TODAY'S PAPER
Good Morning
Good Morning
LifestyleRecreationWater Sports

Boating clubs on Long Island

Scott McMaster from Holbrook, boards a Striper for

Scott McMaster from Holbrook, boards a Striper for a day of fishing gets clearance from dockmaster Steven Rapp of the Freedom Boat Club in Port Jefferson. The Freedom Boat Club has five boats docked at Danfords Marina in Port Jefferson. (July 12, 2013) Credit: Randee Daddona

Joe Pianese loves boating on Peconic Bay. Some days, you'll catch him in a 22-foot Grady-White walk-around, cruising to Sag Harbor for some fine dining or exploring any of several inviting Twin Fork harbors. Other days, the 41-year-old Greenport resident is at the helm of a 20-foot Aquasport center console, drifting for fluke off Shelter Island. Then again, he might simply head out with no particular point in mind other than enjoying the company of friends.

It may sound lavish, but such a boating lifestyle is actually within reach of many Long Islanders. Pianese is a member of a boat club, and that affords him taking either of the two boats out for a spin on the water. All he has to do is make a reservation at Port of Egypt Marine in Southold, and the spectacular waters of the Peconics and beyond are his to cruise.

HOW IT WORKS

"The premise is simple," explains Pete DeVilbiss, president of Freedom Boat Club, the largest such operation with 68 locations (four on Long Island) and 8,000 members across the country. "People pay a one-time entry fee, plus monthly dues, and use the club boats without the hassle or expense of maintenance, repairs, slip fees, towing, insurance, winterization, storage . . . just fill the gas tank at the end of the day and head home."

"Fractional" boat clubs first appeared in 1980s but really caught on as the economy took on water since 2007. That's because joining a club can be 60 to 70 percent less expensive per year than owning your own vessel.

VARIETY IS SPICE

Besides the cost savings, club members say the arrangement has the added advantage of letting them sample different models, which keeps things fresh and allows users to develop a feel for the boat style that fits them best.

At Port of Egypt Marine, for example, members choose from two styles of vessels (they also can upgrade to a fleet of rentals). Strong's Marine Boat Club offers six choices between its Mattituck and Southampton locations, while Hamptons Boat Club in Sag Harbor has three models. Freedom Boat Club has nearly 20 boats covering its Port Jefferson, Northport, Freeport and Port Washington bases. Each club provides boating instruction plus all the safety items necessary for Coast Guard compliance.

Many club members prefer boating on familiar waters but others challenge themselves to explore. "One day, we'll use the Freeport location, the next trip we'll hit Northport," says Melissa Farrell, a 40-something marketer and mother of two from Port Washington of her Freedom Boat Club membership. "We take our kids fishing or tubing and bring other families aboard. It's like being on vacation."

THE BOTTOM LINE

Which club to join depends on where you want to boat, your budget and which fleet most closely matches your needs. Many clubs offer tiered plans with the cost increasing for access to larger or more luxurious vessels. Plans vary widely -- from onetime membership fees followed by a monthly charge, to a single payment for each season or yearly upfront payments plus a monthly charge during the boating season (May through October). Expect to pay between $2,000 and $5,000 a year no matter which route you take. Generally speaking, make a dozen trips a year, and you'll come out ahead. One club member at Port Of Egypt has been out 68 times in the past two years.

Joe Pianese hits the water twice a week and couldn't be more pleased with his boat club arrangement. "I enjoy all the benefits of boating without the headaches of ownership," he says. "The costs are reasonable, and I don't worry during hurricane season -- when boats aren't safe, even in driveways. I just call up, reserve a day and head out. This is everything I hoped boating would be -- and it's totally hassle-free."

LONG ISLAND BOAT CLUBS

FREEDOM BOAT CLUB

LOCATIONS Port Jefferson, Northport, Port Washington and Freeport

INFO 888-781-7363, freedomboatclub.com

HAMPTON BOAT CLUB

LOCATION Sag Harbor

INFO 631-725-3333, hamptonboatclub.com

STRONG'S MARINE

LOCATIONS Mattituck and Southampton

INFO 631-298-4770, strongsmarine.com

PORT OF EGYPT

LOCATION Southold

INFO 631-765-2445, poemarine.com

More Lifestyle