There are plenty of clichés about owning a boat: “The happiest day in a boat owner’s life is the day he (or she) buys a boat and the day he sells it.” Or: “A boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into.” Even if there’s some truth to such clichés, it’s not enough to discourage all the skippers around Lake Norman judging from the number of boats on the water. Newcomers to the area are especially eager to hit the boat dealerships before the ink is dry on the mortgage papers. Yet for some folks, owning a boat isn’t a realistic or desirable option, regardless of how much they may love the lake. In addition to the boat itself, there’s the cost of maintenance, licensing, taxes and insurance. Those who live off the water have the additional expense of a trailer, boat slip or dry storage, which is often enough to resign many aspiring captains to remain landlubbers. Fortunately, you no longer have to choose between owning a boat or being landlocked. Lake Norman now boasts three boat clubs: The Boat Club of Lake Norman in Mooresville, Carefree Boat Club of Lake Norman in Cornelius, and Aquaventure Boat Club and Rentals in Sherrill’s Ford. There’s also about a dozen boat rental companies that offer everything from kayaks to cabin cruisers, and a handful of charter boat companies. Boat clubs are a fairly recent phenomenon on Lake Norman, and are structured similar to country clubs. Members pay a one-time fee, which begins around $400 in this area, to join, and monthly dues that range between $189 and $375 per month, depending on the membership level. (Some companies, such as Aquaventure Boat Club, charge a flat annual fee, payable in monthly installments.) In return, members have unlimited access to the club's fleet, and “spontaneous” access to any of the club’s boats, and depending on the membership level, are also guaranteed a certain number of ”reservations” each year, which ensures that a specific boat will be theirs on a specific date. The club takes care of slip fees, maintenance, insurance, repairs and the rest of the minutiae associated with ownership. Members arrive at the dock to find a boat waiting for them, clean, fueled up and ready to go. A club employee is on hand to answer questions, and help members both disembark and dock upon their return. “In this economy, everybody has less time and disposable income, which I think makes the club concept appealing,” says John Gillette, sales director at Carefree Boat Club, which is located at Morningstar Marina Kings Point. “Members don’t have to spend time cleaning, prepping and trailering the boat before and after taking it out.” Phil Vanreen, a member of Carefree Boat Club, considered buying a boat. “It’s expensive,” says Vanreen, who typically likes to cruise around in a pontoon and go fishing with his wife. “And it’s not just the boat itself, but the dock fees and the maintenance and the insurance. Plus, I wasn’t sure my wife would like boating, so we thought joining the club would give us a good idea. We’ve been very pleased.” Mark Zeaser of Huntersville, another Carefree Boat Club member, is also sold on the idea. “Living this close to the lake, we naturally wanted to take advantage of it, but financially it just didn’t make sense for us to buy a boat, “ says Zeaser, who recently took out a 260 Sea Ray Sundeck with some friends. “Joining a boat club was definitely the right choice for us.” Similarly, Concord chiropractor Todd Lockhart and his wife, who’d owned a boat previously, decided to try a boat membership at Aquaventure as a cost-effective way to enjoy the lake. “It has saved us a lot of money,” says Lockhart, who estimates they use the boat club once a week. “Our boat payment was $300 a month, along with dock fees and having to trailer the boat and find winter storage. The savings and convenience made the club perfect for us.” With a growing number of people turning to boat clubs, Aquaventure owner Dustin Keith reports he’s actually had to turn away prospective members. “We usually have a waiting list,” he says Boat Club of Lake Norman owner Brandon Piner has found that clubs appeal equally to experienced boaters and those just dipping a toe in the water. “A lot of members don’t know a lot about boating and want to get more comfortable with it before they buy a boat, but we also have members who’ve owned boats in the past and found it too much to deal with,” he says. “The biggest surprise to me, though, are the members who live on the water and have a dock but either don’t want to own a boat or enjoy having access to different types of boats.” Boat Club of Lake Norman member Travis Moore and his wife Barbara, who live in Huntersville, thought joining a boat club would be a good way for their three children to test the water, so to speak, before they invested in one of their own. “They love it,” says Moore, who estimates they used the boat club 15 to 20 times last year. “It’s completely maintenance free for us. All we do is show up and take off. Dock fees alone are $150 to $300 a month, so if you run the numbers it makes perfect sense.” Cathy Grotke, a single flight attendant who lives in Mooresville, has a very different lifestyle than the Moores, but says she also gets a great deal of satisfaction out of her Boat Club of Lake Norman membership. “I fly most weekends, so when I go out during the week, I usually have my pick of the boats and the lake practically to myself. I just drive to the dock, hop in the boat and go. I’ll often drop anchor and spend the whole day on the lake by myself.” Whatever the motivation, there’s no denying the Siren call of open water. Kenneth Grahame, author of the beloved children’s classic, “Wind in the Willows”, put it best: “There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”He’d be pleased to know that everyone—on Lake Norman, at least-- can now find a way to heed the call.
Putting safety first
The Lake Norman Marine Commission recently formed a committee to propose rules governing rental-boat companies. The 13-member committee—made up of three marine commissioners, three lake law enforcement officers and the rest from companies that rent boats on the lake—will recommend rules for an ordinance governing rentals by late summer or early fall. The ordinance could cover such issues as insurance and whether renters should be shown a brief safety video. The committee could consider annual licensing of companies and whether a minimum age for renting a boat should be established. The committee also could consider requiring stickers that would show officers patrolling the lake that the boat is a rental. Any person under the age of 26 must successfully complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administration-approved boating education course before operating any vessel propelled by a motor of 10HP or greater. The Lake Norman Sail and Power Squadron offers classes in person and online (For details go to http://www.usps.org/lakenorman/.) Although this regulation does not apply to rental boat operators who can show a valid lease agreement, boat club and boat rental agencies strongly recommend taking the course.
1. Check the weather: Always check local weather conditions before departure. If you notice dark clouds, rough or changing winds and/or sudden drop in temperature, get off the water.2. Be Prepared: At a minimum, make sure you have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for every passenger, a working fire extinguisher, distress signal such as air horn or flares, a working flashlight, extra batteries and, of course, a cell phone, in case of trouble.3. Use Common Sense: Operate the vessel at a safe speed at all times, especially in crowded areas. Steer clear of large vessels and watercraft (such as sailboats) that can be restricted in their ability to stop or turn. Be respectful of buoys and other navigational aids, such as No Wake signs.4. Designate A First Mate: If possible, more than one person on board should be familiar with all aspects of the boat’s handling, operations, and safe boating procedures. 5. Develop a Float Plan: Inform a family member or staff at the boat club or rental agency where you’re going and how long you’re going to be gone. 6. Make Proper Use of Lifejackets: Make sure that every passenger is assigned and fitted with a lifejacket prior to departure. (By law, children under age 13 must wear a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket while underway.) 7. Don’t Drink and Drive: The probability of being involved in a boating accident doubles when alcohol is involved. Studies have shown that the effect of alcohol is exacerbated by sun and wind.8. Learn to Swim: If you’re going to be in and around the water, know how to swim. The American Red Cross, community colleges and the YMCA, offer classes for all ages and abilities.9. Take a Boating Course: There’s more to boating than knowing how to steer and dock one. In addition to safety and boat operation, the NASBLA-approved course includes guidance on navigation, rules and regulations and much more. Sign up today.