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August 2nd 2018. By Alex Smith.

Boat moorings and marinas: where to keep your boat

One of the most important factors in getting the utmost enjoyment from your boat is how and where you keep it. Alex Smith explains your options.

While we all pay serious attention to the type and condition of the boats we buy, the mooring often receives far less attention. And yet the location, the onsite services and the various facilities of a given berth make a fundamental difference to our boating experience. It can often define whether we use and love our boats or view them as unfortunate and impractical liabilities. If you tend to buy second hand, the mooring or marina berth will often come with the boat, so it’s worth making sure it’s the kind of mooring (as well as the kind of boat) that works for you. But if not, there are plenty of marina and mooring options to think about…

One of the most important factors in getting the utmost enjoyment from your boat is how and where you keep it.

Keep it at home

If your boat is small enough to trailer, your car is substantial enough to handle the job and your house is adequately set up to accommodate a boat with serviceable security, it pays to keep your boat at home. In addition to reduced expenses, you also get the benefit of easy access for upgrades and maintenance, plus the freedom to explore whatever cruising grounds take your fancy.

Keep it abroad

If you like the sun, you enjoy a foreign holiday and you are realistic enough to recognise that you only go boating 50 or 60 hours a season, then think seriously about keeping your boat abroad. Look for a professionally managed, multilingual marina in an area you enjoy, with a reliable climate and a nearby airport serviced by a good budget airline. You will obviously need to investigate local legislation and assess the cost of registering your boat under a different flag state. But while sun bleaching can be an issue if the boat is left exposed for long periods, a serious marina operator will offer the same selection of storage and berthing options you would expect in Britain – and often for considerably less than you might expect.

Keep it in a Dry Stack

The Dry Stack boat storage system is booming in Britain because, done well, it has an enormous amount of merit. It guarantees your precious boat a life of jet washes, forklift launches and secure, clean storage; and it brings you the promise of easier, more efficient, less stressful days out, as well as optimised hull performance and sturdier residual values. Just be aware that an effective Dry Stack system needs to be comprehensively staffed. Some marinas take advantage of the opportunity to extend upwards without adequately upgrading the workforce to cope with the demands that another 50 or 60 boat owners bring – and any shortcuts can and do result in delays with the launch and recovery of your boat, particularly in season. So check with the marina in question; watch the Dry Stack operation in action; and talk to existing Dry Stack boaters about their experiences.

Keep it at a full-service marina

Life is easier when everything is available on-site. Fuel is an obvious boon, but so too are waste disposal and recycling facilities, plus toilets, showers and laundry facilities, a decent shop and a 24-hour reception. Lots of big marina operators promise round-the-clock support, but check what they mean by this, as the reality can often feel quite different. It will also save you time, money and effort if the marina you choose happens to have competitively priced service and repair facilities on site. And while some people enjoy the intimate family feel of a small, fully subscribed marina, packed with permanent berth holders, the availability of proper visitor moorings can add to the vibrancy of a marina, while enabling you to have the odd boating buddy over to stay.

Keep the boat at a full-service marina. Life is easier when everything is available on-site.

Expect a bit more

It’s no longer enough for a marina to take a hefty monthly fee for a length of pontoon and a couple of cleats. Modern boaters quite rightly expect more, so unless you’re utterly in love with a specific destination, make sure you demand it. Think about easy parking spaces, close to your boat with assistance on hand should you need it. Enquire about discounted onsite services, regular pontoon inspections to make sure your boat is safe in your absence and loyalty schemes that reward your custom with discounts at other networked marinas.
Think about entertainments too. What about an onsite bar, restaurant and café? What about regular berth holder events, barbecues, cruises in company and kids’ parties? What about on-site accommodation through B&B boats, in dedicated lodges or in partnered hotels so you can invite friends and family on board your boat, safe in the knowledge they’ll have somewhere enjoyable to stay. And while it’s natural to expect your marina to balance the day-to-day practicalities of marina operations with a clean, well kept, holiday environment, you should also expect the staff to be capable helping with local activities and attractions as well as with weather, tide and navigation.
On a similar note, try to judge the general approach and tone of a marina before committing. Experience and professionalism is of course desirable, but there’s no merit in a marina office with first-hand experience of circumnavigation if they talk to you in complex nautical terms or scoff at ‘silly’ questions about tides, weather and granny knots. If you want a friendly human approach, you need to pick carefully.

Pay a bit less

If you don’t mind limited tidal access, there are some remarkable bargains to be had. True, the ebb tide can spoil the view by replacing an idyllic seascape with cold mud a couple of times a day; and your boat will have to be capable of taking the ground. But cheap doesn’t always have to mean undesirable. On the contrary, if you’re a practical kind of boater in search of solitude, serenity and wilderness – and you’re happy to organise your trips away around tidal calculations, your perfect mooring could well cost pennies. And by the same, token, if you don’t mind being moored in the middle of an estuary, there are substantial savings to be made. You will either need access to an effective taxi service or a reliable tender on board your boat; and if you plan to keep your boat in the water, it’s always worth investing in some equipment to measure and report to your smart phone or computer on issues like water in the bilge, battery state and security. But there’s no doubt that making compromises in terms of access can bring sought after boating regions within reach even for boaters on a modest budget.

Marinas with management schemes

If you choose to join a boat ownership scheme rather than to buy your own boat outright, the mooring ceases to be an issue. A simple monthly fee paid to the management company will cover the costs and logistics of berthing and storage, as well as launch and recovery, insurance, maintenance and training. As long as you pick a location that is attractive and convenient, and you don’t mind the idea of a quarter share, it can make good sense – particularly as various companies claim to offer very affordable monthly fees that are broadly equivalent to the cost of a single day’s charter.
On the other hand, if you want to own your boat outright, you can still help mitigate your mooring costs by keeping your boat at a marina where a B&B or boat charter management service is offered. By that means, your own boat can be made available to visiting boaters and overnight visitors when you’re not planning to use it yourself. And while you might not initially enjoy the idea that your personal boat will be used as a rental platform, it does tend to mean that it will be managed and maintained to a much higher standard than it would be if it were simply left empty and untouched for a month at a time.

Alex Smith is an ex-Naval officer, with extensive experience as a marine journalist, boat tester and magazine editor. Having raced as a Pilot in the National Thundercat Series and as a Navigator in the inaugural Red Sea RIB Rally, he has now settled in the West Country, where he lives and works as a specialist marine writer and photographer from his narrowboat in Bath.