Florida’s Best Marinas

Helpful Hints For Selecting The Perfect Port

FSF Staff April 6, 2012

Whether you’re taking on fuel and ice, looking for a weekend getaway or investing in a permanent wet slip, marinas play a key role in the boating lifestyle by offering access, safe harborage, amenities and convenience. Because the number of marinas in Florida is staggering, with more than 2,000 in the state, selecting a homeport or even a refuge for a brief layover can be a daunting task. While you may have to make a series of compromises along the selection process, the following recommendations will help keep your bow pointed in the right direction.

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When selecting a marina, cost, location, condition and amenities are only a few of the factors to consider. Photo: istock.com/jorgegonzalez

Safety & Security

If your marina experience is limited to occasional fuel stops and bathroom breaks, nighttime security probably doesn’t weigh too heavy on your shoulders. However, if you are choosing a marina for a temporary or permanent home away from home, safety and security must be a priority. Well-lit docks and parking lots with locking gates, security guards and 24-hour surveillance cameras are great ways to thwart crime. But it’s not only theft you must worry about. Is the marina safe and easy to navigate on all tidal stages? Is the marina staff skilled and capable of providing the expertise needed to care for your vessel? Is your vessel going to be safe from collision from novice or inexperienced boaters? These are serious questions you need to think long and hard about.

No one in Florida is safe from hurricane damage and you must evaluate the ability of your chosen marina to weather a serious storm.

While there are a host of safety aspects you must take into consideration, you can’t stop Mother Nature. No one in Florida is safe from hurricane damage and you must evaluate the ability of your chosen marina to weather a serious storm. At most marinas, storm surge actually does more damage than wind, so be sure to take a careful look at dock construction and design.

Location…Location…Location

Most boaters likely choose a marina for its convenience factors, but this isn’t always the best basis for your decision. You’ll want to do some research and make sure the marina you choose is a good prospect for your particular boating habits. You may prefer a quiet atmosphere, while others desire a marina with close proximity to bars, restaurants and shopping. You need to be honest with yourself and your intentions. The amount of time you spend on the water is also a crucial component to an enjoyable marina experience. Whether or not you require quick and easy access to the ocean is extremely important and you’ll also want to make sure there’s nearby access to necessary channels. Other considerations include bridge spans and idle speed zones between your chosen marina and favorite destinations. If you’re more of a pleasure boater and fishing access isn’t important, you may not put as much emphasis on location, rather creature comforts and amenities may rank higher on your list of priorities.

Money In The Bank

Docking rates are determined by the type of marina, location, available amenities, length of stay and the size of your vessel, among other factors. From private marinas and boat clubs to low-cost public docks, slip fees vary greatly and may range from $3 a foot to $25 or more a foot. Transient rates are often more expensive than permanent ones, but if you make your reservations ahead of time you may be eligible for a discount. Dry dock fees are typically a third to half the price of a wet slip, but you will lose some convenience with this option.

Docking fees aren’t the only costs associated with boating, with fuel a hot commodity and often .50 to .99 cents more per gallon than landlocked gas stations. Fortunately, many marinas offer fuel discounts for marina members. In addition, many fuel docks offer cash discounts and weekday fuel discounts.

Amenities

Nearly every marina sells fuel and ice, but many go above and beyond these necessities. With ethanol-based fuel causing more problems than ever, it may be in your best interest to look for a marina that provides non-ethanol fuel. Ship stores are almost always present, with the best-equipped stores selling snacks and beverages, fishing tackle, live bait, engine oil and other necessary maintenance items. Beyond stocked convenience stores, premiere marinas feature state of the art waste pump-out stations, fish cleaning stations, shower facilities, pools, on-site laundry service, captain’s lounges, certified mechanics and ample parking for owners, crews and guests. Again, your needs and desires will be determined by your boating habits and preferences.

Condition and Cleanliness

With the poor economy and hefty expenses associated with owning and operating a waterfront marina, simple maintenance issues often become overlooked. Old docks with rotting planks and rusty nails, outdated and broken electrical outlets, loose or broken cleats and burnt out light bulbs are signs of carelessness, neglect and likely worse things to come. You should also be skeptical about marinas planning on refurbishing or remodeling, as these acts will influence your ability to use your slip and access the water. If you choose a marina with dry storage be sure to look at the forklift(s) and racks. If the equipment looks like it is in poor shape, this is a good indicator of how your boat will be treated. In the case a single forklift tends to all boats in dry storage, an unforeseen mechanical issue means your boat will remain high and dry.

Accreditations

Conservation and protection of our natural resources is more important than ever. In the year 2000, the Department of Environmental Protection enacted Clean Marine Programs that encourage marinas to minimize environmental impacts and engage in environmentally friendly practices beyond state requirements. As of September 2011 there are 248 designated Clean Marinas in the state of Florida. To protect dwindling stocks of the ocean’s apex predators, the Shark Free Marina initiative encourages the conservation of sharks at sport fishing and resort marinas by not allowing anglers to bring sharks to the dock for any reason.

Marina Etiquette

  • When fueling or using a pump-out station be as swift as possible. Don’t linger around and hold up others waiting to use the same facilities.
  • Try to keep dock lines, hoses and power cords neatly coiled and out of the way.
  • In windy conditions or tight quarters, assist your marina neighbors with their mooring lines.
  • Obey “No Wake” signs within a marina. It’s better to be too slow than push any wake at all.
  • Keep music to a respectable level and observe quiet hours. Sound travels far over water and even loud conversations can be disturbing.
  • If you use a fish cleaning station or dock cart be sure to leave it in the condition you found it.

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