This post is an addition to our series of blog posts on boat ownership costs that help boaters understand the costs associated with owning their boat. For most boaters, cost plays a role in deciding where to keep your boat. While we would all love the convenience of walking down the dock and stepping aboard, boat slips can come with a hefty price tag attached. In this article we’re going to take a look at what you can expect to pay for a boat slip as well as offer some tips on how you might be able to find a more affordable slip in your area.
Why are slips so expensive?
Boat slips, like most everything else, are priced based on supply and demand. Anyone who has priced waterfront real estate knows it’s expensive. There isn’t a lot of it and people are willing to pay up for it. While important for boaters, docks and marinas are just one of many potential uses for waterfront real estate. Owners of waterfront land have to weigh their options when considering developing it, with a marina being one of many potentially profitable ventures.
Cost factors aside, there are other restrictions in place that inhibit the development of additional marinas to cater to the ever growing number of boaters. Waterfront land is often ecologically sensitive which limits the type of development permitted by local ordinances. Specific to marinas, there are also concerns about the environmental impact of a marina compared to less impactful options which prevent them from being built. In short, a limited number of existing slips are being utilized by an ever increasing number of boat owners causing prices to rise and regulations and land value inhibit the development of more marinas to meet growing demand.
How are boat slips priced?
Boat slip pricing takes two forms, annual and transient. Since we’re looking at long term ownership costs for your vessel we’re going to focus on annual slips. Transient slips and their pricing is often higher since boats utilizing a marina’s transient slips are often cruisers only utilizing the slip for a few days or weeks. A slip that you keep your boat in year round or in the case of regions where winter haul-outs are common, seasonally, is usually priced by vessel length and billed monthly. So to throw out a quick example, a 40 foot boat may be utilizing a slip that costs $20 per foot and billed $800 a month.
Unfortunately for us boat owners, you’re often billed by the length of the slip your boat uses rather than by the length of your boat itself. So in the above example a 38 foot boat docked in a 40 foot slip is still being billed $800 a month.
When it comes to pricing some marinas also vary in how you’re using your slip. A boat owner who lives aboard their vessel can expect to pay a premium as they’re likely to use more water and electricity. And some marinas may tack on additional charges for things like pump outs, fresh water use, etc. while others include them in your slip’s monthly bill.
What does a slip cost?
Well, it depends. Location plays a major factor in what a slip for your boat will cost. Nationally prices vary significantly by region with Florida, the North East, and California having the most expensive slips while some areas along the Gulf Coast and in the South East offer more affordable slips. However, you’re not likely to relocate your boat and life just to save a few bucks a month on a slip. That however doesn’t mean slip prices are fixed locally. Even in a single city or region the price of a slip can vary significantly with slips at downtown marinas often commanding a location based premium.
For a good comparison of slip costs within a city, Chula Vista Marina in San Diego put together this graph that shows slip prices in the San Diego area.
This is a great graphic for boaters in the San Diego area considering a slip since it breaks down slip pricing at area marinas allowing you to comparison shop by price and location. Even if you don’t live in San Diego, it makes seeing how slips are priced easy.
While San Diego’s prices may seem high for most of the country, they’re in line with what you can expect to pay in many major metropolitan areas in the US. In my area of South East Florida for instance, the prices in the table above would be on the lower side with many marinas charging more per month for similarly sized slips.
So, how much does a boat slip cost? A general rule of thumb is to budget $20 per foot per month for your boat’s slip. Remember that slip sizes are fixed and may not exactly match up to the length of your boat and that most marinas will charge by the slip length you’re using rather than the length of your boat.
Are there less expensive marinas? Absolutely. As mentioned earlier, location plays a big role. Some areas are simply cheaper overall while other marinas in generally expensive areas might offer more affordable slips because they’re in a less desirable location. Factors like a longer distance to the local inlet for instance, a longer drive from town, depth restrictions for boats, or less amenities available to boat owners will all factor into pricing.
Boat Slip Shopping 101
Shopping around for a slip? Here are some things to consider when looking at slips and marinas.
- Availability – As discussed earlier in the article, slips are in short supply and many desirable marinas have multi-year long waitlists of boaters waiting for an availability.
- Security – What security exists at the marina to prevent unauthorized access to your vessel while it’s docked. Are security guards present? Controlled access to the docks?
- Work policy – Does the marina allow outside service professionals? Many marinas refuse to allow outside professionals, or have a select list of approved service providers, which limits your options as a boat owner when it comes to boat maintenance and repair.
- Marina conditions – Ask marina staff about what kind of conditions are prevalent. Things like large tidal swings, strong currents, and exposed docks can make docking your boat at some marinas difficult or cause problems for your boat while docked there.
All of these are factors you should consider when comparing slips, and there are probably more factors that you’ll think of dependent on your boat and location. If you want a good, unbiased, opinion on marinas in your area, reach out to local boat hull cleaners on BoatEasy and ask them their opinion. They work in marinas in the area and have dozens of boat owners in each as customers. They know the ins and outs of each marina and can offer you a fair assessment of which make the most sense for your boating needs.
Alternatives to Boat Slips
So you’ve priced out your local marina options and factored in the other associated costs of keeping your boat in a slip, like regular hull cleaning, and decided that a slip at a marina just isn’t in the cards right now. What other alternatives exist?
First, if your boat needs a slip but you’re not keen on shelling out marina prices, it might be worth looking for a private slip. Owners of waterfront property often have extra space that they may be willing to rent to you at a rate below what your local marina charges. While these deals take a little research to find, and of course you have to connect with the owner to make sure the arrangement works for both you and them, they can be a great way to find slips on the water at below market prices. Check local classified, talk to friends who may own homes or know someone, and we’ve even created a section on BoatEasy’s marketplace where boaters can connect with local boat slip owners.
Still, slips aren’t the only option. Boats have been kept on moorings for centuries, and many marinas operate a serviced mooring field in conjunction with their docks. A well maintained mooring field that has access to the amenities of the marina can be a great option for boat owners at a fraction of the price of a slip. Especially if you have a large or “beamy” vessel like a catamaran or trimaran that requires a special slip. Likewise a dry storage marina where your boat is kept in a cradle on land and placed in the water using the marina’s forklift can be an extremely convenient option for many boaters.
For most boaters though, the primary option is and likely will continue to be, the tried and true boat trailer kept in their own yard. While trailering a boat isn’t as convenient as keeping it at a marina or dry storage facility, it remains a great option with much lower associated costs. For more on trailering how-to’s see our article on How to Launch a Boat.
Boat ownership is expensive and it’s important to be aware of the likely costs you’ll face before buying your boat. For boat owners keeping their boat in a slip these costs can be considerable often $500 or more per month. While there are alternatives to boat slips for smaller vessels, larger boats must be kept in the water relegating owners to a choice between a slip and a mooring. Understanding what a boat slip in your area costs is a key part of budgeting for your boat’s ownership costs. And while a slip at your local marina may seem expensive, the convenience of being able to step aboard your boat and set sail is hard to beat.