What You Need to Know About Boat Storage
Before you buy a boat, give serious thought to where you are going to put it. Either because of the pandemic or due to an existing trend, the amount of boats sold in the last 5 years has skyrocketed.
That means the competition for a good boat storage solution has become more intense.
Even a small dinghy is a large object you can’t easily fold up and tuck in the attic. A big keelboat will need a home for the boating season. Just as important it needs one for the off-season if you live anywhere with a winter.
So what do you need to know about boat storage?
Where will you put it for the summer? Do you want a slip or a mooring, or will you put it on a trailer or store it on land? These answers depend on the type and size of your boat, how and where you plan to use it, and the limits of your budget.
Winter storage depends on some of the same factors – boat size, type, and budget, but where you live and how harsh the winters are also impact your decisions.
We’re going to take you through the options for boats you may consider – the pros, the cons, and some guidelines on relative costs. The actual costs vary with your geography, and you may find that a strategic geographic can save you some serious money or open up new cruising and sailing options.
Sailing Season Storage
During sailing season, you’ll want your boat accessible and ready to go. But you usually pay for convenience. Having your boat in a premium slip in a marina means you can drop by and leave the dock in minutes. Plus, there’ll usually be someone keeping an eye on things should anything need your attention.
The price of a boat slip is different depending on where you are. In the United States, it’ll cost anywhere from $800 to $2000 a year.
The cheapest storage spot will be uncovered and without electricity, whereas the most expensive might be full service. For your cabin cruiser, you’re going to want eyes on and a roof.
Storing your sailboat on a trailer in your driveway is free, but it takes a lot more work to get it up and a lot of space if you don’t have it.
There are a lot of boat and RV storage facilities that make economic sense. Most are convenient too, depending on where you find an opening.
When you’re thinking about your boat, consider how you plan to use it. Will you be taking your boat out on weeknights or planning to use it after work? How about weekends – when can you get away to get to the boat? Is a long drive to your boat to save some money acceptable? How about if it takes you away from good sailing destinations, or opens up new ones?
Prime storage locations cost more. Sometimes moving an hour or three away from a major sailing center can save you a pile of money.
Slips are the easiest option to use, and if your boat is in a slip, you will be more likely to use it since getting your gear and your guests on board is easy. A bowrider is a good boat to keep her for quick loading and getting rapidly away.
The major advantages of a slip include:
- Loading people, gear and food is easy. You can park your car nearby and just carry everything down the dock.
- Docks usually have fresh water, so washing down your boat after use is easy, as is collecting water for a trip.
- Service calls from third parties are very easy. You just give them your slip number and tell the marina they’re coming.
- Your boat will always be on shore power, and your batteries will stay topped up and ready to go.
- With shore power, you can leave refrigeration and some other systems on. This gives you more options for dehumidifiers, security and monitoring systems, and of course, dropping by to watch with sunset in the cockpit with a cold drink.
- Other people will walk by your boat regularly, so you’re likely to hear about any problems visible from the dockside.
Slip life is not without a few disadvantages, though.
- The expense is the biggest disadvantage. A slip can cost many times more than other less convenient storage options, adding thousands of dollars to your annual boating expenses.
- Getting into and out of a slip requires skill. You’re maneuvering in close quarters with a heavy object with no brakes, which steers poorly at low speed. It takes practice, and the cost of failure can be dings and scratches in that shiny hull. You can master it, but it’s a source of stress for a lot of new boaters.
- Weather can trap you in a slip or make it very difficult to get back in safely. Strong crosswinds or currents and low visibility can make a return to the slip scary.
- Boats in marinas may be subject to stray currents and galvanic currents from dock electrical systems or other boats. You’ll need to keep a close watch on your sacrificial zincs and may need a galvanic isolator on your boat.
- If a storm comes through, your boat may get banged around more in a slip than on a mooring because it’s close to docks and pilings, so storm prep is important.
Slips are billed by the foot, and sometimes the charge is for the length of the boat OR the length of the slip, whichever is greater. For those marinas, if you have a twenty-seven-foot boat, you’ll pay for thirty feet if that’s how long the slip is. So read the pricing paperwork carefully.
