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20 things to consider when choosing a marina

Monday, 13 November 2017

20 things to consider when choosing a marina

One of four new downloadable eBooks, 20 things to consider when choosing a marina was created by Darren Vaux, Director of Empire Marina who has a wealth of marine industry experience and knowledge as Chairman of the Maritime Advisory Council in New South Wales, Director of the Boating Industry Association, founding Chairman of the Boating Industries Alliance Australia and Vice Chair of the Marina Industries Association.

It’s more than just a berth!

Whether this is your first boat or your tenth, making the right choice of where to berth your boat can make a huge impact on your overall boating enjoyment. The purpose of this guide is to give you the key information you need to choose what is best for you for the type of boating and boating lifestyle that you enjoy. Choosing the right marina is much more than just convenience of location, there are many other factors that affect the decision like ease of berthing, parking and security that can impact on your enjoyment of boating and that of your friends and family. Too many boat owners don't enjoy their boating because they spend their day worrying about getting their boat back in its berth at the end of the day because they made a poor choice of marina. With a bit of research, it’s not hard to find the marina that is right for you. Empire Marina Bobbin Head is Sydney’s most awarded marina and the main reason is that when considered against what is important when choosing a marina, it ticks all the boxes.

We hope this guide is of assistance and look forward to seeing you out on the water.

1. Exposure
Is it a good anchorage?
When choosing a location for anchoring over night a good skipper looks to the exposure of the location to the potential impact of wind and waves on the vessel. A marina is no different. Where a marina is exposed to a long fetch (distance the wind can travel over water) the marina will be impacted by strong winds and chop or short period surface waves. Where the marina is exposed it is also likely to be affected from the wash of passing vessels or in high traffic areas from passing ferries. This has three key impacts.

Firstly, berthing your boat at the end of the day is difficult in a high wind and wave environment and this can impact on your enjoyment of your day out on the water and that of your friends and family. Secondly, if you enjoy staying on your boat in the marina overnight, you may not get much sleep if your boat is bouncing around in its berth and thirdly, excessive movement puts strain on your ropes, cleats and risks ‘fender burn’ on your hull as your boat bangs up against the marina pontoon.

So, consider the prevailing winds for the location of the marina. If it is exposed to the summer sea breezes and storms (Nor-easters and southerlies in Sydney) it may not be the best anchorage.

2. Access
Is it accessible in all tides?
The tidal variance and timing is different for all marinas. Marinas at the end of an estuary may have lower tidal variance that those closer to the open ocean. The key factors here are:

1. What is the depth of water in the approach, fairways and berths of the marina at dead low tide?
2. What is the rate of tidal flow or river flow in the marina and in which direction does it flow relative to your proposed berth. A tidal flow of 3kts can have a big impact on you when you are berthing.
3. Is the marina and your berth accessible in all tides?

Water depth can also have an impact on the wave environment in and around the marina.

3. Berth Sizes and fairway widths.
Is there space to manoeuvre?
The minimum requirements for the configuration of marinas is set out in AS3962, the Australian Standard for marinas. This standard was set in 2001. Many marinas were built before this standard was published and at times when boats were much smaller. Over the past decades the average size of boats stored within marinas has increased dramatically in both length and beam. The Standard recommends that the width of fairways within a marina be 1.5 to 1.75x the length of the longest vessels stored on the arms bordering the fairway. This ensures that there is adequate room to turn the vessel for positioning before reversing into the berth. Pontoon fingers should be about 70% of the length of the berth so they provide adequate lateral support.

They should not be longer that this otherwise they are difficult to manoeuvre around. Where the marina has a higher exposure to wind and waves these fairway widths need to be increased. Berth widths are another important factor. There should be a minimum of one metre between vessels when berthed to allow for fendering and movement on the lines.

