So, You’d Like to Live Aboard? Here’s Help on Choosing the Right Marina For You.

Now having discovered that the idea of living aboard a boat might be a possible dream or desire for you, let’s explore a few ways that can be accomplished.

The subject of living aboard continues this week with some points on living in a Marina versus being a liveaboard cruiser.

Many people who go into the joy and challenge of living aboard wrestle with the decision to either live at a marina, live aboard while cruising or live “on the hook”, aka being “anchored out”.

There are many reasons why people choose to do either or both and both styles of living aboard have their respective advantages and drawbacks.

If the decision is made to cruise and see the world while living aboard, living on the hook (or “the ball”) is a definite thing you might consider but which is also something that is not mandatory in any sense of the word. Cruising as well as living at a marina sometimes go hand-in-hand. Mostly, it just depends on your own comfort level, finances, family’s needs and last but not least, Your Dream.

Currently, there are thousands of people around the world , and especially here in the Southeastern U.S. who practice these varied lifestyles as they travel or go about their daily activities.

Today, we will talk a little about living in a marina, be it short-term or long-term. Planning to liveaboard in a Marina has many advantages and in this post today we’ll discuss some of the things you might face or need to know before “Plugging In”

Socially Speaking..

If you are new to the lifestyle, Living in a Marina is a great way to”ease” you into the boating community as it is not that much different than living in a neighborhood or apartment/townhouse environment. The equipment required and knowledge needed of how to live off the grid are not especially depended upon and this will also give you the time to consider such options and how they might affect your future cruising plans. Plus, as a side benefit and if you’re careful in choosing, you will start out inside a safer haven from extreme weather and it’s consequences.

You will still have neighbors, (plus or minus), you still can get your mail at a central location (normally) and you get to keep your car (or bike) for the inevitable trips to the grocery, restaurants or to see land-locked family and friends.

Friends Enjoying An Afternoon “Stroll” in the Marina’s Fairway.

In my experience, you will also find plenty of help and advice from those more accustomed to the challenge and more knowledgeable about everything having to do with sailing and living on the water. This help is really important when just starting out as there are many choices that must be considered. For example,

What are, and how do you determine, the best Marina’s for you to practice being a liveaboard in the geographical area you choose to live?

That Depends..

Which of those Marinas allow liveaboards? (Many do not)

If you have kids, or if you really like to socialize, and who doesn’t….(Sailors are a Partying bunch), are there any organized activities? Many marinas have Playgrounds, Dog Parks, Yoga Classes, Sailing Clubs, Lending libraries, office facilities, Pot-luck or catered gatherings. Some have classes in seamanship, weather safety and boat handling. In some places, the list is endless. Indeed, this would be a great topic for another post sometime in the future.

Financial Matters…

How is the slip rent (or dockage) handled and what will be the cost of your little 15’ X 40’ piece of it? Normally, there is a set charge per foot of boat. There is sometimes a discount if you belong to certain boating organizations. BoatUS is popular for this reason. Does the Marina charge by the actual length of the boat or do they charge according to the slip length that you will go into?. (This is a favorite way for Marinas to maximize their collections from you and the method is gaining in popularity) In this case, Instead of charging by the actual length of the boat, slips will be presented in pre-determined sizes. A 30 ft. Slip, A 40 ft. Slip, A 45 ft. Slip etc. etc.

So in my case, A 38 foot boat would require a 40 ft. or larger slip and I am charged accordingly. (40 ft. slip X $rate per foot). Are there any “hidden” fees? Such as “Environmental” fees, Electric Pedestal rentals or “pump out” fees just for slip renters?

Dockage or cost is heavily weighted according to location. You have all heard the Real-estate Agent’s mantra about location and value. Also, there is the “Jones” factor. Yes.. Even “keeping up with the Jones’s” is a factor for some in choosing a marina.. Do you have to have a Golf Course?, Tennis Club or a Club House that serves only top shelf liquors and craft beer?. Will you need a 5 star restaurant or Olympic pool to entertain your guests? Don’t laugh. That is certainly a part of the scene even right here in ‘good ole” NC and many other places. Sometimes, and often, these amenities will even trump location in costs to be considered. I can think of one marina that comes to mind locally. It’s one of the most expensive marinas to stay at in Eastern NC but it’s 30 miles from nowhere geographically. If you need anything more than a quart of milk, be prepared for an hour’s drive or go without.

