way to meet some local cruisers and get discounts on food and fuel at marinas, but unfortunately didn't spend much time getting to know folks thinking I would have more time to do that this coming spring when I went back that way as part of a longer trip to the the Exumas......but Dorian provided a good lesson in not putting things off for tomorrow, huh?

Anyway, that's a long way around to say that it was a matter of what sailing experience I wanted with the time I had available more than a cost versus value decision when deciding to join a sailing / yacht club vs staying in a marina.
 

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There are so many different kinds of clubs from virtual, to member owned, to full service clubs....

However the clubs politics ruined the last few years of our experience, ..... The club was failing financially slowly. Was not run as a business, .....
This group became the the loudest at meetings and any attempt to increase their fees was met with threats. ......

The politics of this lead to a definite conflict. ..... and actually resented the ... history and it’s officers and tradition.

This discourse drove people away as well as their prices up .... and it became a cyclical process. This clubs members were not willing to work on beautification projects together and felt they paid their fees to not to have to do that. I watched other successful member clubs who had healthy participation. They had some hour requirements. The only successful financially clubs controlled their social membership and their voting rights, and ran them as businesses too. While .... members ...
weren’t willing to support it financially.

My point is the politics of the club may be a real turnoff to membership.....

It has been and always will be a discussion of dwindling membership. Reputation helps drive increased membership as do its members attitudes to outsiders.


We didn’t need ..... some member ..... to complain about the club or another member.
I have not yet spent any time at anyplace that has a yacht club, but this sounds like all the worst elements of a youth sports parents club, the PTA, and a neighborhood association, all rolled into one. Scary.

The only reason I might join one, would be to have a place to keep my boat, and to introduce my wife to people in a sailing community. And I can't offer any insight into what young people would want. We were members of a ballroom dance club that died because there were no young couples joining. Near the end, we had long term members who came with their walkers, just to hear the music, and socialize.
 

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I have not yet spent any time at anyplace that has a yacht club, but this sounds like all the worst elements of a youth sports parents club, the PTA, and a neighborhood association, all rolled into one. Scary.
Understand the first 6 years it was a perfectly good experience.

My takeaway was that if you can find the “right” club it can be a great experience. Figure out what you want from it first and if it can meet those needs

If you find a club where the members help out physically then they are more likely to accept others IMHO and it helps create an esprit de cor. The clubs which are people paying and everyone gets a vote, well that leads to a lot of discention.

If you are looking for a boating/ sailing club , the goals are different from the club which encourages the locals to party.
 

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I never joined a club because non of the benefits appealed to me and I believe the costs were too much. I have wintered at a few clubs. I find the restaurant handy when I was doing boat work... the members were friendly. They wanted me to join... that club went out of business. My experience at another wintering was not as positive... very little interaction with members, staff seemed OK... lots of rules. Location of these clubs was close to home in the west end of the Sound but not where I would be sailing usually. As I rarely needed things like reciprocal privileges... slip or mooring... the only features which I might use.... a dinghy landing dock (to walk the dogs) or their restaurant/bar were no available at most clubs. A few of them seemed to welcome non members to their restaurant. I am not one to sit at any bar, drink and shoot the breeze... something many sailors seem to like. I don't race or have kids who need to learn how to sail.

Why be a member of something, a yacht club in this case, if you get nothing of value (to me) for the money?
 

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I would say a big turn off for us is initiation fees. Around here, most of the clubs annual fees seem to line up more or less with a decent marina. But there are hefty initiation fees, I think designed to lock you into the club.

We joined what on the surface seemed like a nice club but the culture actually sucked. It was stuck up and cliquish. We only stuck around a year due to the culture and were out the 6 boat bucks.

We have never been willing to part with the bucks for an initiation fee again to try out another club when there are so many nice marinas around. And we have never encountered the same exclusive culture at a marina and we can move around marinas every few years as we please, or even just trailer.
 

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$6000 for the initiation fee, then about $5-6000 per year depending on boat length. So the first year was $12000. Marinas around here are about $5000-6000 a year for a boat that size, but no initiation fees.
 

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How many people do you know that have never been on an airplane? Of course, there are some, but I'll bet it's much fewer than would have been the answer 30 years ago. Fewer still 30 years prior to that.

The point is that people in general want varied experiences now and they are within reach. The local yacht or country clubs used to be the best place in town to entertain yourself or your kids. That money can now be used for a trip to Europe or a winter bareboat cruise in the Caribbean. People don't want to be locked into one thing anymore.

My family belonged to a yacht club, when I was a kid. I never have as an adult, but have been recruited by members to join several. I don't want to be locked down. I don't want to feel obligated to attend events, if I have a better offer that weekend. I really don't want member work hours obligations.

I currently belong to a country club and an upland bird hunting preserve. The Country Club hass dwindling membership and they keep throwing assessments at the members to plug operating losses. Everyone is getting tired of spending more and more, when we all attend less and less. I no longer golf, so it's strictly social and I see these same people elsewhere. The "status" of being a member has zero interest to me. The club is beautiful, the membership is nice but not snotty and the staff are great. We just don't go.

