Legal Question in Admiralty Law in California

I have been a member of a California chartered non profit Yacht Club since 1984. In 1996 I purchased a 50 ft. sailboat which was placed on a club leased (from the city) and administered mooring for restoration and live-aboard purposes. The goal was to depart on a world cruise as soon as restoration was completed. Work continued thru 2006, without comment or criticism from any club board members. In 2006 my wife was diagnosed with MS. By 2008 our focus had changed due to the deleterious effects of the MS. Loss of vision is one of the first effects of MS so we decided a world cruise was not the best course of action. We decided to sell the boat and travel around the US as long as she can see. Selling the boat has proved to be a challenge since the US economy has lapsed into recession (read depression).

The current Board of Directors has decided that our boat doesn't meet an arbitrary appearance standard referenced in a "Policy Letter" issued by a previous Board. These "Policy Letters" were introduced as a means "to provide continuity between successive board decisions". They were never voted on nor approved by the membership. They have, thru time, become a de facto method of passing rules thought beneficial by the sitting board without seeking approval from the general membership. On numerous occasions these letters have contained provisions inserted by board members that served the special interest of a particular board member. They were later modified by successive boards who felt the provision unjust or infringing upon another interest. The bottom line is that the letters serve the interests of those in power at the time and occasionally the interests of the membership as a whole.

The club operates under a set of by-laws modifiable only by a 2/3's majority vote of the membership. The "Policy Letters" are a way of getting around the cumbersome act of assembling the membership to make a policy decision. The current Board of Directors gave us 90 days to bring our boat up to their standard by painting it. The cost of painting the vessel ($40,000, per professional estimate) and the lack of a suitable facility has prevented us from complying with their request. Being unsuitable for an open ocean voyage to another port, we are unable to move the boat to a location where the application of paint would be acceptable to California EPA rules.

The result of our "non-compliance" is the Board has suspended our membership, denied us entry to club facilities and demanded removal of our vessel from the club mooring within 30 days. Failure to comply will result in expulsion from the club.

The vessel is located in a small port (Morro Bay) with limited facilities for large boats. There are no moorings or slips available in the bay that can accommodate our boat, other than the mooring we now occupy. There is additional evidence that another club member that has influence with the current board desires the mooring we have our boat on.

Do we have any legal recourse?

Asked on 9/02/09, 1:55 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Bryan C. Becker Your Lawyer for Life.

Thank you for your question. I hope your wife is doing well and managing the effects of MS.

I have read through your posting carefully. As you highlight in your question, the Board appears to be acting outside of its authority pursuant to the by-laws; however a thorough review of the by-laws would be necessary to determine the (1) scope of their authority to order the removal or restoration of the vessel and (2) their available remedies. I am most interested in whether the by-laws articulate a standard for ascetic appearances of vessels and whether the by-laws state the process by which a sub-standard vessel is removed.

I suggest you have an attorney review the governing documents as well as these notices in order to provide you a course of action.

If you would like further assistance, please feel free to contact me.

Yours truly,



[email protected]

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Answered on 9/10/09, 3:50 pm

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