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Survey: Membership Trends at ICOYC Member Clubs

Membership is the life blood of every ICOYC Member Club. In this ICOYC Survey we wanted to understand how clubs are attracting and accepting new members. What works, and what doesn’t? When it comes time to accept new members, how are those decisions made? What are the impediments to onboarding new members and what could be done to improve the process?

Who Responded?

Member Clubs from Europe, Oceania, South Africa, South America and the United States shared responses, feedback and anecdotes. To those who participated — thank you. Your collaboration allows ICOYC to provide impactful insights to our community.

The State of Membership

To provide a baseline understanding of the size and scope of membership at participating clubs, we asked some general questions about numbers and category types. The average size of the membership at Member Clubs is 2,465 and the average number of categories for membership is eight. Most of the largest clubs also tended to have a higher-than-average number of membership categories, indicating there may be a correlation between a variety of membership categories attracting more members.

Generally, most clubs organized their membership by age, seniority or depth of relationship – Associate, Life Survivor, Non-Resident, etc. Just two clubs provide corporate memberships.

Of the clubs that responded, only two indicated having a waitlist: Long Beach Yacht Club has a waitlist for their Intermediate category, and it’s capped at 100. Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club has a waitlist for their Ordinary membership category and they also reported the highest number of members among all our respondents.

Membership Process

When it comes to managing the membership process, hybrid situations dominate: most use a combination of members and staff, and nearly half have a combination of print and online applications.

We asked: “In your admissions process, how do you evaluate the quality of a potential new member before they join to ensure a good fit with your club?” Nearly all clubs rely on recommendations or references from existing members as their primary screening mechanism, and most also have an interview process and vetting by committee. About one third of clubs said an interest in sailing, boating or watersports was required. It was interesting to note that Lymington Yacht Club specified that the recommended could not be someone who “has a business relationship” with the candidate. Other specifications of note were a willingness to volunteer for the club and a commitment to the club by way of a minimum length of membership or financial investment.

We asked if there was a step in their current membership application process that, if removed, would expedite/simplify the path to membership. Nearly every club said nothing, indicating they are constantly working to make the process better. For example, one club said: “In the past, we required a luncheon with applicant and several members of the admissions committee. That has been simplified to a meeting with applicant and one member of the admissions committee.”

About 20% said they would consider removing the seconder, the probationary period or the posting of prospective members to speed up the application process. One club said prospective members no long have to wait for their approval in order to use the club – they are issued temporary membership cards from day one, and in five years, only two applications have been rejected.

After a member has been accepted, nearly every club offers some kind of meet & greet or welcoming social – in some occasions, with compulsory attendance.

Attracting New Members

A club’s reputation rated highest when asked what they think draws new people to join. Social activities, sailing and youth programs, and waterfront access were also top interests. Additional comments that fell in the “Other” category noted a swimming pool and on-premise parking.

In terms of offering perks to their existing membership in return for recommending new members, over two thirds of respondents said there are no incentives at this time. For the ones that do offer something, it was usually in the form of free drinks or meals or small discounts. On the flip side, when it comes to thanking members for sponsoring, two thirds said there is some gesture in place, be it a mention in their newsletter, an invitation to the welcoming social or a dining voucher.

Friends and family are by far the most effective source of new members at most clubs. Second to that, the sailing community plays a big role in drawing in likeminded additions to the club. Just three clubs indicated that they use outside marketing and advertising.

As we’ve often discussed at ICOYC Forums and other outlets, attracting a diversity of ages is a perennial issue for yacht clubs. The numbers from this survey bear out the anecdotes we’ve heard over the years from clubs inside and outside the ICOYC.