Individual Yacht Clubs are private-membership organizations, not considered “places of public accommodation” under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yacht Clubs generally operate as corporations formed under state corporate laws, and their own locally established by-laws. They establish their own operating “rules-and-regulations.” In many parts of the country, there are regional associations of yacht clubs. Within these region affiliations, local customs and practices are usually similar from club-to-club. Examples include the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Clubs Association (CBYCA), The Florida Council of Yacht Clubs FCYC) and in the Hudson Valley, the Hudson River Boat and Yacht Club Association (HRBYCA) and the Mohawk-Hudson Council of Yacht Clubs (MHCYC). Similar associations exist across the country. There are also national associations of yacht clubs. One national association of yacht clubs is the “Yachting Club of America.”
Cruisers should view reciprocity as a courtesy extended to visitor’s by a local yacht club. Local rules surrounding non-member visitors reflect the attitude of the club’s members and are adopted by each individual club’s Board of Directors. Yachting Club of America member clubs are not “required” to offer reciprocity; the choice is up to the local club. Reciprocity is not guaranteed. Local yacht clubs may or may not allow persons not affiliated with a home yacht club to visit and use their facilities. The terms and conditions of reciprocity plans vary widely, often based loosely on “regional custom and practice.” Some clubs do not choose to offer reciprocity in any form, some offer reciprocity only to members of specific sister clubs, some restrict reciprocity to members of “any other” yacht club, and some choose to admit transient cruisers. Unless there are specific arrangements in place between specific clubs, reciprocity usually means the hosting club will extend the use of their docks, and sometimes their other facilities, to visitors affiliated with other yacht clubs.
“Reciprocity” does not mean “free.” Dockage fees are often comparable to fees at regional marinas. Most yacht clubs have very limited slip capacity available for transients, so advanced planning and reservations are sometimes helpful. Not all clubs accept advance reservations. Many yacht clubs are some distance away from towns and/or shopping, and more often than not, have limited dining facilities, if any at all.
In New England, based on our cruising experience, we concluded it was the regional norm (custom and practice) for yacht cubs to accept transients for dockage/mooring without requiring affiliation with a home club. We were usually welcomed to use club facilities, but at Point Independence Yacht Club, Onset, MA, we were told transients could not use their club house facilities.
On the Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Clubs Association follows regional interests affecting yacht clubs. On the Chesapeake, particularly the northern Bay, it’s more the norm for clubs to restrict transient visitors to those cruisers who have membership in a home yacht club. Annapolis is a destination port, and the Annapolis Yacht Club will not welcome transients from Chesapeake Bay clubs located within 100 miles of Annapolis. Capital Yacht Club, Washington, DC, is a very welcoming club. Slip availability is highly constrained by demand, and advance planning is essential. The weekly dockage rate at CYC equaled regional marina transient rates, and they do offer a modest discount for members of other CBYCA clubs and for weeklong stays. Hampton Yacht Club, Hampton, VA, is an extraordinarily friendly and welcoming club on the southern Bay.
Chicago Yacht Club welcomed us. CYC requires transient visitors to be members of a home yacht club. Weekday rates are less than weekend rates. There are restrictions on length-of-stay (three nights maybe) during their “peak season,” but we arrived after Labor Day, and those restrictions were waived at that time of year. CYC has a van service, free to use, that transported us to several areas museums and grocery shopping, and picked us up again by pre-arrangement with the driver. We couldn’t have felt more welcome. We observed generally that yacht clubs on the great inland rivers tended to welcome transient cruisers.
Florida has a regional organization called the Florida Council of Yacht Clubs. Not all Florida clubs belong to FCYC. Among themselves, FCYC member clubs have special reciprocity arrangements for members of other FCYC clubs. Membership in the council is fee-based for member clubs, and yacht club members pay for the FCYC reciprocity arrangement through their membership fees in their home clubs. Many Florida Council clubs and non-council clubs will accept transient visitors from out-of-state yacht clubs, as always, based on slip availability. They usually charge a dockage fee, sometimes approaching that of local marinas, sometimes a bit less. Some clubs, like Halifax River Yacht Club, Daytona, are very welcoming and friendly. Others are neither. There is little way – other than personal reference – to know in advance how welcome you’ll be.
Payment practices for dockage and services vary from club-to-club. Many clubs are structured to avoid handling cash, so they require either credit cards or inter-club billing. The Florida Council clubs prefer inter-club billing. Most clubs will accept credit cards from out-of-state transients. At one Florida Council club, local practice was to accept checks for dockage, but only inter-club billing in their dining room. Inter-club billing is not the norm for our home club or region. On one visit to a Florida Council club, we had dinner in the dining room. They insisted on billing the dinner check through our home yacht club. I told them at the time-of-service that my club was not set up to handle it. Several months later (maybe 6 months), I got a “dear deadbeat” call from the Florida club’s Vice Commodore. I explained the background and what we had experienced at the time-of-visit. Of course, I offered to send him a check. He accepted, but it all would have been much easier if they had accepted payment by credit card at the time-of-service.
Nationwide, yacht clubs in many areas are experiencing membership and budget pressures. Not every yacht club, of course, but some are finding that welcoming transient visitors helps their revenues. Traveling cruisers should inquire about availability if a local yacht club appears to meet the cruiser’s travel needs. The worst that can happen is that they either have no space available or they say “no,” and that can happen at marinas, too.
Finally, I don’t believe yacht cub membership for the purpose of eligibility for reciprocity would provide any financial benefit to cruisers. Reciprocity might get cruisers access in some areas, usually at local transient prices.