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THIS MAY be the Year of the Woman, but you'd never know it at many yacht clubs, where every year is the Year of the Man.

At a time when lots of females know full well how to hoist a jib, steady the rudder while keeping an eye on the telltales or navigate -- and some of them can do those things better than their male counterparts -- the yacht club remains a bastion of mostly macho camaraderie.

Wives or girlfriends may perform "women's work," a la the Ladies Auxiliary, but the door to the pilot house says "gentlemen only."

Well, change is afoot on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, and the foot wears a ladies' size 7 boat shoe.

Meet Commodore Kathleen Shafer and the all-female board of the Harbourview Yacht Club in Wilson, which was formed as a social organization in 1989 but which the new distaff leadership wants to steer into a full-fledged club.

It is not out to redress yachting world sexism. On the contrary, Harbourview was launched by and for couples and leadership roles will remain open to to both sexes, emphasized Mrs. Shafer, who will be installed Saturday at the club's Commodore's Ball in the Basin Marina Restaurant at Beccue Boat Basin.

That said, Harbourview's recent course change clearly was charted by women, most of whose husbands are members of established yacht clubs along the lake shore in Niagara County and southern Ontario.

"Yacht clubs historically have been male-dominated," said Ms. Shafer, who with her husband, Arnold, also belongs to the Olcott Yacht Club. "Women could join with their
husbands, but not as voting members. They never felt they were part of the action."

The barriers are cracking here and there. Women have achieved voting rights in a few clubs, and a handful even have been elected to leadership posts.

But for the most part, women and children remain at the bottom of the clubhouse pecking order. When the activity moves from banquet room to the boardroom or the docks, the rules seldom cater to couples or families.

At many yacht clubs, she said, the male establishment has been telling women, "If you feel so strongly about having a say, take out a separate membership."

But that route is "too expensive for members of the same household," she said. "Here, you can join as a single member, male or female, or buy a family membership and include your spouse."

Harbourview has changed that by instituting a family membership, Mrs. Shafer said.

"It affords women the opportunity to contribute 100 percent, run for the board, work their way through the chairs to commodore and otherwise reap the full benefits of membership," she said.

"It fills a need. The women in our group are real happy about it."

The club has 150 members and a lengthy waiting list, Mrs. Shafer said.

If diversity is an advantage in running a yacht club, the new board certainly has it. The women range in age from 21 to 73 and include a certified public accountant, a schoolteacher, a sailing instructor, a construction executive, a one-time wire service correspondent, a college marking instructor, a real estate broker and a graphic designer.

They have secured membership for Harbourview in various sailing organizations, will offer sailing lessons beginning this season and plan a full schedule of races and regattas.

Harbourview was started in 1989 as a social vehicle primarily for couples who lease slips at the marina.

The women sail toward this new horizon with the blessing of Sam Sansone of Wilson.

"It's certainly a breath of fresh air," Sansone said. "Their attention to detail is unmatched. I'm behind them 100 percent -- as long as I no longer have to do all the work."

Newly elected officers besides Mrs. Shafer include: vice commodore, Wanda Thompson; rear commodore, Lori Moyer; fleet captain, Nicole Bourquin; treasurer, Sandy Wahler; secretary, Patti Marotta; public relations officer, Ursula Lindemann; newsletter editor, Eileen Calkins; roster officer, Karen Staschak.

Other board members are Joan Gamler, Rondina Ferrusi, Shirley Hirsh and Donna Battistoni.

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