A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

No access, no boating

Water access – I’m glad to see industry media attention being paid to water access. It’s not as emotional an issue as “Take Me Fishing,” but it’s just as important to boating.

All over the country, especially on saltwater shorelines, the fortunate few are buying available land and restricting access. Or developers are buying the land for condo development. Where I live in the desert, I’m often asked or teased about the lack of boating water. Within a 40-minute drive of Phoenix, there are some great lakes, and at Lake Pleasant, a big new marina is going in.

In my work, I travel to many coastal and Great Lakes areas and growth in boating is taking place. But unfortunately, there are some areas that are forever being lost to boating. Take Miami Beach, for example. The growth of condos is about to choke off access to the water. Access? It’s almost to the point of not even being able to see the water. And the needed infrastructure such as parking is disappearing, too.

I was visiting with a successful Southern California marine dealer whose business is on the water in Newport Beach and the conversation turned to retirement and plans to retire and business succession. The dealer told me he was just holding on for a few more years because the land the business is on is getting more and more valuable. There’s no plan to sell the dealership to someone or for their children to take it over. They will just close up and sell the land for several millions of dollars and retire. I sure hope they don’t plan on going boating, because there is likely to be no access for them!

We need to do more to to ensure there is access for boaters. Otherwise, Discover Boating will be just wishful thinking.

Mike Walker
Walker Agency   


9 comments on “No access, no boating

  1. Bill Lindsey

    Mike couldn’t be more correct. In South Florida, water access is an issue that becomes more critical by the day. Fort Lauderdale still has all the miles and miles of navigable waterways that made it The Venice of America, but it has lost a significant number of the marinas and boatyards that drew in yachts and yacht owners from all over the world. As condos replace working waterway, these owners and their vessels simply go elsewhere. Anyone who has been down the New River as it enters the downtown Ft Lauderdale area knows all too well how the waterway is changing. More condos and less places to keep boats.
    However, the impact is to more than just yacht owners; many local stack & racks have been sold to condo developers or are being sold “by the slot” and priced so high as to prevent the average guy from being able to afford to keep his boat in them. Other Florida municipalities have sought to mitigate the loss of working water way by purchasing marinas (Palm Beach County has done this), building more public ramps, or granting tax concessions to marina and boatyard owners. While we can’t fault property owners for profiting from property appreciation, we as an industry need to impress on our elected officials (local, state, federal) the need to preserve water access for all of us.

  2. John Page Williams

    Right you are, Gentlemen.

    It’s happening here on the Chesapeake too, even in towns like Crisfield, MD long built around the commercial fisheries culture that we’d prefer to hold onto. It’s a direct parallel to disappearing farmland in the Bay watershed, especially close to urban areas, where farmers are selling out to developers. As Mike points out, we’re losing views of the water–and also of open countryside.

    There’s also an environmental dimension. Well-managed farmland does a much better job of treating rainwater runoff than a subdivision, and I’d much rather see certified clean marinas whose owners and employees care about clean water sited on our harbors and creeks than endless condos whose residents wish only to look at the water from afar.

  3. John Sprague

    All of the comments so far are on target. The real culprit however is the inability at least in Florida to optain permits for new or expansion and the expence of the process and state lands rules which are anti water access. Only condos with uplands sales can afford to go through the process to build new as the costs are born by the unit and slip sales costs. If they want slips with speed Condos buy existing and rebuild with less slips so permits and rules go easy on you. Again the high costs of purchase can be absorbed by the price the units and slips demand. So to sum it up can’t build more and we are loosing the ones we have, Everybody best get on this issue, as if we wait much longer it will be to late. The rich will inherit the waters just like in the old GAR Wood days of the wealthy boating public. Joe lunch bucket will be locked out of boating forever. Not all marine businesses and manufactures cater to the wealthy boat owner. What happens to them and their employees?

  4. Dick Cromwell

    This is the single biggest problem facing the marine industry. The boat owner is facing fast rising costs to moor, dock, store and handle their boat. This is driven by the high costs of the real estate and all the various costs to operate the facilites.

    The ramp access is limited poor and not well maintained (Rhode Island, Connecticutt and Massachusetts) The small boat owner finds this type of recreaction to be a expensive and a hazzle.

    The grow boating campaign is too focused on sending nice marketing materials and not helping this issue get addressed on a local level. If Joe Customer was having a good time. His neighbor would be the next one to buy a boat too. Without ground roots support to improve the access issue the market will remain the same.

