Item posted: Tuesday 1st February , 2011
Not long ago the British Marine Federation, in partnership with the Crown Estate, Jersey Harbours and the Yacht Harbour Association, commissioned a comprehensive study of UK coastal marinas and came up with some impressive statistics. The survey found that the marina sector employed over 1700 people, supported the employment of 22,000 more, turned over £113 million a year and, with the income from associated businesses, boosted the national economy with millions of pounds in VAT payments. Rob Stevens, the Chief Executive of the BMF, said the report demonstrated the significant contribution of the coastal marinas sector in both value and employment terms to the UK economy. Roger Bright, who heads up the Crown Estate, agreed with him and said, “We are taking an increasingly active interest in the economic opportunities that marinas and other coastal developments can provide in supporting coastal communities”.
All good flag-waving stuff, but what was noticeable about the report was that neither of these Titans of the marine industry made any reference to the most important contribution of all to this glowing success story, without which the British Marine Federation would probably be on the brink of extinction, and the only function of the Crown Estate would be collecting farm rents in Cornwall. Nowhere did it acknowledge that it was the very considerable input of cash from boat owners renting permanent berths that had enabled marinas to develop, employ staff and provide work for local businesses.
The survey highlighted the massive sum of over £200 million spent annually in coastal marinas by visiting boat owners, which in turn supported over 5,000 local tourism jobs but, though marinas now have a virtual monopoly on berthing facilities for pleasure boats, there were no glowing statistics in the survey report to show that the owners of this relative newcomer to the maritime industry gave value for money.
There are widely differing opinions on that of course, so for a balanced view I sought the comments of three pals of mine who were very familiar with the problems of running a large business and had owned boats most of their lives.
Bill was the chartered finance director of a hotel group with a multi-million pound turnover, and said that the marina concept was of immense benefit to boat owners but he was particularly critical of marina owners for their seeming lack of interest in ensuring that yard staff were properly trained and certificated before being allowed to lift and move valuable boats, masts and equipment. He stressed the importance and value of carefully monitored training programmes for employees, which were compulsory in the high end of the hotel industry, and through a career structure were an incentive to staff to stay in the industry.
Archie was an astute and gifted engineer and, though he agreed that there were many shortcomings in marina management and that the charges were high, he was convinced that the advantages of keeping a boat in a marina far outweighed the disadvantages. He too said that, ideally, staff should be properly trained and certificated, but was full of praise for his marina which he said provided an owner with easy access to his boat and a caring and experienced staff who kept an eye on it, making sure the fenders stayed in place, the warps were secure and electricity, water and fuel were on tap. He put a caring and experienced staff at the top of his priority list and said that in the berthing charge boat owners were paying for peace of mind.
My last ‘expert’, Dave, had been a marine insurance assessor and, though he kept his boat in a marina and recognized the valuable service it provided, he complained that, because of their monopoly position, building up good customer relations was low on the owners’ priorities and they often adopted a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. A keen long-distance cruising man, he said he would like to see more marinas opened that were modeled on the Norwegian system, where they were owned by the local authority and berth holders helped with maintenance. He said it kept charges to a minimum and a 45’ boat would cost around £1500 a year rather than £4000 or more in the UK.
My own experience of marinas has been mixed. Preferring to listen to the plaintive call of seabirds returning to their nesting places rather than the raucous sound of a sozzled mariner returning to his bunk, I give marinas a wide berth when I’m cruising and like to drop the hook in a quiet bay; but as a base where almost every facility for a boat and its owner are to hand there is no doubt that marinas are a vital asset and are here to stay. I do agree though with the comments of Bill, Archie and Dave about the lack of formal training schemes for yard staff, and I’m surprised that marina owners are not using them as a tool to keep two steps ahead of the litigation mania that has crossed the Atlantic in recent times. As for some marinas being neglectful about customer relations and adopting a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude, well the antidote to that is competition, which means a wider choice through an increase in the number of marinas available. I fancy the Norwegian system myself, but it’s anyone’s guess whether it would be workable in a country beleaguered by often nonsensical Health and Safety regulations and local authorities obsessed with filling in risk assessments.
So which is the best marina in the UK? Well, a Greek philosopher once said that if a man thinks he is happy then he must be happy, and if you use that as the criteria for deciding whether or not your marina provides a service that looks after your interests and gives you value for money, you have the answer!
April 24th, 2012
I agree with the need to provide basic training for staff, I had my yacht lifted by a local marina, who refused my help in moving my yacht to the cradle, saying it's our liability now as they knocked her into astern before the mooring ropes had been released, they gave no indication that they were about to set off or in fact no instruction, the bow rope trailed in the water all the way to the cradle (300yds), a potential for disaster if they needed to alter course. Regarding competition, what we need is a moorings club where we can advertise the use of our own mooring when we are away on a cruise. This club could collect a rent for the management of the facility. £10 to £15 per night would be cheaper than a marina, 40% to the owner of the mooring and 60% to the management company, possibly offering insurance risk cover.
November 25th, 2011
The greed of marina owners will not persist. It is impossible. Soon, there has to be a point where boat owners say "enough is enough". Money cannot keep on being printed, for sure, and the rich cannot keep on getting richer. And next, you will tax the volume of water travelled upon?...the water that was given freely for all! Yes, a world of greed and folly. How many of you are reading this that are unable to afford your berths this year? How many of you are selling or perhaps have sold your boat through necessity? How many of you have true love of the water as do I? Am I so very wrong? I watch. I wait and very soon I shall see! I remember when my local MP was local...he lives in a country mansion now. Funny old world!
April 18th, 2011
Bob is a great writer, I really enjoyed reading this article.
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