How accessible to great sailing is the Marina? Will you have to motor-sail 10 miles to deeper water or a wider inland area before you can stretch your boat’s sailing legs? Motoring on a sailboat is usually something sailors don’t like to do. It’s generally noisy, It costs money, It takes more time and leaves a bigger carbon footprint. Seasonally dominant wind direction plays a part here as well. Especially if you own a sailboat. In general, the closer you are to the Ocean or inlets along the East Coast of the U.S., the more you will pay for dockage.

If you are located near a city, are there any city or local taxes that must be paid? Example. New Bern’s Grand Marina is located downtown in it’s Historical District. If you live here, You will be assessed a “Historical District Fee” along with the property taxes on your vehicle and your vessel.

What about Utilities, (Water and Electric), Internet, WiFi and Cable? Are these metered or are they just a “set” cost? If you are still working and lucky enough to telecommute for your source of income, this becomes an important aspect of amenities that might be offered.

Will your choice of marinas be satisfactory to your insurance company? This is a “biggie” if you plan to call a marina “home.” Does it have. “Safe Harbor” designation? Does the Marina have a mandatory evacuation policy in the event of Tropical Storms or Hurricanes?

Unprotected Marinas and Boats can take a beating during Hurricanes and Bad Weather
Trent River Marina and Boat Yard
One Aftermath of Hurricane Florence, September 2018

Are the docks normally protected by a security guard, cameras or a locked and coded gate? Will your boat insurance even allow you to live on board? Here again, many insurance companys do not. (Go figure) Even though it is illegal in the Real Estate market to discriminate, there are a lot of cities and towns that do just that when it comes to judging liveaboards and where they are allowed to stay. But it should be noted here that all boaters should practice responsible behavior and obey the laws of the surrounding community. to prevent such instances. In Florida and Charleston for example, the abandonment of boats has become a real problem. And one that has not gone unnoticed by the public and their elected representatives.

What other amenities are offered in exchange for your hard-earned dollars? Are there reciprocal privileges or discounts available with other nearby businesses associated with your slip rent? Will you be provided assistance (if needed) in getting docked safely after a long day of sailing? Is fuel and/or gasoline available dockside? How about Propane for cooking? Is there a boatyard or haul out facility nearby?

“On the Hard”
The Sailing Superyacht “Whisper”
Canon G-12, Newport Shipyard, 2017

and then, just the “Normal” stuff…

Is a laundry available on-site? If not, where and how far away is the nearest laundromat?, grocery store? major highways? One thing that has made quite a big difference is the growing use of technology to help provide these provincial needs. Here in New Bern and at many places elsewhere, online grocery shopping and delivery are popular with the boating crowd as is pick up and delivery laundry services. The use of Uber and other ridesharing options has almost circumvented the reason to even have a car if your marina is close to where you want to go.

Does the marina provide garbage collection? How often is it picked up?

Are dock carts available when you must get 7 bags of groceries down a 500 ft. pier to your boat?

How do You get your mail? ( there are a variety of ways to do this which I’ll cover in a later post)

Are shore side bath facilities available? Are they kept clean? (You might need this if you expect friends or family onboard for a visit)

Do they have an ice machine? This is important if you have a smaller boat with limited refrigeration capacity and all your friends are coming over (with beer) for a day of sailing.

What is the procedure and who do you call when help with any of the above is needed?

As you can see.. there are many questions to be asked and things to ponder about living aboard at a Marina. I’ve only scratched the surface here.

