Syndicated Column

DSN&A authors an internationally syndicated column entitled NATCHEZ ON THE WATERFRONT regarding marinas and recreational boating.

Current Column:
Natchez on the Waterfront

You want to Build a Marina during the Pandemic!  Examining and Overcoming the Various Challenges


Imagine having spent years in the design, planning and approval process for a massive new marina resort complex and finally getting shovels in the ground last winter.  Great big shovels, many of them, along with pile drivers, dredge equipment, contractors in most every trade, and a small army of laborers.  Then March comes in like a lion, so to speak – and just about the whole world shuts down.  And there are lessons to be learned. 


Whenever one is looking into taking on a project, whether for something new or a retrofit of an existing facility, it always makes sense to include some contingency planning – and especially some contingency budgeting.  But of course most of us have not figured “global pandemic” quite into that equation (zombie attack perhaps, but pandemic not so much).  So what do you do?


Time for BAJA – no, not that Baja (though some sunny days in Mexico sounds really nice about now), but follow the acronym – Breathe, Assess, Juggle, Adapt.


First and foremost BREATHE.  Socially distanced of course, and wearing a mask if you’re not with folks in your bubble, but breathe.  Panic is rarely if ever useful.


Once you’ve calmed down a bit ASSESS.  Just where are you on any given front?  Try to get as clear a picture as you can of every aspect of your project.  What supplies and equipment are on hand or already on their way?  How much more dredging is needed to complete the marina basin?  What work would be considered essential?  What are the additional government requirements?  Will your suppliers be able to keep producing?  What is the status of your local health care support?  Can and will your workers be able to show up?  What might help facilitate them showing up?  What does our financing look like?  Are there any governmental or other support programs that might apply?  Just where are we on the overall schedule?  And, of course, how much toilet paper do we have?  


Next, the really fun part, JUGGLE.  Face the facts – your original schedule is pretty much toast.  But take the information gathered through the assessment to re-prioritize based on availability of resources and what you can do.  If you have to suspend construction, can you use the time to have your working-from-home design/consulting team look at possible alternatives or refinements that might make the project better or cheaper (or both)?  If your dock manufacturer has to stop work because or lock down or things like their decking supplier is shut down due to problems with raw materials supplies, can you help find an alternate source, and maybe even end up with a better product?  Does it make sense to set up a workers’ camp to create your own bubble of sorts, just like many pro-sports teams and the Great British Baking Show have done?  What can be done to create the framework for implementing the new government requirements, including developing your reopening/operating plan narrative and all that might go along with it, such as providing a means of recording who is on site (for possible contact tracing), temperature checks, obtaining and making available PPE materials, reporting, etc.


ADAPT.  Realize that whatever new plan you come up with may be relatively short-lived, and you will need to keep adapting to the changing circumstances, repeating the BAJA process over and over again.  At times you may feel as though you’re starring in your very own version of the movie Groundhog Day (I think we have all had this feeling at times over the past nine or so months).  But keep calm and carry on, as the British might say – and just roll with it where you can.  There is most always a way forward, but you may need to be a little more flexible, a bit more creative and whole lot more resolute to find it. 


Okay – so the pandemic is quite the extreme example, but, let’s be honest, how many projects roll out without a hitch?  Not many.  And how we react to those hitches makes a big difference.  Like every good scout, it just makes sense to be prepared – and to BAJA.


Another thing to keep in mind, and this may sound a bit crass, is that the current pandemic environment, despite the abundant hardships and very real suffering and losses produced, may also provide some unique opportunities.


In some ways the pandemic has presented financial incentives and opportunities for meaningful planning and implementing projects for the future – whether they are entirely new or retrofitting and upgrading existing facilities.  And there certainly are many existing facilities out there that could use some sprucing up, as well as boaters who are demanding better and/or higher-end facilities.


It also turns out, in contrast to the uncertainties of the early spring, that the pandemic has, in many areas, led to significant increases in boating activity, as it can provide a significant and socially distanced outlet for the tired-of-being-cooped-up public.  So demand is up!


Meanwhile, interest rates are at an all-time low, financial lenders are looking for meaningful and quality projects, and in many areas contractors’ backlogs have dwindled.  The pandemic and other factors have, in fact, lowered the cost of money short, medium and long term to unprecedented levels, allowing favorable funding and economic returns.  Most projects from conception to opening can take anywhere from a year to several years, which makes the cost of money so much more meaningful today than in what are perceived as “normal” times.


On the other hand, as noted above, inventories and product availabilities are down and production times for delivery have lengthened.  And if you thought the normal permitting process could take a long time before, well, imagine the opportunity for delay now!  One really has to carefully think things through and, most importantly, build in extra time for things that might not go as smoothly as planned.


The pandemic does present continuing unprecedented challenges and hurdles aimed at keeping all of us safe.  Wearing of masks, temperature taking and testing, cleaning and disinfecting, keeping of records and filing of compliance reports, as well as the possibility of new full or targeted shutdowns, all add to the burden.


But as we move through the various ups and downs of these strange days, there are windows of opportunities to seize, and in the long run it can be worth taking on the challenges and dealing with the obstacles to create meaningful boating access and facilities, and an even brighter future for boating.


