For many people, boat ownership is a chance to get away from it all, take time out and forget all one's worldly cares, and as much as that might read like a hermit's charter, this list of desirable boating experiences is often enhanced by joining a club of some sort. However, choosing the right yacht club or sailing club is like choosing lawn furniture: if you don't have a clear idea of what you want to do in your garden, as well as what your house's outside space is suited for, it might actually put you or your family off, rather than increasing participation and enjoyment (see also: Get your family boating in 6 steps). So how do you find the right one?
If you live near a club, that can be a strong reason to choose it above another that you have to travel to, but sometimes it simply won’t be suitable for your needs. Popular yachting locations often have two or more clubs. In coastal areas, one club is usually orientated more towards smaller boats and another to larger ones, which might sway you one way or another, while some people choose to join more than one club as their needs are very different for the different types of sailing they undertake.
2. Yacht or powerboat facilities
Some clubs offer their own marina facilities, others have moorings or boat storage areas, while some will have neither – simply providing a meeting place for members. Meanwhile, many marinas have clubhouses of their own, but these are sometimes geared more towards visiting yachtsmen than towards ‘resident’ members and tend to generally have less of a social programme. What’s your preference? If you’re comfortable shuttling your gear and provisions out to the boat via the club’s launch or your own tender, then a mooring is fine, and the minor inconvenience might be offset by other club privileges, such as location or a fine dining room with a great waterfront view.
3. Cruising or racing
Many yacht clubs organise cruising in company events, during which a fleet of club yachts or powerboats travel to other clubs in the area or abroad. It’s a fun way to visit other ports with like-minded people and especially valuable in building your confidence for longer passages. On the other hand you might enjoy a bit of competition. The racing various clubs organise varies greatly in quality, quantity and how serious the competition is. Racing is a great way to improve your skills, and for some clubs the emphasis is definitely on the fun element, while others can be at a very high level.
As a member of a yacht club, you acquire guest privileges at other clubs that have reciprocity agreements with yours. That gives you friends in every port to contact for advice whenever you travel. Reciprocity has value when you’re off the boat, too. If you’re traveling on business, for instance, and need a great place to take a client for lunch, you could have access to a fine dining room at a yacht club in the area. When considering a membership, review the list of clubs you gain access to.
5. Youth programmes
If you have children or grandchildren, a yacht club membership could go a long way towards turning the little ones into sailors or boaters, as many clubs have ‘cadet’ sailing programs. If that’s important to you, check out the reputation of the youth programs and look at the types of boats the kids are learning on. The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) is a good reference here, and some clubs are awarded special status for the standard of the programmes they provide. However, it’s worth remembering that no child will turn into Ben Ainslie overnight – in order to get them to love the sport what is most important is that there is something that they will find fun and enjoyable and that won’t necessarily be the club with the highest achieving youths.
6. Attitude and tone
Every club has a unique atmosphere and you want to choose one that reflects who you are. Clubs can range from ultra-formal to ultra-casual. There are the blue blazer organisations, where jackets are required in the club dining room, and others where you will never see anything more formal than T-shirts and trainers. Which mood best suits you? Yacht clubs in general are usually more formal and larger boat orientated, while sailing clubs tend to be more informal – but there are plenty of exceptions to surprise you. The best thing its to visit the club on a busy sailing day and try to get a feel for its character.
7. Fees and waiting lists
These can vary massively, and you need to check what is included and how well it suits your needs. The cheapest membership fees aren’t always the best value. Larger clubs are likely to charge more, but you may not have to do any duties, while other clubs will require you to take a turn at manning a rescue boat, or behind the bar. Also bear in mind that the club you like most may not be taking new members when you’re ready to join. Are you willing to wait? Waiting lists can be long, sometimes stretching to years.
8. Type of boat
It’s often more fun if there are other people with similar boats, while some clubs specialise in certain designs or types of boat and others, especially some of the smaller inland dinghy racing clubs, actually restrict the designs that can sail there.
There are almost as many different types of boating clubs as there are types of boater. There is no such thing as the "right boating club" just the right one for you. For a taste of the variety of sailing clubs and yacht clubs in the UK, see 14 of the best UK sailing clubs.