From my experience in the past, I did not enter into this process clueless. But I will readily admit that there were many questions I just didn’t know to ask.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

How to know for sure…or at least get a good idea

The absolute best way to get many of these questions answered is to pay a visit to the Marina that you have in mind. Walk around and spend some time getting a “feel” for the place. Don’t forget to stop by the dock manager’s office and ask permission for access. They will greatly appreciate that gesture and it might save you some embarrassment. Note the time of year you are there and notice from what direction the wind and current is from. Is is the wind Northeast or Southwest? Is the current at the edge of a river or is it as a result of tide movement? Imagine yourself trying to dock your vessel in that breeze with an adverse tide or current running. Sailboats are notorious for poor backing maneuverability. Municipal type marinas are often built wherever they could find cheap land or on a town or city’s waterfront where current, wakes and crime sometimes exist.

Speaking of tides.. What is the water depth in the approach to the marina and at dockside? I had to plow through a foot of mud almost every time I went out and came back when “Brilliant Cut” was stored in her first marina.

What about bridges that stand in the way of going out? Are they Swing, Bascule or Fixed? Fixed bridges can be especially problematic if your mast height is 65 feet and the MLW (Mean Low Water) bridge clearance is only 45 feet. “Movable” bridges have opening schedules. The State and some local towns and Counties can get very creative with these schedules so that you will constantly stay confused about when they might be opened.

Alfred Cunningham Bridge
Trent and Neuse River Confluence at New Bern Grand Marina

At the marina, notice the condition of the docks and other resident’s boats. Are they clean, and in good repair? Is junk allowed to accumulate on the boats or on the docks? Look at how the boats are secured. Do they have lines of adequate length and condition? Are the docks “floating” or fixed? Floating docks are especially important in areas of astronomical or wind-driven tide. It will make a huge difference in how you board, disembark and the amount of time and attention you have to give to how the boat is tied up.

Neighbors.. Gotta Love ’em.

Do not be fooled into thinking that someone’s net worth is in any way related to how nice or terrible their boat looks to the eye. One mark of a neighbor’s habits is how clean, tidy and “squared away” their boat is. Remember. You’ll be living only about 10 feet away. Going down on a visit to your prospective marina for a weekend, during boating season is best. Maybe your neighbor throws parties well into the evening, ignoring the “quiet-time” hours and has the most annoyingly loud cackle of a laugh that you can imagine. They might like their music to be played at such a high volume that EVERYONE IN THE MARINA can enjoy it. Believe me, this has nothing to do with age, either. It is rare that live aboards are a source of this. Rather, it most likely will originate from “Weekenders” that come down and need to just “blow-off” a little stress from their past work week.

Talking to Marina residents will often shed a lot of light on these and other things you haven’t even thought of. Then later, stop by and talk to the Marina Management (if you can find them). They might be out on the dock, pounding nails or emptying someone’s holding tank so grab a beer or a coffee and wait. Find out who the marina owner is and where they are located. (Many large marinas these days are owned and operated by investment groups located far, far away.) After these conversations, you will no doubt come away with knowledge about the level of professionalism you can expect, how the Marina is managed and how approachable the staff is. Ask for a brochure or application that outlines the marina’s policies and rates on living there. Many Marinas maintain a website where you may find a lot of information. Some marinas have online or Facebook “Groups” that are helpful in determining the overall “happiness factor” of the residents you are about to call neighbors. It’s unavoidable that you will most likely find a “Grumpy-Gus” here and there. Take it for what it is. Some people just feel more comfortable courting drama wherever it is that they go.

Don’t just rely on “scuttlebutt” (gossip) to get your answers. Every sailor has an opinion on most everything and that kind of advice is worth exactly what it costs.

I hope I’ve covered a few things that might help. As you can see, some of the considerations are not that much different than living “on the dirt”.

Of course, there is much more to this and the correct answers for you are as varied as there are different kinds of boats and the people who live on them. But don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by what you don’t know. We were all there once upon a time.

One last thing to remember. If you change your mind, make a mistake or don’t like something after you’ve been there a little while, You can always unplug, just “sail away” and move! Quite easily in fact.

Coquina Harbor During a Rainstorm
Little River, SC
May, 2019

Hold Fast. And Stay tuned… Next.. Living on the “Hook”

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