Every “boom” brings its own form of “bust”; so it was with the boating boom of the 20th century which effectively ended the practice of reciprocity.
There was a time, long ago, when yacht clubs and their members stood on a more-or-less equal footing with one another. Ladies and Gentlemen did not carry cash and credit cards did not exist, but that was not a problem. A member of a club–be it a yacht club, a university club or any club–could visit a similar club in another city and be welcomed. The club he or she visited would then bill his or her home club for the services that had been rendered. It was all very proper and “civilized”–and, needless to say, it existed on a very limited scale.
The boating boom changed all that: first slowly and then in an avalanche. By the mid 1950’s, boats and boating clubs were becoming far more common. With those clubs came “directories.” Anyone with a “card” from something calling itself a “yacht club” could send a reproduction of that card and drawing of a burgee, together with a substantial fee of course, to be included in a so-called Directory of Clubs. These trusting souls might truly believe they would have something called “reciprocity” at other clubs, and sometimes they did–at least for a while. Many clubs with copies of those directories made the mistake of extending “reciprocity” and in good faith billed clubs with new, exotic names like the “Blow-n-Go Club” for services rendered to visitors, only to find out–often months later–that “Blow-n-Go” was a group of jolly boys who had access to a copying machine in the back room of their favorite watering hole. They had no intention of paying for the services rendered to anyone. What had once been “reciprocity” quickly became, “We might let you inside, but it’s strictly cash-and-carry.”
Even that did not solve the problem. These new boaters with their made-up clubs knew little or nothing of the customs and courtesies of the yachting world. If they managed to get past the front door of a yacht club, their behavior often reflected that of their local pub. As traditional members saw ancient rules like “no covers in the bar” and “no shorts in the dining room” falling by the wayside, they sought to tighten what had once been the accepted rules of “reciprocity.” Incidentally, members of power squadrons, who were often better trained than their “yacht club” counterparts were entirely ignored.
The problem was there was no simple way to tighten the rules. Certainly, a club could demand cash or a credit card from an unknown visitor, but how could it be assured of his or her behavior? If “Blow-n-Go” was “listed,” there was no way of knowing whether it was a traditional club or the figment of someone’s imagination, and, obviously, there was no way of knowing whether the prospective visitor knew anything about club customs.
The Academy of Yachting was created in part to answer that need. A club cannot merely “register” in the Certified Registry, it must be approved and accepted. Furthermore, the Academy prides itself on providing programs and online exchanges of knowledge in the customs and courtesies appropriate to yacht clubs and power squadrons. Finally, the Academy has a Department of the Judge Advocate, made up of licensed lawyers, to handle any problems.
The Academy system may not be perfect, but it’s getting better all the time. It may not be the solution to the problem inherent in opening the door to visitors, but it’s a giant first step.