Summer slip rentals are often billed seasonally, so the slip is yours for the entire summer. You may receive a quote like “$170/foot,” which sounds outrageous until you realize you have the slip from when you launch your boat in the spring until you pull it in the fall. And many marinas do monthly rentals, but that’s more likely with year-round sailing in places like Florida and California.
It’s wise to also remember to have an automatic bilge pump set up if there’s little or no supervision.
A recent development in slip management is a “dockominium,” which is a slip you buy like a condominium. You have a large upfront purchase cost, but then you’ll just have smaller monthly maintenance fees and power costs as long as you own the slip, and you can sell it if you need to move your boat. It’s wise to make sure you’re happy with the size of your boat before making an investment like this.
In some cases, buying an RV or boat storage condo is an investment that will appreciate in value. It’s something to consider.
Moorings are a good balance between economy and ease of use because your boat is already in the water and ready to sail. A mooring is a permanent anchor maintained by a marina or the mooring’s owner. Most waterfront towns regulate mooring placement in their waters, and they will allocate some for commercial use while others are available to individuals.
The primary advantage of a mooring is the price. Rental moorings in a marina or club may be 1/3 of the cost of a slip in the same location, and your own private mooring will only have a nominal permit fee beyond what you have to spend to install and maintain it.
There are a few other advantages too:
- Your boat is ready to sail, and you can leave the mast up and sails furled.
- Getting onto and off of a mooring is much easier than using a slip, and bumping a mooring ball is much safer than hitting a piling in a slip!
- Galvanic corrosion isn’t a problem away from docks.
- There’s nothing to bump up against in storms and breeze.
Most of the disadvantages are ones of convenience.
- Since your boat is offshore, you need to get to it. Many marinas have launch services, which may cost extra. Or you’ll need to have a small dinghy secured on shore.
- Because you’re loading a boat through a launch or a dinghy, getting people and gear to the boat takes planning. You can get everything out in one trip with a launch, but even this adds time since you have to call them and may wait while they drop off and pick up at other boats. It’s often easier with a crowd to bring the boat to a temporary slip to get gear on board, but someone still has to row out to the boat!
- Moorings need maintenance. If you rent a mooring, the owner will handle it. But if you install your own mooring, you’ll need to get permits and pay for equipment and maintenance on the mooring.
- You can’t plug the boat in when you’re not there, so you need to make sure batteries don’t go flat when you leave the boat.
- Washing, rinsing and watering your boat can be a hassle unless your marina has a working dock you can pull into temporarily.
If you’re just starting out in boating and with a smaller boat, a mooring is a great option to keep costs contained with fairly easy access to your boat. You just need to leave a little more time before and after your boating.
Anchoring your boat is a great way to spend time using it, but it is a terrible plan for permanent storage. It leaves your boat at risk, insurance policies don’t allow it, and leaving an unattended boat at anchor is not legal in many jurisdictions.
An unattended boat can drag anchor. This can cost you your boat if it ends up on the rocks, or cost you more than your boat if it damages other boats or docks as it drifts. Empty anchored boats attract nuisance visitors, from messy wildlife to criminals.
When you’re using your boat, you leave it, but only for short periods when you go ashore. Left at anchor for storage, it will go days without checking, and much can go wrong in that time.
When you are budgeting for your boat, include funds to store it safely and legally, or you won’t have a boat for long.
You can store dinghies and smaller boats on land and launch them when you’re ready to use them, then pull them out again when you’re done. Storage costs can run from nothing to a much lower land storage charge.
Pontoon boats, among others, are often stored this way.
Many marinas and clubs will let you store trailers or dollies in a reserved section of the parking lot and will have facilities for launching like ramps and cranes. Others will have dinghy racks you can rent for the season.
Boats on land can’t sink, fouling isn’t a problem, and they don’t need antifouling paint. And a dry stored boat will be light and dry since there’s little chance for water to collect.
Dry storage for boats in use is usually less expensive than in-water storage, though there may be charges for crane or ramp usage. Check with your marina or yard before you store there to make sure you understand all the costs of using a dry stored boat.
