All kinds of boats surrounded me at the Annapolis Powerboat show, but for a sailor like me who’s dipping her toes into the powerboating world, that amazing variety can be pretty intimidating. I think it would be be great if I could try a few different types of boats for a while before making the big commitment to buy one. Luckily, there are “boating clubs” that let you do just that.

chesapeake boating club at annapolis

Kevin Ryman, of the Chesapeake Boating Club/Getaway Sailing, told me about the benefits of joining up.

Kevin Ryman is general manager of Chesapeake Boating Club/Getaway Sailing, which makes it possible for its Chesapeake-area members to get out on the water on a variety of boats.

“If you’re coming to buy a boat, the choices can be overwhelming. Until you have tried it, you don’t really know how you’ll use a boat and what you’ll do with it,” Ryman said.

With membership in a boating club, you can use one boat one weekend - then switch to another the following weekend. And someone else handles all the insurance paperwork, storage, and maintenance.

Chesapeake Boating Club is unique as it offers both power and sailboats. Members can use motorboats (ranging from 17-foot center consoles to 36-foot trawlers) and sailboats (from 18-foot day sailors to 34-foot cruising yachts) out of two locations: J/Port in Annapolis and Getaway Sailing in Baltimore. Those who join pay a one-time initiation fee ($1,000) and annual memberships (ranging from $2,665 to $5,840 for either power or sail; combination memberships are also available), and different price levels determine which types of boats you can take out. The club is also associated with J/World sailing school in Annapolis, so learning more about boating is easy.

Outside the Chesapeake, Freedom Boat Club makes boating accessible at 71 locations in the eastern half of the United States. Their fleet includes boats from 20 to 27 feet like pontoon boats, bow riders, and inshore and offshore fishing boats.

Freedom Boat Club members pay a one-time initiation fee ($4,000 to $6,000) and monthly membership charges ($199 to $299) for access to boats at their home club and other Freedom locations. To help all their members be safe boaters, U.S. Coast Guard-certified captains conduct training programs that are both classroom and hands-on.

A boating club can be a great way to get started in boating--access to a number of different boats for an extended “test drive” with professional staff taking care of all the maintenance and other details. The only drawback seems to be not having your own boat name across the transom. Still, I’m tempted…