  5. K Hill

    Unfortunately, the limited access problem can partially be blamed on the boaters themselves and our local municipalities. Owning a marina for 30 years, I have experienced time after time, customers who refuse to financially support their marinas, other then the slip rental. I understand and commend any boater who enjoys working on their own boat, though they need to understand that most marinas cannot afford to stay in business without service revenue. Or even worse, those who choose to bring their boats home during the off-season and hire an unqualified, uninsured cheap mechanic with no overhead.
    In addition to having to compete against back-yard mechanics, we are forced to swallow the fact that our local towns are using our tax dollars, and our neighbors (who may not even own a boat) to maintain and build government subsidizes and owned marinas who compete with us. Understanding that in the US, a citizen is born with the right to public access, government marinas need to raise their rates to there local prevailing slip rate and not allow residential boat land storage.
    After 30 years, we are currently in negotiations with a real-estate developer and see no advantages not to sell. We looked at all the options to improve revenue income and nothing seems to weigh in the favor of continuing as a marina. Because the popular brand boats are locked up in the area and we are on the water and do not have retail frontage, a dealership is not feasible.
    The only hope I see for the future is what the NMMA is doing with the “Discover Boating” and the “Industry Certification program”. GREAT JOB!! Unfortunately it may be to late for my marina on the South Shore of Long Island.

  6. mike webster

    Regarding loss of marine facility in Florida, there is a growth management tool which, by law could be helpful to marine interests in Florida. State of Florida ,Dept. of Community Affairs growth management RULE 9-J5….local governments,when considering development proposals, must allocate for present & future economic needs. The proposed loss of a WATER DEPENDENT marine facility,for which there is NO ALTERNATIVE REPLACEMENT, should be a hard sell and a local government decision in favor of conversion/loss could be appealed. Interestingly,the “marine industry” has been slow to use such an angle against ‘fellow developers’.

  7. John Donaldson

    My old colleague, Mike Walker, is still the silver tongued fox.

    The comments are all very descriptive of the challenge. We are all a little short of remedies. K Hill breaks it down to the very essential issue, the economic return on much waterfront land use is better for condo/residential development than for boating. It does not surprise anyone that the lure of a higher taxable valuation, plus the inevitable campaign contributions from developers, makes the use of waterfront property tilt away from marinas, boat yards, and marine related business. Our challenge is how to change the dynamic.

    Here in Ca., for coastal marinas, government agencies such as the Coastal Commission, are now beginning to dictate the size of slips a marina operator may install during any renovation that requires a permit. I mention this as a cautionary note against trying to get the government to be on the side of marina owners. They will feel obliged to help run the marina if given the chance.

    Solutions to the issue are where we should begin spending quality time. I sincerely hope that resources at the working waterfront conference in Virginia Beach later this year will focus on finding direction and methods to reverse the loss of access trends.

  8. Capt. Donald Morgan

    The issues of access and public use are going to continue to degrade. Privatization of marinas and exhorbitant waterfront real estare prices will continue to diminish the ability of the middle class boater to find water access. I live in the southeast and our current building boom has turned many area lakes into insane assylums on the weekends. Trailer boaters line up in droves to use the few public access ramps and the entire process usually results in a meltdown of some degree.
    Along the southeast coast the situation is even worse. I have witnessed many family outings turn sour as people of varying skill level and boating preference vye for the ramps. We have all joked about hanging out at the ramps on the weekend, but the great majority of boaters access the water this way. As access continues to decline, so will the interest in boating decline among those who do not live on the water!
    If the boating industry as a whole wishes to continue to grow, a major effort will be required to insure that all citizens will continue to have access to our public waters. I have seen an interest at Boat/US concerning this issue and I would expect NMMA and like organizations take a pro-active stance towards this.
    Many years ago boating was seen as an enjoyment for the well to do. I for one do not wish to return to the era.

  9. Rod Hedley

    The little mom and pop marine business is all but extinct. It looks like you have to be a large organization in order to survive but some day even for them it’s going to come to that sinking feeling when the boat is going down. I have a small marine business that started out with mom and pop that is approaching one hundred years old. I am third generation and have operated it for forty years. When the government bought and opened up across the creek they said they would never compete. They have most of the business because I can’t begin to meet their price structure. I have tried to get someone to help but it seems if you can’t afford the high priced attorneys you are out of luck. We are all in the water access business, and you would think we could stick together, but if you don’t have the big bucks you are out of luck. You tell me how it works when you are the little fish in the big lake. It seems that there is no one to turn to, and it’s almost to late. Maybe this blog will do some good, it could be a new tack we are on but that remains to be seen. As I see it the big guy’s have got to step up with the national organizations and help the little guy because some day it’s going to be their turn. It ain’t no fun going down.

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