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Marinas are today’s front porch

We keep our Pursuit at the drystack building at Loggerhead Marina in St. Petersburg, Fla. Loggerhead is a first-class operation with good amenities and an attentive staff.

But as I sat by the swimming pool last weekend, watching my grandsons and looking up at the big drystack building, an editorial that appeared years ago in Lakeland Boating magazine came to mind. It was written by Bing O’Meara, the quintessential magazine publisher who is celebrating his 30th year in marine journalism. What he wrote back in 2007 has stayed with me all these years — probably because it may be even more insightful today.

He wrote that he was reading “Porch Talk” by Philip Gulley, who seemed convinced that what was wrong with the world could be blamed on the lack of front porches and the talks that would take place there. It seemed the turning point was when the Levitt family built America’s first modern subdivision of 17,477 homes in Levittown, N.Y., in the 1940s. Their goal was to provide affordable homes for the scores of GIs returning from World War II. To do it, they left off the good old-fashioned front porch. That set the home design trend for the future and silenced America, at least as Gulley saw it.

So is there a front porch left anywhere these days? Absolutely, Bing observed in his editorial. It still thrives in one place — at the marina. There are no strangers in a marina, he observed. You cannot fail to interact along the docks. When the cocktail flag goes up, things are alive and well. Life on the docks is fun and a large part of the boating lifestyle, Bing noted.

But he also wrote that he was recently at a meeting in Florida and a large drystack operation was pointed out to him. He was told that the drystack could handle boats up to 36 feet. Moreover, that was the kind of facility that would replace marinas. Replace marinas? Let’s hope not, wrote Bing.

As I sat thinking about it, two thoughts came to mind. First, even today, marinas serve not only as a critical gateway to the boating lifestyle but, by their nature, provide added enjoyment for so many boating families. For the dockers, marinas are a front porch.

Second, I wondered about the drystack operations and whether they do the same. There are hundreds of boats inside the building at Loggerhead, so it’s a gateway to boating. But, by nature, drystacks are in-and-out operations. Customers watch their boat launched, shove off for the day, return and head home while the boat is put back in the building. Those boaters miss out on the dockside interaction — they don’t have a front porch.

To bridge this boating lifestyle gap, it’s important for drystack operators to think about providing opportunities for boater engagement. For example, organizing and sponsoring group activities such as pool parties, cookouts, group cruises, fishing contests, poker runs, educational clinics, hands-on training, ladies programs and kids events can create a front porch atmosphere for drystack customers.

Marinas, whether wet or high-and-dries, play pivotal roles in enhancing the enjoyment of boating. Simply, as an industry, if we are looking for ways to grow this sport, we must begin by keeping those boaters who are already in it. To that end, there’s no doubt that all marinas bear a great responsibility for advancing the boating lifestyle.

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