Just remember to BAJA – and be well.

Previous Column:

Natchez on the Waterfront

When is a Trend a Trend?

The question of when a trend becomes a trend all depends on who you ask and at what point you ask.  In my humble experience, there is no one answer or necessarily correct answer.


For example, back around February, March and April boat manufacturing and sales pretty much world-wide were hit hard by the pandemic.  Manufacturing plants were shutting down, dealer sales falling, people were being furloughed, marinas were shut down, businesses were struggling to pay their bills and stay afloat, and the forecasts were doom and gloom.  For those who could, people were working from home (and many still are).  Public gatherings were being shut down as were schools.  Many businesses were shut down with some not having the ability to recover.  Marine businesses, along with almost every other industry, were clamoring that they were essential and seeking financial assistance, or at least an easing of the restrictions.  Then governments started stepping up to the plate and figuring out ways to help and to move forward – and marinas were mostly deemed essential and boating an activity that fits well into safe socially distanced recreation.


So by summer boating was taking off like gangbusters as a life ring for those looking to get out, have fun and do something that they enjoyed – primarily with the family as social distancing has become the new normal.  Our previous column discussed this phenomenon.


So, in this case, the trend this past spring was quite different from the trend this summer, and predictions of what might happen this winter really depend on whose crystal ball one is looking into.  Will there be new spikes or lockdowns, or will there be a continuation of the current more or less status quo?  Assuming unemployment remains fairly high, one might want to keep an eye on repossession rates as just one indicator of where things are heading in the next 6 to 12 months.


From the fly deck it is my opinion one ultimately needs to take a longer view over time to see what the more fundamental trends have been and are.  The past is relatively easy to analyze with 20/20 hindsight vision.  The trend has been moving away from all wooden boats towards aluminum, steel, fiberglass, and composites, with newer carbon fiber and similar materials entering the arena.  Boats have more finishing accoutrements than ever before, and the electronics and wiring associated with boats today can easily be more involved than many residences.


Over time boating has become more performance driven.  In many ways it is following the auto industry with accoutrements and performance designs.  Boating has become much more expensive from the entry level on up.  At the same time the average age of boaters keeps trending higher, with sharp declines in the younger generations coming into boating.


So what do the trend curves suggest is in the future? 


There is no question that boats are still getting longer and wider and are being provided with more and more creature comforts.  I would suspect that the trend will continue – but it is also increasing the price and complexity.  Unlike the automobile industry, there are relatively few entry level priced boat models.  The increased complexity can also prove a bit daunting, both in terms of figuring it all out and the cost in time and money to keep it all working.  Many believe that the total cost and complexity of boating are contributing reasons for the younger generations either not getting into boating at all, or at least not until reaching much older ages when they feel they can afford the luxury and, perhaps, have more time.  This has already been seen and if it continues it can have an adverse effect on the industry.   


On the other hand, at the same time there clearly is demand for more creature comforts, higher performance, and high powered electronics.  That all comes with a price and is similar to the auto industry, which is why the higher priced models so often do sell well.  But there are differences between what we more common folk may pay for fancy autos, which many rationalize are a necessity, and boats, which many of the same people consider a luxury.  How much is too much?


That said, better materials have a good chance of taking a larger share of the market.  Carbon fiber is lighter and stronger than many other materials.  It allows for better performance with less weight but it comes at a price, whether we’re talking about the roughly $350,000 Carbon Marine Super Sport 28 with a top speed of 80 mph, or the somewhat slower Slipstream Watercraft SportDuo 13 canoe for roughly $2,000.  That canoe by the way, weighs all of 21 pounds, and the Super Sport comes in around 4,500 pounds, allowing it to cruise at 45 mph at 2 mpg. That mpg might sound pretty horrible to a Prius owner, but it is actually quite an accomplishment for such a high performance boat!  In both of these examples the hulls are using carbon fiber/Kevlar hybrids, which definitely look like the trend.  As with most all new materials, the more widely they’re used, the more likely the costs will come down, thereby further promoting their use.  


And more extensive use of these and similar weight saving materials are all but inevitable necessities as the industry starts to more seriously look at ways to make all aspects of boating greener and cleaner, including improving fuel efficiencies and introducing more hybrid and electric boating options.  While the boating world has been lagging the auto world on the latter fronts, the number of options in recent years is really starting to grow, and it may be safe to say that this emerging trend is safely on a more solid trend track.  A few interesting options on this front might include New Zealand’s EVO33 from Evocean, which is working with Finland’s Oceanvolt for the electric or hybrid engine options (and if you visit the Oceanvolt site you will find a growing list of other boats making use of their systems), or the Serenity 63 from Serenity Yachts in the Cayman Islands, which can cruise extensively just with the power from its solar panels – no plug-in required.  A recent post on their Instagram page clearly lets you know they are in touch with the current market:


“Serenity Yachts' spacious, self-sufficient vessels are perfect for #SocialDistancing. They feel less like boats and more like posh seaside homes that can #safely take you anywhere you want to go. Happy Labor Day!”