4. What type of marina?
Fixed or floating, light or heavy?
The type of marina system does have a significant impact on the security of your boat and the convenience of access. Fixed marinas are typically timber wharves that secure vessels to piles. The wharf does not move with the tide and as such the lines need to allow for tidal movement and access to the vessels is often difficult. These are typically old facilities. Floating systems have pontoons that rise and fall with the tide and are secured to the seabed typically with piles. They are accessed by gangways. There are two main systems, heavy and light. Lightweight systems typically have plastic floats and a mesh deck. They, expectedly, are ‘lightweight’ so they will move around when you walk on them or with wind and wave action. They typically have a lower freeboard (height from the water to the pontoon deck) than heavy systems and in some cases are more slippery when wet. Lightweight systems do not provide much wave attenuation within the marina as they do absorb the wave energy. Also, marinas secured by moorings in lieu of piles will also tend to move around more.

Heavy pontoon systems are typically foam or floats encased in concrete. These systems do not move around when you walk on them and are a more robust system. Given their mass they provide excellent wave attenuation within the marina and as such the vessels move less.

5. Cleats and Fenders
How easy is it to tie up?
Berthing a boat is 50% getting her into the berth and 50% getting the ropes on. A great skipper can be made to look bad if the crew messes up the ropes. As a typical rule of thumb, get a springer on first then you can hold the boat in position with the engines while the other ropes are secured.

Good marinas will provide access to at least 4 double cleats per berth, three on the finger per side and one aft centred between two adjoining berths. The cleats need to be large enough to take the size of the ropes and robust enough to take the load of the berthed vessels.
Quality marinas also provide a service to install dedicated ropes and fenders to the berths so that berthing is as simple as securing the ropes to the boat as they are already the perfect length.

6. Boating Destinations
What sort of boating are you into?
The marina is your launching point for your boating lifestyle. Using the old ships saying, a boat is safest in the marina, but that’s not what it’s for! So, once you have departed the marina where can you go and what can you do and is there enough variety to keep you entertained? Whether you are into cruising, sitting at anchor or on a mooring reading your book, sailing, fishing or all of the above, the proximity of your marina to these activities is an important consideration in your choice of marina.

Likewise, how busy is the area? Is there a lot of commercial traffic like ferries to avoid or competition for the best anchorages. Are there sailing regattas to avoid? Are there places where you can rest at anchor or on a mooring. Does the marina provide a guide to the best boating destinations and activities around the marina?

7. Access for unloading and parking
How convenient is it?
Most marinas have parking challenges. By virtue of their waterfront location, land is at a premium and if the marina has been on the site for some time (before parking standards) it is likely that parking and loading availability is limited or expensive.

Nothing is more frustrating than planning a day out on the boat and then spending time driving around looking for a park. The best marinas have dedicated secure parking with dedicated loading and unloading bays with conveniently located and high-quality marina trolleys. Marinas typically require a minimum number of car spaces equal to 25% of the number of berths in the marina for normal operations. On peak holiday weekends parking is always going to be a premium but good marina will have options for dealing with parking at these peak times like opening up hardstands or valet parking.

8. Facilities in the berths
Power, water & wifi?
One of the benefits of being in a marina berth is being connected to shore power and ready access to water. This not only keeps the batteries charged, the tanks full and the boat clean, it also provides access to power to run your systems while staying at your boat in the marina without draining your batteries or running your generator. Most modern floating marina systems provide power and water to bollards that are shared between two adjoining berths. Is the power metered and charged and does the marina allow a small usage before charge? Modern vessels can have significant power demands, like 415V and 32A. It is worth understanding your vessel’s power requirements and whether the berth and marina you are considering can meet your requirements.