The hunting preserve is different, because it's generally the only place I can go to do this. Almost gone are the days of hunting on public land, like I did as a kid. I no longer sit and wait for big game, like deer. I much prefer to walk a field with a flushing dog. I love watching the dog, whether we ever see a bird and the exercise is nice too. The point is, I belong to and use that club in the winter, because it's essentially the only option for the activity. No yacht club has that advantage.

I think the one's that are just that good, are well located where there is ample disposable income or have some serious advantage in providing access to sailing, when nearby public marinas don't, will make it. The rest are doomed, I'm afraid. People don't want them like they used to.
 

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Minni is right about the end of the club era... A few will survive on their snob appeal the rest have way more downside than up. Virtual clubs for racing... or meeting at restaurants and so on may replace the bricks and more clubs. The restaurants will become public and the slips will be available to anyone who pays. Launch service will be private pay as you go services.
 

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I wonder if there is another local factor too. I don't have the stats, but I think the percent of household budgets spent on eating out has increased over the years. That would mean more options would become available too. It used to be that the club's restaurant was a real social and culinary draw, to accommodate the lack of options. No shortage now. Usually better. This trend would reduce disposable income too. My young kids definitely eat out way more than I did at their age, by order of magnitude.
 

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I belonged to a sailing club for several years, and at one point was an officer. The club that I was a member of did not have any facilities, but it rented space from another yacht club for meetings. The goal of the club was to get boat owners that wanted crew and competent crew together. I met some GREAT people through the club, and had some great experiences sailing on other people's boats. When I teach, I STRONGLY suggest that my students join this club to try it out.

However, the question is why I am not a member. I let my membership lapse twice for several reasons. One of which is the "clickey" nature of every club. The same people would always sail and socialize with the same people. After belonging to the club for over 5 years, one of which I was an officer, I was socializing before a meeting when a more senior member of the club came up to me and asked; "and who are you?"

I made an effort to sail with different people whenever I could, and to this day found that the best education of all of the boating related classes that I have attended. Unfortunately, I felt that there were not enough boat owners or crew that would do this.

Another issue is that I started to question the value of membership. Dues were about $100 every year. Dues were collected and much of the money went to an insurance company and *sometimes* recognition for selected members. Meetings were open to the public, and the club where meetings were held did quite well at the bar, so that wasn't it. It seemed that *the* primary reason for dues was to pay for an insurance policy on the club.

A concern that the officers of the club had is that members would not participate in club events. In my attempt to address this, one year I organized a club event and was able to get some of the money in the treasury for a memento to all that participated in the event (a $3 monogramed LED light). The concept of having some memento seems not to have been grasped by the club, as it did not happen again. Also it turned into a headache for me because 30% of the lights were DOA. Further, I was disapointed by the example that several of the officers of the club would set by never attending the public meetings.

The officers of the club stated their concern for declining membership, yet they were unwilling or unable to implement any kind of change to encourage new members. For example; I sat through several board meetings where the officers debated making the club roster available "on-line" yet the idea was continually resisted because making this change could raise privacy concerns. I finally addressed this with the board by suggesting that members be allowed to "opt-out" of the on-line roster. The next year the club implemented the change! To the best of my knowledge, no one ever opted out.

As a final example that I can think of off the top of my head; there were some members of the club (like members of SailNet) that were experts on everything, and would bicker about anything and everything. One example; I shared information about a deal on a Rocna anchor with the membership, and this sparked an anchor debate where these "experts" were challenging my motivation, experience, and seamanship. I was neither promoting nor relegating the Rocna, I just stated that there was a deal on one if anyone was interested. Unfortunately, you can't put someone on "Ignore" in real life as easily as you can in SailNet. I could cite other examples...

I am sure that if I reflected longer on this topic I could come up with other reasons. I had hoped that my leaving the club the first time would show that I was not happy with the way that the club was run. After a two year hiatus, I returned for two more years, yet I found that things were still the same. To put it simply, I decided that I was not right to be a member of this club.

I have returned to a couple of the the club's "public" meetings because I wanted to hear the speakers. Both times I have been greeted warmly by many members, and I have thouroughly enjoyed the experience. It has been suggested to me that I join again, but I feel that would be like marrying the same woman three times.
 

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One major advantage of a private club of any kind is being a safe haven from all the buttheads who invent all the awful things the 1%ers are sure to be doing. Sure, there are idiots in every social echelon, but it's tiring to hear one is awful, by definition, just because they worked hard, took risk and became successful.

Another advantage, with clubs like the hunting preserve, is there are no anti-gun, anti-hunting people around to criticize. Mind you, the only guns around are over-under shotguns worth thousands of dollars each, often tens of thousands believe it or not. It's not a place for AR15s. Still, people pay for privacy (legal privacy).

Not sure many yacht clubs are necessary for either of these issues. All marinas are wealthy. You have to be well in the upper half of wealth, probably top 10%, if you own any boat at a marina, even the smallest.
 