Both the EVO33 and Serenity 63 are non-sail catamarans, which highlights yet another further emerging trend, as more and more catamarans and trimarans seem to be appearing in manufacturers’ new power and sail lines.  These of course become more of a challenge fitting into existing slip layouts, and their numbers probably would be even greater if would-be owners felt there were more places to easily dock their boats.  On this front, we are seeing more marinas looking to find room for these boats, and once they do, if they haven’t already, they often start reconsidering how they charge for slip space.  Lineal foot pricing just keeps making less and less sense, as does unmetered electricity as more boats are looking to plug-in, and with much greater needs than in the past.  Similar issues involve unmetered water.


As for marinas, there will be a continuing trend toward consolidation based upon size and market conditions.  At the same time independent facilities have a role to play and will continue to have a market.  In developed countries, the industry continues to wrestle with significant deferred maintenance.  With the demand for waterfront residential and mixed used developments, many of these facilities will disappear or be reincarnated into reimagined and many times different types of facilities. 


At the same time the regulatory process will continue to become more and more convoluted, rigorous, time consuming, and expensive.  In part this is why deferred maintenance is so high in developed countries.  Nevertheless, renovating and reconfiguring existing facilities will continue to be the norm since new marinas in developed countries will be few and far between. 


Similar to deferred maintenance, another unfortunate trend we have seen is more marinas taking shortcuts in building, retrofitting and enhancing their facilities.  Many do it due to budgetary considerations, and while I can relate to that, it will typically result in substantially more costly fixes at a later date.  For example, a facility suffered hurricane damage to the top half of their seawall.  They opted to simply rebuild the top of the wall.  But the real cause of the failure was that the seawall did not have a proper footing, so the wall had been shifting and bulging and the hurricane accelerated the failure.  By not addressing the real cause the problem will likely recur within a few years and the overall cost will be substantially higher. 


There is an expression, “Either do it right or don’t do it at all.”  A trend I would love to see is for more of the industry to rethink its pricing policies and charge what is needed to do it right and provide the facility that is desired.  We find that customers are willing to pay what is needed to support a facility if the customers perceive that they are getting value for their money.  Marinas are capital intensive but do not communicate well what is being undertaken to improve the facility for their customers.  Hopefully the trend will change to charge what is needed to continue to improve the facilities and provide the desired level of service to the market they wish to serve.


And there is a trend towards more specialty facilities – such as for deep sea fishing boats, racing sailboats, megayacht facilities – all sized for the market in their respective areas.  Marinas will also be using newer technology and materials as well as more sophisticated software management systems.  On the latter front, one that’s particularly caught my eye is Molo, Inc. – their system is impressive, and their customer support even more so.


Rack storage will continue to increase, particularly where in-water area is scarce or upland too expensive not to max out its use.  Rack storage continues moving towards handling larger and heavier boats as well as serving greater numbers of the smaller low profile fishing, runabout, and ski boats.


Speaking of ski boats, time to put my crystal ball away and go hit the water one more time before calling the 2020 season a wrap! 

In the following Publications:
We are currently or have been published in,






French West Indies - ALL AT SEA

Hong Kong - AHOY!






Puerto Rico - LaREGATA





United Arab Emirates - SEASPORTS MAGAZINE

                                THE WORLD OF YACHTS & BOATS and 
                                MARINA INTERNATIONAL


Worldwide - FORE & AFT

Previous Columns:

2016 - 2017

September- Just Old Fashioned Service

October- Trends - Meeting Tomorrow's Challenges 

November- Clean and Green

January- Glitz Sells - Substance Sustain​

February- The Changing use of Boats​

March- Marinas / Boaters / Online

May- In the Spotlight with Regulatory Views

July- Chains vs. Independents - the Yin-Yang

2020 - 2021

September- The Not Quite Post Pandemic Era – What to Do to Jump Start

October- When is a Trend a Trend?

November- You want to Build a Marina during the Pandemic!  Examining and Overcoming the Various Challenges

January- ​





2019 - 2020

September- The Politics of Boating

October- Sea Level Rise/Climate Change - Dealing with Rising Waters

November- Wave Protection – Thinking Outside the Box and Making it Work for You

January- ​The Yin and Yang of Providing Maintenance/Repair/Refitting Services

February- ​Selling and Buying Facilities – Some Do’s and Don’ts

March- Retrofitting for the Future

May- Marinas and Aquaculture

2018 - 2019

September- What Customers Want Most

October- Pollution, Red Tide & Fish Kills - What Does It Mean to Marinas

November- Stimulating Traffic to Marinas?

January- Combining Maintenance, Operational and Capital Planning​

February- Regulatory 101 - The Do’s and Don’ts of the Regulatory Process

March- Profit Making Ideas

May- Know Your Market

2017 - 2018

September- ADA Making It Work For You

October- Trends - Road Map For Recreational Boating - Let's Not Miss The Boat​

November- All Mixed Up - Marinas Within Mixed Used Developments

January- Dry Stack V's In-Water

February- Managing Stormwater In a Meaningful Manner

March- Dredging & Relocation Of Dredge Materials​

May- If You Had Three Wishes

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