Is It Cheaper To Buy a Boat or Join a Boat Club?

Every year, millions of people across the United States enjoy boating on lakes, rivers, and ponds to fish, travel, waterski, and even live. A big question who want a boating lifestyle for some is whether to buy a boat or join a boat club? It often comes down to cost: Is it cheaper to buy a boat or pay the fees to join a boat club?

If that is your dilemma, here is some information to help make an informed decision.

Cost of Boat Ownership

There is an old saying that a boat owner is happiest two times: Once when they get a boat and when they get rid of it. The reason for this is that no matter the boat, there are expenses for its entire lifecycle.

Initial Costs

Excepting a catastrophic motor or engine breakdown, the largest boat related-expense is the initial cost. IN almost every case, a boat will run at least a few thousand dollars. Even a used boat costs over a thousand dollars if it has a motor with significant horsepower.

Maintenance and Upkeep

The next major expense over the lifecycle of the boat will be maintenance and upkeep, which is highly dependent on the waterways used, warm weather month storage, and access points. Those expenses include storing the boat for the winter months, making repairs, and maintaining the motor, external shell, and internal equipment.

In some cases, the cost of maintenance or repairs can be so high it is just as affordable to get a new boat.


Gasoline makes up the third-largest expense. In many cases, gasoline must be mixed with oil to help lubricate the motor. The mixture adds to the overall fuel expense. Regardless, when gas prices increase dramatically, boat owners feel the pinch.

Miscellaneous Expenses

In addition to buying the boat and maintaining it, there are also a few other associated expenses. These include, but are not limited to:

Insurance costs

Insurance for a boat covers any number of things. At the least, it will cover repairs to the boat if anything happens to it. In many cases, insurance will also provide liability coverage to anyone operating the boat in the event of an accident.


Taxes for a boat can be state and local. In many states, boat owners must pay property taxes. Locally, taxes can include a registration fee and a charge based on the type, age, and condition of the boat.

Registration Costs

Registration costs are almost always levied by the state, although in some cases, they are collected locally. In most cases, the numbers on the bow of a boat are the registration number associated with that boat and the registration year.

Mandated Training Costs

Not every state has training costs. In some states, however, boats above a certain horsepower require the following:

  • Basic boat operation training
  • Water training, including navigation and boat safety lessons
  • First aid training, including CPR

Other Considerations

In addition to the expense, owning a vessel has many other unavoidable hassles if you want to enjoy your boat. Access to water, boat trailers, pulling the boat at the end of the season, etc., each is a hassle that must be dealt with. In addition, boat ownership costs a lot, starting with the initial purchase price and continuing throughout the ownership. 

Advantages include access to the boat, the ability to go and return when you want, including taking an overnight trip or an evening cruise. 

Is It Cheaper To Buy a Boat or Join a Boat Club?

Cost of Joining a Boat Club

Boat clubs like the Freedom Boat Club are attractive to some people because they do not require a massive outlay of cash compared to buying a boat, provide almost constant availability, and access to one of the largest fleets among clubs. Those factors separate them from boat rentals. 

Plus, except for fuel, backend costs are covered by the club. Here are the basic expenses of becoming a boat club member.


A premier boat club has an initial fee that costs between a couple of thousand dollars and as much as $5,000. The membership fee covers startup costs for the new members and boat maintenance costs, and any associated administrative tasks but gives the member access to the club fleet.

In addition, most boat clubs have monthly dues that range from a couple of hundred dollars to as many as six of seven hundred dollars. 

Fuel Costs

Boat club members are usually responsible for fuel costs. 

Other Considerations

The initial cost of joining boat clubs can be pricey, especially if the type of boat you would own is on the lower end in terms of boat length, motor size, etc. After the initial fee, the monthly costs are manageable. A club member can also test out vessels to make sure they get the right boat and have access to the years of experience of club staff.

A downside is that spur-of-the-moment decisions to go on the water can be delayed because of boat availability.

How They Compare

The question of whether it is cheaper to buy a boat or join a boat club depends on two factors:

Type of Boat

If the boat in question costs less than the low end of a boat club membership, the better option is to buy the boat. The reason is that most membership fees are on par with a smaller boat with a medium-sized engine, and the maintenance, storage, and gasoline costs for a boat like that will probably never exceed the monthly boat club dues.

If the cost of the boat is over the high end of a boat club membership fee, the cheaper alternative is to join the club. The reason for that is a boat that runs into multiple thousands of dollars will have higher maintenance, gasoline, and storage costs than the cost of being a club member.

For anything in between, the other two factors come into play.

Boat Use

With either option, the more a boat is used, the better the deal, but only to a point. With ownership of a boat, at a certain point, lots of use also increases maintenance and fuel costs. Another factor that is impacted by use is the type of boat being used. 

Fishing boats, deck boats, pontoon boats, and even sailboats that are used daily will have lower maintenance costs than a cruiser. Likewise, a cruiser will cost more in maintenance and gasoline. One of the perks, though, is having access to the entire fleet during a non-peak weekday. Freedom Boat Club members also have unlimited training options. 

Disadvantages include not having an available boat during peak days and having some limitations on the hours a boat can be utilized. Another is that some boat clubs limit use by a family member, meaning the boat club member must be on the boat.

Which is Cheaper?

In most cases, the cost of boat clubs is much cheaper than owning a boat, primarily because of the upfront cost of the boat and maintenance costs. That does not always apply, however. In some very select cases, owning is the better option.

For most people, however, if they use a boat club membership often, the club is the better deal.