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I belonged to a sailing club for several years, and at one point was an officer. The club that I was a member of did not have any facilities, but it rented space from another yacht club for meetings. The goal of the club was to get boat owners that wanted crew and competent crew together. I met some GREAT people through the club, and had some great experiences sailing on other people's boats. When I teach, I STRONGLY suggest that my students join this club to try it out.

However, the question is why I am not a member. I let my membership lapse twice for several reasons. One of which is the "clickey" nature of every club. The same people would always sail and socialize with the same people. After belonging to the club for over 5 years, one of which I was an officer, I was socializing before a meeting when a more senior member of the club came up to me and asked; "and who are you?"

I made an effort to sail with different people whenever I could, and to this day found that the best education of all of the boating related classes that I have attended. Unfortunately, I felt that there were not enough boat owners or crew that would do this.

Another issue is that I started to question the value of membership. Dues were about $100 every year. Dues were collected and much of the money went to an insurance company and *sometimes* recognition for selected members. Meetings were open to the public, and the club where meetings were held did quite well at the bar, so that wasn't it. It seemed that *the* primary reason for dues was to pay for an insurance policy on the club.

A concern that the officers of the club had is that members would not participate in club events. In my attempt to address this, one year I organized a club event and was able to get some of the money in the treasury for a memento to all that participated in the event (a $3 monogramed LED light). The concept of having some memento seems not to have been grasped by the club, as it did not happen again. Also it turned into a headache for me because 30% of the lights were DOA. Further, I was disapointed by the example that several of the officers of the club would set by never attending the public meetings.

The officers of the club stated their concern for declining membership, yet they were unwilling or unable to implement any kind of change to encourage new members. For example; I sat through several board meetings where the officers debated making the club roster available "on-line" yet the idea was continually resisted because making this change could raise privacy concerns. I finally addressed this with the board by suggesting that members be allowed to "opt-out" of the on-line roster. The next year the club implemented the change! To the best of my knowledge, no one ever opted out.

As a final example that I can think of off the top of my head; there were some members of the club (like members of SailNet) that were experts on everything, and would bicker about anything and everything. One example; I shared information about a deal on a Rocna anchor with the membership, and this sparked an anchor debate where these "experts" were challenging my motivation, experience, and seamanship. I was neither promoting nor relegating the Rocna, I just stated that there was a deal on one if anyone was interested. Unfortunately, you can't put someone on "Ignore" in real life as easily as you can in SailNet. I could cite other examples...

I am sure that if I reflected longer on this topic I could come up with other reasons. I had hoped that my leaving the club the first time would show that I was not happy with the way that the club was run. After a two year hiatus, I returned for two more years, yet I found that things were still the same. To put it simply, I decided that I was not right to be a member of this club.

I have returned to a couple of the the club's "public" meetings because I wanted to hear the speakers. Both times I have been greeted warmly by many members, and I have thouroughly enjoyed the experience. It has been suggested to me that I join again, but I feel that would be like marrying the same woman three times.
Yes I had similar experiences. It’s the “politicking” which ruined it.
I remember once my wife and I decided that the foyer of the club needed repainting. In the past the Commodore just did this in many areas as the ongoing maintainence didn’t need debate or approval if the cost was minimal ( less than $75) . This work was done during January when most members didn’t use the club so not to impact meetings etc.

A few of the social members when they returned didn’t like the color so they ranted and raved about the lack of approval and that the membership needed to vote on the color. This small mindedness was so intense about what the issue was about, you’d have thought I’d embezzled money.

They all thought they had the right to an opinion even though they paid bare minimal fees compared to the boaters.
 

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Not sure many yacht clubs are necessary for either of these issues. All marinas are wealthy. You have to be well in the upper half of wealth, probably top 10%, if you own any boat at a marina, even the smallest.
Not sure I can relate to any of that, but certainly my experience is a bit different than this....the marina my boat is currently in has about 300 boats, and probably half belong to middle class folks.....I certainly dont' know everyone there but the folks I do know are electricians, plumbers, welders, an ICU nurse, teachers, retired navy and air force, and some folks who work at the port. Definitely not an upper 10% scene!
 
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I am a past Commodore and Vice Commodore of a sailing club in North Florida - ( no longer a member due to move) we had a pool ,bar, dock, slips , Jr sailing program , reasonable rates and held numerous regattas each year - but was still a challenge to keep membership up - my kids grew up there and there used to be a lot of families with kids involved with many having their own boats - mostly under 30 feet - lots on trailers.
I just don't think many of those type of families are around now , at least not as many - so waht you have are clubs full of old farts - which might be fine for us old farts - but does not drive membership as much.

I keep a boat in Cocoa area now - there are a couple of yacht clubs - but with my kids older grown and gone - I don't have the interest or need in joining a club, sitting around a bar and BS's with others just has no interest - I like sailing clubs - not interested in Yacht Clubs - but for sailing clubs to thrive they need participation of kids - which in turn gets the parent involved - kids and young families just arent sailing like they used to.
 
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