Smaller boats on trailers are the most flexible and can be the cheapest if you store them on your own property or some place cheaper than a waterfront marina. Many mini-storage businesses also have cheap space for boats and trailers. You can also take your trailered boat anywhere to launch.
That’s one of the advantages of jon boats, for example.
One downside to trailered boats is that unless you’re leaving them in the marina parking lot, you’ll need to take the rig down, then put it back up again before you sail. For dinghies, this isn’t a big deal, but some larger trailer sailors can take some work.
Cradles and Stands
Permanent cradles for dry sailed boats are a popular option since you can pick a boat up with a crane and launch it. Cradles are for specific boats, but don’t require a lot of extra security. Boats in cradles can be rigged and ready to sail in most cases.
Stands work similarly but aren’t fixed or set for a specific boat. So they need to be re-blocked every time you return the boat.
Dollies and Carts
Most small dinghies had optional carts called “dollies” you can store them on and move them to a ramp for launching. A dolly is usually an excellent investment unless you’ll know you’ll always have someone to help you carry an awkward boat to the water without dragging it.
A rack in a parking lot is a very efficient way to stack many dinghies in a much smaller space than leaving them at ground level on dollies. Clubs often stack dollies near a dinghy rack to help get the boats from the rack to the water. It’s good to have a helper getting a boat out of a rack. Costs can be quite low.
Racks and cradles may also be available on floating docks. These cost more than a rack in the parking lot, but you can launch and recover your dinghy easily from the dock and put it in the cradle.
Small dinghies like Lasers, 420s, and Optimists can be car-topped with a rack. Consider special dinghy racks for this, since you can tie the boats and their rigs more securely and get protection for your boat and your car. If you can car-top, you can store your boat anywhere it fits.
Cranes and Lifting
The regulations for using cranes and lifts in a yard vary widely, so always check before you use one. Some marinas require that only employees operate them, but others will let boat owners use them.
Before you lift your boat, find out how to lift it. Some have a single lifting point, others may need a strap or harness. Lifting your boat incorrectly can damage it.
More About Trailering
Just because a boat fits on a trailer or has one doesn’t mean it’s “trailerable” from a practical perspective. Size limits on roads require permits and plans for anything over about eight feet of beam, and fixed keel boats may be too tall for many roads. And boats on trailers may be hard to rig without help.
If you can move the boat without permits and rig it yourself, then trailer storage off site is practical. Otherwise, trying to use your boat may be too much work. If you have a larger boat on a trailer, you may pay to store the trailer in the yard for the summer and launch it from there. But don’t expect to move a keel boat or a boat much over 26 feet over roads regularly by trailer.
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with year round sailing, you can skip right over this part. For everyone else, you’ll need some place to store your boat for those long, dark months when it’s too cold to sail.
Most boat owners haul their boats for the winter, especially in areas where salt water freezes. An unattended boat is safer on the hard. Getting the boat out of the water stops growth on the bottom and other hazards of being in the water, and gives you a chance to take care of important maintenance tasks in the spring.
Getting your boat hauled can be pricey, but a winter storage package quote will usually include haul-out and re-launching, pressure washing the bottom, and blocking and storing the boat, so you’ll know most of the costs.
Most marinas in cold climes fill their parking lots with boats in the winter. Using cradles or jack stands for stability, boats rest on their keels close together to maximize storage space. This is a popular solution for keelboats, as it’s safe and reasonably priced.
In most yards, they pack the boats tightly, so if you’re one of the first boats out in the fall, they will bury your boat deep in the lot. Unless you’re willing to pay for moving a lot of boats to get to you, you’ll also be one of the last back in the water in the spring. So plan accordingly if you want to be out practicing with your race crew in mid-April, and haul later in the fall.
Most boats can be left with their masts up for the winter, though you should strip off all sails and canvas. If you have an exceptionally tall rig or you storage is in an exposed and very windy area, you may need to take your mast down for safety.
If your boat has a trailer, you have the best and cheapest options for storage. You can usually rent a corner of the marina, but you can also store it anywhere from your yard to an inexpensive storage lot far from the water.
