'Sharing is caring': The future of UK marinas

With over 30 years’ experience working with and representing harbour marinas, Tim Reynolds is calling for a new approach to address unprecedented change in the marine leisure sector in order to protect its future.

With boat sizes and prices ever rising and many potential buyers being put off by daunting financial and time commitments, the overall volume of boat sales is in long term decline, but the demand for decent and sensibly priced mooring facilities remains high.

Cost-effective innovations such as dry stacking are having a huge impact on the industry and shared ownership or use arrangements, ranging from formal long term overseas charters to informal overnight accommodation, are becoming ever more common, illustrating the one, inarguable truth about the future of the marine leisure sector – it will be much better if we all learn to share.

I have advised a wide range of mooring operators in my legal career over the past 30 years, including one the UK’s largest marine based housing developments, and during that time I have witnessed difficulties from owners resistant to change.

I have dealt with disputes ranging from the enforcement of covenants on an estate’s housing and commercial units, through to complex legal disputes involving swinging mooring jetties, public access, private boundaries, obstructions, subletting and there are times I think ‘can’t we all just get along?’.

Running any modern mixed residential/marina facility now requires the construction of facilities to meet properly demanding standards of planning and environmental protection, thoughtful allocation of the space for private and commercial moorings, and provision for maintenance and support services (afloat and onshore). In addition, and increasingly perhaps the most difficult, any management company needs to create policies and enforce regulations to ensure any thoughtless actions so the few do not destroy the pleasures of the majority.

Many of my clients have suffered the consequences of confusion surrounding rules and regulations, inherited leases and other agreements drawn up by different parties and modified over years. Often intended to create or restore order, policies of micromanagement have often concentrated on the rights of the individual, rather than responsibilities.

There is no better example of this than berthing arrangements. Recent years have seen dramatic changes in the typical size and design of vessels and their use. Older marinas were designed with 8 metre finger pontoon arrangements intended to take vessels then typically (whether sailing or power) 10 metres LOA and a presumed beam of 3m and maximum draft of 1.8m. The expensive dredging and piling systems holding those pontoons (and in turn establishing the fairway and access areas) all reflected these dimensions.

Most importantly perhaps, no boat owners would have sensibly the right to place their vessel in too small a berth and risk damage to both it and other craft. With modern designs getting wider and deeper, people increasingly preferring power boats to sail and the incidence of damage resulting from placing oversized vessels, insurers are increasingly pointing the finger of blame at marina operators.

So what can marinas do? The costs of altering pontoons, (and the ramifications regarding the provision of water, power and logistics,) make it impossibile, dry stacking storage only really solves the issue for smaller powered craft, so shared ownership makes good sense.

All this change is pointing to the need to share and I believe this is a great opportunity for associations to be rid of many of the difficult issues mentioned so far. Instead of each owner insisting on having his rights and entitlement, what about reintroducing good seamanlike conduct and, with it, an acknowledgement of community, a collective responsibility and the potential for more conciliatory and harmonious attitudes?

The best analogy I can give is horses. Many racehorses are owned by syndicates and even private owners using livery often allow their horses to be ridden by others in return for a reduced stabling fee. Similar in its catering for a passionate, well-heeled following, maybe marine leisure could take inspiration from what the equine fraternity have been practicing for decades, attracting new people to take part in and support the sector we all love and, hopefully, want to protect in a sustainable way for future generations.

Let’s share our marinas, share our boats, share our experiences and, perhaps most importantly, share the costs of keeping our sector healthy.

Tim Reynolds is a Director and Head of Marine at Verisona Law. He can be contacted on 023 9231 2052 or at tim.reynolds@verisonalaw.com

This article was first published in Fore & Aft magazine, June 2018 edition.

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