[ Electricity saving tip : don't leave the refrigerator in your flybridge running when you are not there. Flybridges heat up and the refrigerator will have to work hard to keep cool using a lot of power and wearing out the compressor]

Everyone expects to be connected these days and marinas should have access to high speed WIFI across the marina that is capable of meeting the streaming requirements of providers like Netflix. If you are into staying on your boat in the marina it is worth testing the WIFI in your proposed berth. Berthing in a marina with these facilities opens up the possibilities to stay overnight, use it as a part time office or even make income through renting your boat out through a platform like bedsonboard.com

9. Maintenance, fuel & pump-out
Is it a one stop shop?
Most people are time poor so convenient access to the services that make boating easy and reliable are essential to the overall experience. Where is the nearest fuel and pumpout? Does the marina provide these facilities and is there a discount for marina customers? Does the marina have on-site haul out and maintenance facilities? Are there key trades on site like Shipwrights, mechanics, marine electricians, painters, trimmers and detailers? Access to these key trades can quickly help solve a problem or attend to the necessary work during the week so your boat is ready and waiting for you for the weekend. If these facilities are not on site then where are they and how much time and fuel will be required to access them?

10. Amenities, food and provisions
What are the facilities on-shore?
Do you intend to spend time on your boat at the marina either during the day or overnight? In addition to public facilities, leading marinas provide dedicated amenities for their guests including quality bathrooms and showers, lounges and laundry facilities to make staying on-board a more enjoyable experience.

Access to other essentials like ice and gas are important and appropriate to be available at a marina so the drinks and the BBQ are covered.

Is there a restaurant, bar or kiosk on site? If you stay overnight can you get breakfast and a coffee in the morning? Is there a bottleshop on site? Can you buy milk and bread?

These are all import considerations when it comes to convenient and enjoyable boating. If these facilities are not on site, are they close by, or on your way to the marina.

Convenience is king!

11. Access to garbage and recycling
Is it convenient disposal?
After a day out, you can expect to have to the usual food waste, packaging and bottle disposal requirements. The marina should provide convenient access to clean waste disposal and recycling facilities on the way to the carpark. There should also be the ability to dispose of other waste from your boat like batteries and waste oil both of which can be recycled.

12. Operating hours and days
Are they there when you need them?
Marinas are service businesses and should be open on the days and hours when you need them most. Marinas should have dedicated weekend staff and be open on public holidays. The marina should be accessible to you 24 hours and there should be overnight security arrangements for emergency response.

Is the marina reachable by phone and marine radio? Are there staff available to help you tie up if it is windy or you are skippering alone? Are there skilled staff on site to provide you advice or to help you if you have a technical problem before heading out for the day?

13. Security & CCTV
How secure is the facility?
Marinas are vulnerable from both the land and the water and provide storage for very valuable assets. There are some important security questions worth considering:

1. Does the marina have security gates and an electronic access control system?

2. Does the marina provide overnight security for protection of the vessels and for emergency response?

3. Is there CCTV that maintains a record of events at the marina?

4. Does the marina have a history of break-ins or damage to vessels?

5. Does the marina hold keys to the vessels and is there a procedure for signing keys in and out?

Understanding these questions will help you get comfort as to the importance the marina places in maintaining the security of your boat.

14. Experience & knowledge of staff
How credible is the team?
You should expect your marina team to have a passion for boats and boating and be able to provide the advice you need whether its about planning a passage, where to go or about technical or maintenance needs. Marina Management is a specialist field and the best marina managers are experienced former captains and/or shipwrights or other marine specialist trades who have completed the formal training for marina managers through the recognised industry associations or are Certified Marina Managers. It is interesting find out if they are dedicated boaters, what is their boating experience, do they own a boat?

Passion plays a large part in the marina and boating industries and a marina run by experienced boaters will reflect the needs of boaters.

15. Emergency response procedures
Are they ready for anything?
The most likely emergencies at marinas are:

1. Medical emergency

2. Fire Emergency

3. Fuel spill

4. Storm or flood

Marinas should have all of their staff trained in emergency first aid and there should be a comprehensive first aid kit on site including a Defibrillator and Oxygen. There should be clear emergency response procedures.

Marinas are required to have fire extinguishers, fire hose reals and hydrants. Better marinas will also have ‘break-glass’ fire alarm buttons in key locations and an emergency warning information system (EWIS) system for communication during an emergency and evacuation. Marinas should also hold fire and emergency drills to test these procedures.

