Reflections of an Ancient Boater—The 'life cycle' of a marina

Published: Friday, 28 August 2020

SOME marinas are built purely as marinas, but I suspect others are built for other reasons and the marina element is, in effect, a Trojan Horse, writes Ralph Freeman.

What do I mean by that?  Well, the developer realises the chances of getting planning permission for a hotel/gastro pub/shopping mall on a green field site are next to zero.  Answer—build a marina first (they are all the rage and CaRT will be on your side) and then add the premises you really want incrementally claiming they are for the benefit of moorers. That's the way to do it!

Day zero

It is announced that a marina is to be built at location X. Going past the proposed site on their narrowboats, potential moorers think: 'That will be nice I'll keep an eye on progress'.

Nothing happens...  More nothing happens...  Some years later it is announced in a local paper that planning permission has been refused.

saul marinaAnother year passes and then it is announced that planning permission has now been granted (after many iterations to the design and a halving of the number of berths). It is claimed work will start soon.

Six month later initial work begins on digging 'a large hole'.  Work stopsnobody knows why.

Twelve months later work resumes and the pontoons are installed and the marina filled with water.

Marina opens

'Early adopters' arrive.  These are hardy souls who only require a water point, electricity supply and somewhere to empty the loo.  Mooring fees are cheap at this point as the car park and footpaths become Somme-like during periods of heavy rain.  Wellingtons are essential footwear.  Winters are grim, but the camaraderie is good and a community soon develops.

marinaFewOver the next couple of years grass grows and the car parks are covered in hardcore.  Plus a toilet/shower block has now been built.  More boaters arrive, often liveaboards, and the marina is now approximately 30% full.

The access roads and footpaths are tarmacked but the mooring prices rise sharply to pay for this.

Because the marina now looks smart, with grassy perimeters and tarmacked roads, the number of new moorers rises more rapidly.  The type of moorer changes too with many of the newcomers using their boats as weekend cottages only and do not venture far from the marina on the adjacent canal.

Marina filling-up nicely

A hire boat fleet arrives and many time-share boats now use this new marina as their base.  This encourages the marina owners to build a workshop on site and lease it to a couple of boat maintenance fitters

barton waterfrontPrices rise sharply as the marina is now 90% full. The terms and conditions are now re-written in 'legalise' and some of the early moorers now leave.  The character of the marina is changing.  The early adopters have done their job by providing cash flow in the early years and acting as decoys to lure in other boaters.

Liveaboards are now charged a premium rate as some marina owners would prefer more hire boats/shared ownerships/floating cottage boaters as they are more likely to patronise the gastro pub that has now been built on site.  Some of the car parking spaces used by boaters have been re-allocated to the gastro pub/hire boaters.  Note: The site now bears little resemblance to the planning permission originally granted to those 'Trojan Horse' marinas.

More liveaboard boaters leave as car parking becomes a hassle and the peace and quiet of the last five years has almost gone.  Noisy events are held over the weekends to create footfalls in the on site's gastro pub and shops.

All change

Marina is bought out, or the early manager/caretakers, more often than not liveaboard boaters with their home on site, are replaced.  The sense of community is dying fast and so the marina becomes more of a holiday park than a small village.

The tone/atmosphere of a marina is set primarily by it's owners of course, but is also heavily influenced on a day to day basis by the on site management.  Some are good, but many pretty bad in that they have poor man management skills, no boating experience and so find it hard to communicate with many boaters.  (A sense of humour would help?)

I wouldn't want the job of marina manager for all the tea in China. It is a thankless and difficult task.  However, some do it well and create a community embracing all kinds of boaters.  Others it's sad to say, just look at the 'bottom line' which infers the best moorer is one that moors their boat, but never uses it.  There is no wear and tear, just a steady income!  So these marinas are not communities, just boat parks . I think that is a shame.

Most marinas change dramatically over their first 10 years.  I hope I have explained why there is a constant flow of boats moving moorings, not just because of financial reasons or folk fancy a change of scenery, but boaters no longer like 'the atmosphere' that has come to pass.  Nothing lasts forever...