Indoor storage is available for sailboats, but it’s often very expensive and only makes sense if you’re planning major re-fitting and work during the winter. You’ll need to take the mast down, and availability will be very limited if you’re not having work done in the yard where you store it.
One budget option for larger boats is wet storage in areas where the water stays mostly clear. Even in areas with salt water freezing, “ice eaters” and water jets can prevent ice from forming around the hull. You’ll want to check on your boat more often through the winter. Some larger boats do better with wet storage since the boat moving in the water absorbs forces and shaking from wind in the rig.
Covers & Winterizing
Unless you store indoors, there are two critical things in winter storage you can not overlook – a good winter cover, and proper winterization of your boat. Covers can be tarps, custom-fit permanent covers, or shrink-wrap – but you want to get them on as soon as the boat is out of the water. You don’t want your boat filling with old leaves, ice and snow.
Winterizing protects all of your boat’s household systems and engines from freezing damage. Like the cover, once the boat is out of water, winterize as soon as possible.
Yacht Clubs, Marinas, and Municipal Boat Facilities
When you’re getting quotes for storage, you’ll come across several types of marinas and boating facilities. Pricing and service levels vary, and what you pick depends on your budget and your willingness to do some of your own work.
Most marinas are businesses, and a full-service marina will offer almost everything you need, though not all marinas have all services. A fuel and pump out dock in your home marina is a huge convenience, and many have full-time technicians and mechanics on staff and will provide every service or repair you need. Others are smaller, and may not have service staff but can still help you find qualified help, or may rent space to marine vendors and services.
When you store in a marina, make sure you understand their rules about boat work. Some are restrictive about using “outside” contractors who don’t work for them, and may prohibit some vendors or make it difficult for them to work on your boat.
Price-wise, commercial marinas are the most expensive, but they also have the most full range of services.
Larger yacht clubs with dock space and mooring fields are very attractive options for storing your boat. A yacht club membership usually involves a one-time initiation fee and annual dues, and you may need someone to sponsor you. But dockage and services available only to members can be less expensive than commercial marinas even with the dues and fees, since their goal is serving members rather than making a profit.
Clubs rarely have repair and maintenance services, but they may have winter storage, fuel docks, pump outs, dinghy racks, launch service for moorings, and other handy amenities. They’re also social clubs and a great place to meet other sailors and get involved with club activities.
Town marinas and mooring fields offer some of the most reasonable pricing on storage, though service levels are usually lower and they vary widely. Some towns run entire marinas with space leased to on-site vendors, others just administer mooring fields and anchorages. If you live in a waterfront town, as a resident you may have advantages in applying for space or permits that non-residents don’t have.
Waitlists and Planning
Before you sign on the dotted line, make a few calls and plans to make sure you have an affordable place to store it. Waterfront property is at a premium, and slips and moorings are often limited.
Waiting lists for mooring permits in some towns are years long, and popular marinas fill fast and space sells out quickly. It would be unfortunate to buy a new boat and have no place to keep her.
Geography, Cost, and Time
When considering your storage, look over both road maps and nautical charts. The most desirable marinas with the easiest access will always be the most expensive. Being in the thick of things may not be necessary for a new boat owner; a quieter, out-of-the-way marina with less traffic can be easier to negotiate as you learn to handle your boat.
Storing your boat an hour or two up the bay from the ocean entrance or from your home can save you a ton of money. Weigh the benefits and costs, of course. Saving lots of money but making your boat impossibly inconvenient to use is not a winning scenario!
Get Your Paperwork Done
With so much demand for space, marinas want contracts locked up as soon as possible. Plan your storage for next year in the fall, and plan your winter storage as you’re launching the boat. You are only too early if they’re not ready to take your deposit yet. That’s good, but follow up continuously until they are ready.
And speaking of paperwork – look your storage contract over carefully. You’ll need liability insurance on any boat larger than a dinghy, sometimes with levels of coverage over a million dollars. And you may sign away certain rights or take on liabilities and agreements you’re unaware of. Marinas can file liens and seize boats for unpaid bills, for example, and you want to know about all your rights and obligations as well as any possible hidden fees, taxes, and charges.