Having Fun With Boats: Even If You Don’t Actually Own One

Enjoying a day out on the water in Sag Harbor as a member of the Yacht Hampton boat club. Lori Hawkins photos

As the 62-foot Pershing yacht, Velocity, motored back into Sag Harbor Cove under picture-perfect blue skies, a group of tanned, bikini and swim trunk-clad teens gathered on the bow’s wide, plush white leather seating area, taking cell phone videos of the rooster tail plume of water the sleek, James Bond-esque boat was sending into the air behind us. Lana Del Rey’s hit song, “Summertime Sadness” blasted over the speakers, an interesting touch of irony since there was nothing sad about the day they had just spent on the water.

Throughout the day, a smaller, 22-foot boat pulled up to take the group tubing, pulling them around the bay on a giant inflatable raft. The group also had several other water toys to play with: a pair of hydrofoil boards, a kind of motorized surfboard that can rise in and out of the water, operated by a handheld remote control; and a Seabob, a small, motorized device that looks like a miniature jet-ski, a sort of underwater scooter, held in the same position one would hold a boogie board.

The outing was hosted by Joe Ialacci as an end-of-the-school-year party for his daughters and a few of their friends. Together, they marked the transition into summer after what was an extremely challenging school year by sipping sodas, eating prepared sandwiches and fresh fruit, soaking up the sun on both the bow and stern of the boat, trying to master the hydrofoil and, of course, holding hands together as they jumped off the side of the boat.

Velocity is the crown jewel of a large fleet of luxury boats owned by Ialacci, who operates Yacht Hampton (formerly known as Hamptons Boat Rental). He is in the business of creating the kind of memorable experiences he made happen for his daughters and their friends that day, primarily through the fastest growing arm of his enterprise — the Yacht Hampton Boating Club. It’s a family business, with both Gabrielle and Joelle working with him as well.

Their help is welcome, because boats have never been more in demand than they are right now. And now, more than ever, Ialacci says, boat ownership is complicated.

Guests jump off a 62’ Pershing yacht on a trip with Yacht Hampton.

The huge spike in demand for power boats and yachts of all sizes caused by the coronavirus pandemic has made it increasingly challenging for prospective owners to find the exact make and model they’re looking for, and supply chain problems — also fueled by the pandemic — have only exacerbated the issue. Predictably, prices have gone up, and for those who do manage to find a boat that suits their needs, finding a slip at the marina of their choice is often the next hurdle. For boating enthusiasts dealing with those issues, Ialacci says the boating club is a perfect solution. The idea to start the club was “customer driven,” he said, for reasons that existed before COVID, but the pandemic has made being a member even more appealing.

“[Customers] wanted an option where they could select a boat or have VIP access to boating all summer,” he said.

Ialacci has structured the boat club in a way that gives members a choice, with three different packages at three different price points, but he emphasizes that members don’t necessarily need to pick just one of those packages.

“I really want to emphasize that it’s fully customizable,” he said.

Members get VIP access to the boats, and each package includes five four-hour tours, with price points dependent upon what boats members want to use. Package One (Makin’ Waves Fun Pack) includes access to three deluxe water ski boats and two standard water ski boats at a price of $10,890; Package Two (Summer Mixer) includes access to two speedboats, two mid-size cruisers, and one yacht trip, at a cost of $16,100; and Package Three (Nothing But Luxury) includes five luxury yacht charters, priced upon request.

The club is made for boating lovers who want to enjoy the perks of boat ownership, but don’t have either the time or energy or interest (or maybe all three) that it takes to care for and maintain a boat.

“If you’re an executive or you’re busy, a boat complicates your life whether you like it or not,” he said. “This way, you can just show up and go, and let my team do the rest.”

Ialacci has a fleet of 10 boats and said that what sets him apart from other boat clubs is the fact that his fleet is almost entirely brand new.

“Seven of the 10 boats are 2020 model or newer,” he said. “This isn’t your Grandpa Fester’s boat club.”

Yacht Hampton CEO Joe Ialacci.

Perks of membership includes potential savings of time and money. Ialacci said that boat ownership doesn’t make fiscal sense unless the owner plans to use the boat 20 or more times per year, and pointed out that dockage, repairs, and storage costs, combined with the annual depreciation in value of a new boat, can often make ownership “cost prohibitive.”

There’s the savings of time as well that boat club membership provides.

“When you pull up the boat to the dock at night, it’s nice to just get out and leave,” he said. “You don’t want to be sitting there cleaning the boat in the dark.”

Ialacci expects he will need to expand his fleet in the coming years, as demand for boat club membership continues to go up. Ialacci knows that some customers will be satisfied with boat club membership, while for others, it will provide a bridge to boat ownership.

“It’s exciting to pick out different boats,” he said. “There’s a try-before-you-buy element to it. It’s the perfect gateway to owning a boat.”

There are plenty of options to choose from for boat club members. The 10-boat fleet includes several bow riders that are ideal for water sports like water skiing, wake boarding and tubing, such as the 22-foot Bayliner that seats eight. The largest boat in the fleet is Velocity, a 62-foot Pershing yacht, an Italian model that’s the ultimate expression of luxury, perfect for a special occasion or outing. Yachts in the fleet that are 36 feet and above come with crew members, in addition to the captain, to “serve and assist and dote on the clients,” Ialacci said. There is also a 32-foot Sundancer, and a brand new 36-foot Aquila power catamaran, that had yet to make its maiden voyage in June. Ialacci said those boats are perfect for going to lunch or entertaining. Members also have access to a large selection of top-of-the-line water toys, from wakeboards and water skis to fancier, more high-tech items like the hydrofoil hoverboard and Seabob. Ialacci said he tries to make all the boat club members happy, even when they have competing ideas of what they want to do out on the water.

“Members sometimes rent yachts and I’ll pull up with the tubing boat so the children can go on that boat while the parents sip rose on the yacht,” he said, adding that sometimes mom’s idea of fun isn’t getting motion sick while the tubing boat whips around doing figure eights. The water toys are free of charge on the weekdays but are available at a fee on busier weekends.

Ialacci said he will frequently sell out on weekends and expects boat club membership to only grow.

It isn’t hard to see why he feels that way. On a recent afternoon, captain Sam Standt expertly piloted the boat, while also keeping an eye on the teens, making sure they were safely using the hydrofoil and Seabob, helping them in and out of the water. Crew member Meagan Standley had an ever-present smile on her face, keeping the boat tidy, arranging food and drinks, and making sure everyone’s needs were attended to. She had a vivacious energy, bopping along to the music that was played throughout the trip while folding towels and keeping walkways clear. It’s all part of the kind of service Ialacci said he’s dedicated to providing for his ever growing list of clients.

“We’re disrupting the way Hamptonites will boat this summer and going forward,” he said. “Traditionally, you might have to wait for your friend to ask you to go out on their boat, and it used to be that the best boat is your friend’s boat. But in that situation, you don’t have any control over when you go out or how late you stay out. Now, the best boats are our boats because they’re your boats. My boats are your boats for those four hours, and I pick up all the pieces after that.”