Feature: Shopping for Marina Slips - SailNet Community
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Feature: Shopping for Marina Slips

Finding the right slip for your boat can be a daunting task fraught with potential problems.

By Nancy E. Wigal

When I bought my West Wight Potter in February 2000, I had a dilemma: trailer it, or lease a slip? Although Potters, as they are known, are trailerable, I decided I wanted to lease a wet slip on the Chesapeake Bay. I wanted to sail, not rig a boat by the ramp.

This was my first time shopping for a wet slip. Prior to visiting prospective marinas, I made some phone calls, and discovered that leasing a slip for a boat my size (19' 9") was challenging, as I was told by several marina managers that my boat was "too small" for any slip. Since I own such a small sailboat, some marinas would only consider leasing me a wet slip for a minimum price, and it was usually the price for a 30' sailboat. That also entailed being offered a slip that would accommodate a 30' sailboat, but not necessarily a 19' boat.

This story has a happy ending. I found a very nice slip at a marina for a competitive price. The slip could accommodate a boat up to 24', so Baydream fit quite well. I've been there for three seasons now, and have had a wonderful time. But, I'm feeling restless - I want to see a different part of the Chesapeake Bay. So, it's time to marina shop again. I learned quite a bit from my first experience, and the following are some tips and information to keep in mind as you conduct your search.

Decide what you want from a marina.
What's important to you? For a co-worker of mine, she values a pool and tennis courts to keep her occupied if she doesn't feel like sailing. Her marina offers no repairs. Does a full-service marina make you feel more secure, knowing if something malfunctions you can get it fixed on the premises? Are there showers and an on-site laundry facility? Or, are you willing to drive down the road for these amenities? What's available in the area for shopping, provisions, and restaurants? What sort of social interaction do you prefer? Would you rather be in a quiet part of the marina, or do you prefer frequent visits with other slip holders?

What is the price structure like?
Be sure to view the price list for routine tasks such as haul out, launching, bottom work, installing modifications, and engine work, to name a few examples. Does the marina charge monthly, or are you locked into a yearly lease for a wet slip that you may only use nine months of the year? How much does the facility charge for dry land storage in addition to the yearly wet slip lease charge? If your boat is trailerable, how much does the marina charge to store your trailer? The new marina where I'm going to berth Baydream charges by the month for wet slip use, and provides a separate (cheaper) price for land storage. So, I'll pay for the nine months of wet slip usage I can truly use, and be charged appropriately for land storage.

You get what you pay for.
My old marina charged me $1000 more for a year-round lease, shower facilities, water/shore power, a picnic area, fuel dock, and a full range of services. The new facility has water/shore power, restrooms, and full marina services. By foregoing some niceties, I'm saving that $1000 to do modifications on Baydream.

If you want to spend optimum time sailing, find a slip in a marina that has room for navigation and adequate water at low tide.
Read the fine print.
It's tedious, but necessary. Some marinas will lease your slip to transients if you are out of the water temporarily, or away on a short cruise. There is no such thing as a pro-rated cost if you're not using your slip. Also, read the list of marina rules. Some facilities require sailboats to tie down all halyards along the masts, so they don't make noise.

Carefully evaluate the choice of slips you are offered.
What is the minimum water depth your boat needs at low tide? Do you have adequate navigating room, depending upon your experience? Is this a slip you would feel comfortable using? Is it near the restaurant that stays open until 2AM? Is there water/shore power at the slip, or close by? What is the condition of the dock and pilings? Are there adequate pilings to arrange your dock lines? How easy or difficult is it to get out to the main channel? If you have several to choose from, take paper and pencil, and make detailed notes.

Some dos and don'ts:

DO ask lots of questions. Marina staff can tell you what local sailing conditions are like, where submerged (sometimes unmarked) hazards are lurking, as well as local dining and shopping facilities. Pick their brains for anything you think is significant in your decision-making process.

DON'T plunk down money to get on a waiting list. There are many marinas that will put you on their waiting list for free.

DO wander all around the marina, and ask the yard manager to take you on a tour. Talk to current slip holders, and ask them for their perspective on the facilities, slips, local boating conditions, and nearby amenities.

DON'T be in a big hurry to lease the first slip you see. Take a day to drive along the waterway you'll be sailing, and compare marinas. Take lots of notes, and get literature from each facility you visit.

DO investigate how the marina looks. Are the pilings and docks worn out, rotting, and have missing boards? Is there adequate parking? Has the marina undergone recent improvements? Are the buildings in decent shape?

DO have fun at your new slip, enjoying the sailing season!

And remember, if you're not happy, there's always next year. Slip demands vary each year, and you may find another marina that will have slip vacancies next year. Hang on to your literature and notes. Fair winds!

Nancy E. Wigal lives and works in the Washington, DC area. She sails her West Wight Potter, "Baydream," on the Chesapeake Bay, and looks forward to the day when she can purchase her dream house on the bay, and can have "Baydream" in the water, out back. She may be contacted at [email protected]
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