As a member of the Carefree Boat Club, I enjoy the ability to get out on the water a couple of times per week. However, understand that if you’re considering joining a club, it will come with limitations. While owning a vessel may seem to be the better option because you will be under no restriction, boat ownership comes with a headache. I know this because I have owned boats and worked as a captain. So, if you’re planning to join a boat club, understand the range and reservation limitations. 

Offshore Range Restrictions

I am an avid angler who enjoys offshore fishing. As a private boat owner, I had no issue running long distances from shore to troll the open ocean. Unfortunately, boating clubs will restrict the distance that you are allowed to take a boat in the ocean. Importantly, range limitations are rare on lakes and rivers. 

Insurance Is A Primary Reason For Range Restrictions

Again, I can speak specifically for the Carefree Boat Club because I am a member. However, the vast majority of clubs will limit the distance boats can travel offshore in coastal regions. 

Recently, I spoke to the owner of my local Carefree. The reason that the club limits the distance boats are allowed to venture onto the ocean is because of insurance. The insurance policy will only cover a boat that is within 25 miles from shore. 

Without question, owners of clubs will not allow members to push the limits. In the event of an emergency, the vessel would be at risk of a total loss of equipment and injury or death of members. For this reason, the rules are clearly defined. 

Keep in mind that the range is highly dependent on the club. I have seen some clubs allow members to travel up to 50 miles offshore and some less than 25. The challenge that I face is that on the Georgia coast, blue water is roughly 60 miles from shore. Unfortunately, I am not able to troll in the blue water for fish at the Carefree Boat Club. 

Inexperienced Boat Handlers 

In addition to insurance limitations on range, club owners are hesitant to allow members to travel well offshore. 

For the most part, only anglers care to run long distances. However, maneuvering inlets, handling rough seas, and navigating poor weather are challenges that the operator may face. 

The last thing an inexperienced boater should do is operate in areas that present a high risk of danger. With that said, club owners often advise members to stay within the coastal waterways rather than go offshore. 

Reservation Limitations

Never assume that as a club member, you can walk onto any boat in the fleet at any time. During the summer months, I tend to book a week or more in advance to ensure I get the vessel and departure time that I prefer. Here is what you need to know about club reservation limitations. 

Availability And The Size Of The Membership Base

The membership base of clubs varies based on location and how recently the club was formed. I looked at joining a nearby club with only ten members, but it was recently established. Instead, I joined a club that had a long history. 

It is important to understand that clubs with a small membership base will have fewer boats compared to those with large membership bases. I’m sure that this makes perfect sense. 

With that said, booking a boat in advance will be required in either situation. Furthermore, boats face mechanical issues unexpectedly. I have had reservations canceled at the last minute without a substitution available. 

Don’t Expect To Boat Every Day Of The Weekend

As a person who works Monday through Friday, the best time that I can get out on the water is during the weekend. However, booking two weekend days is not often an option.

As a retiree, a boat club is perfect because you have the option to get on the water any day of the week that the club is open. 

Conversely, if you’re working a regular schedule, I recommend booking one weekend day in advance. With Carefree, I can call and ask if a boat is unclaimed on the other day of the weekend. If so, I will be added to a call-in reservation. It is important to ask the club you’re considering joining the policy on booking weekend reservations. 

Nighttime Boat Trips And Hours Per Day

Personally, I don’t tend to spend more than 4 hours on the water in a single day. However, I have the option to book a full-day reservation compared to a half-day reservation. 

Most clubs offer the option to book full or half days. Typically, boats are available at 9 am and must be returned by 5 in the late fall, winter, and early spring. During the late spring, summer, and early fall, the boat can be returned by 6. 

Another consideration is boating during the nighttime. When I owned a boat, I enjoyed taking the boat to dinner during the nighttime hours. The Carefree that I belong to allows some boaters to travel at night. However, this is on a case-by-case basis. 

Consider The Range And Reservation Limitations Before Joining

I weighed the pros and cons of joining a boat club versus purchasing another boat. In my situation, I opted to join the club because I did not want to maintain a vessel. However, if you’re deciding between the two, remember to factor in the limitations to make the most informed decision.