Fuel spills in marinas can occur during fuelling operations but are more likely to occur when a vessel suffers a fuel leak from its tanks or fuel lines and the fuel is pumped out via the bilge pumps. Marinas are required to have spill response kits on site that include booms and absorbent pads to contain and address these issues.

The exposure of the marina addressed in point 1 in this book is a key factor in determining the vulnerability of the marina to storm effects or flooding. Exposure to wind can cause damage to vessels through impacts between the vessel and the pontoons or broken mooring lines. Flooding can occur through river flooding or through storm surge. It is worth researching how the marina has faired though extreme weather events in the past and whether it is vulnerable to these effects in the future.

16. Commitment to the Environment
Boating relies on a pristine environment
Marinas and boating generally are vulnerable to the effects of climate change particularly sea level rise and the increased frequency of extreme weather events. Likewise boating and fishing requires a pristine marine environment for its ongoing enjoyment. Marinas have a responsibility to protect the environment with their operating practices as well as to promote environmentally sustainable boating and fishing. Questions that are worth asking a of a marina include:

⦁ How do you ensure that no contaminants enter the water from your maintenance facilities or other activities?

⦁ How do you dispose of waste water and other contaminants from maintenance or other activities?

⦁ How do you minimise the risk of fuel spill and other contamination within the marina from the boats berthed there?

⦁ Do you provide recycling and other waste minimisation facilities?

⦁ How do you minimise your carbon footprint in energy management at the marina? Do you have PV cells, LED lights etc?

⦁ How do you minimise your water usage at the marina? Do you harvest rainwater for re-use?

Leading marinas in Australia participate in the international Clean Marinas Program administered through the Marina Industries Association. 

17. Events and Social Program
Is it a fun place to be?
One of the great things about boating is that it is social and friendly. Boaters with boats of all shapes and sizes wave to each other on the water and commune through a shared love of boating. A marina brings together a large group of people with a shared passion and the marina should provide the opportunity for people to meet each other in a relaxed a friendly atmosphere. There are a few questions worth asking here?

1. Does the marina provide or facilitate regular get togethers for customers like a monthly BBQ?

2. Does the marina hold annual events and parties like boat shows, information or open days?

3. Does the marina have a social club or other arrangement that provides a central point of contact for marina customers.

Marinas should allow those customers that want to socialise a way of meeting other marina customers and at the same time allowing privacy for those that want to be left alone.

18. Reciprocal arrangements
Is there access to other marinas?
Cruising is a great way to enjoy your boat. Some marina operators own multiple marinas and have reciprocal berthing arrangements between each marina. Some private marinas have reciprocal arrangements in place with other marinas, so their customers can utilise the berths in the reciprocal marinas without additional cost. An example of this is the ECLAT Club and details of this are available here.

19. Accreditation & Awards
Is the marina well regarded?
How can you really tell how good a marina is until you have tried it? In the hotel world the star rating system gives consumers confidence that the hotel is of a particular facility and service standard. In the marina world this standard is the International Gold Anchor Standard. Under this standard, participating marinas are accredited against a strict and comprehensive set of criteria that covers the physical facility, its amenities and the services provided by the marina management. 

Marinas are also accredited for their environmental performance under the international Clean Marinas Program. 

Marinas in Australia are also available for consideration for numerous awards including the prestigious Australian Marina of there Year and Australian Marina Hall of Fame.

These awards recognise marinas that show leadership in all of the areas outlined in this book.

Accreditation and awards are an important reflection of a marinas commitment to quality and customer service. By being prepared to submit themselves to third part review the marina demonstrates its commitment to consistent quality and service.

20. Value for Money
Getting bang for your buck.
We have left the consideration of value to last as price is a factor of how the product or service meets your needs. Everyone has different budgets and needs. Marina fees are a factor of convenience, location, facilities and service and these need to be weighed up against what you want out of your boating and how much you can afford or are prepared to pay. There are, of course, ways to save money with berthing fees. Most marinas provide a discount for paying 12 months in advance and berth customers usually get a discount on fuels and other services in marinas that have these facilities.

In boating, like most things, it is worth paying for convenience, service and quality.

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