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In the heat of summer, even high dockage rates are reasonable

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I was visiting with a captain onboard recently and we started talking about operating budgets. When he mentioned that his yacht paid $60,000 a month to sit at the dock where we met, it seemed like a lot.

This captain said he thought the marina was charging too much, but that the owner was OK to pay it. It was just the cost of running the yacht, he said.

That got us wondering about the fair market value of dockage? Is there a reasonable price to pay to dock a yacht? Or is it simply what the market will bear? In our survey this month, 64 yacht captains shared their thoughts about dockage rates.

In general, when you travel, do you find dockage rates to be reasonable?

Now we know many things come into play such as location and time of the year, but we were curious to know, from a captain’s perspective, if the rates they pay to dock were reasonable.

Seventy-two percent said they were mostly reasonable, excluding some marinas that always charge what they felt were unreasonable rates.

“Waterfront property is expensive, so I understand the need to charge high rates for dockage,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

Triton Survey. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION DORIE COX

Triton Survey. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION DORIE COX

“A New England summer is only 70-90 days,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “Certain marinas charge $7.50 and more per foot whereas $4 per foot seems to be the average at others.”

“I object to the fact that in many marinas the longer the yacht, the higher the rate per foot,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “For example, an 80-foot yacht gets charged $3 a foot a day, while a 150-foot yacht gets charged $5 a foot a day. It should be a flat rate, as the longer vessels are naturally going to pay more anyway.”

“Anything more than $3 a foot per day is extortion,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

Thirteen percent more said “yes”, even if rates are high, they are still reasonable, meaning almost 85 percent of our respondents said marina rates were reasonable.

“Marinas are special, dedicated businesses and they have to make enough as a business to survive the off seasons,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “Their rates are publicized; they are optional. If you want to dock at Nantucket, you pay. There is only one Nantucket.”

“Generally speaking, as a private or charter yacht, we migrate with the seasons to the high-end areas,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 35 years. “As many of the areas we travel only make their money in season, it stings, but it’s where we (in most cases) must go.”

Just 16 percent said dockage rates are hardly ever reasonable.

“My owner will always want me to compare rates,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Next winter I will dock in [a different city] because of dockage rates over $3,000 per month difference. My boss understands this at all times. They did not get their money by not being frugal.”

In many cases, the cost to dock somewhere also includes a gratuity. Sometimes, it’s not even optional. Since we wanted to know about rates, we asked Can we separate the expected gratuity from the “rate”?

Most of our responding captains either said usually (52 percent) or yes (42 percent), meaning 94 percent said the gratuity isn’t part of the cost to dock.

“One thing that I’m definitely against is the occasional hints at under-table dealings to secure slips with a few dockmasters,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 35 years. “They are (thank goodness) few and far between. I do understand, however, that as captains, we do have to make it happen for certain owners and guests. And this can encourage greed and all that goes along with it. To pay a gratuity to the marina staff would depend on your length of stay at the marina, but usually for exemplary service while you are there. It should not be obligatory. I tip line-handlers when docking as they are low paid and render a necessary service, sometimes after hours.”

When we asked Do you have a sense of what a fair market rate might be for dockage, we got a range of answers. Most wanted to point out that it depends on where you are and when, which, of course, is what fair market means.

But some put a number to their thoughts, and most were in the range of $2 to $4 per foot per night.

“About half of current rates, say $2.50 per foot,” said the captain of a yacht 200-220 feet in yachting more than 25 years.

“Somewhere in the $2-plus range, not $5 to $7,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

“$4 a foot seems normal, but for longer stays $2-$3 a foot feels better,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years.

“I think most docks can charge $4 per foot if they provide proper service,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 25 years.

“In season, transient dockage of $4-$5 per foot would be reasonable, plus utilities, tax, and not including gratuities,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “So at $5 a foot, a 100-foot yacht could expect to pay $500 dockage a night and $100-$150 utilities, plus tax. This would be a fair in-season price.”

“$6 per foot if in high demand and it comes with great amenities, or $3 per foot if basic dockage,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 15 years.

One captain had an interesting barometer: “Approximately the same as a luxury hotel room in the area, adjusted slightly for size,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

And the rest said it simply depends, but on what exactly was open to interpretation.

“It depends on the location,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 35 years. “Real estate, zoning and infrastructure costs vary dramatically in different locations. You cannot expect to pay the same in Monaco or Martha’s Vineyard as you would pay in Caribbean ports.”

“It depends whether it’s for longer terms or if the dockage is transient in nature,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “I usually try to negotiate a better rate than the daily rate for extended stays.”

“This all depends on where you are located, time of year or season, and the number of vessels in the area competing for a space,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

Only a few pointed out the bottom line.

“Whatever the market will bear,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 35 years. “Owners don’t care what it costs if they want it.”

“If the dock is full, why should the price be lower?” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 35 years.

Beyond the general thoughts about dockage rates, we wondered about this summer. All indications are that marinas up and down the U.S. East Coast are busy this season. So we wondered In general, for the places you have gone, have you paid reasonable dockage rates?

More than half said they had, with most of the remainder saying they are not traveling this summer.

“I have spent two summers in the Great Lakes,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “The dockage is strained, but the prices are reasonable. Many times, there’s no electric available.”

“New England summers are not bad,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “Nantucket and Boston are at the higher end but still 30 percent cheaper than Christmas in Atlantis [Bahamas].”

“I feel we have paid fair market value,” said the captain of a 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

Just 17 percent of respondents said they were paying unreasonable rates.

“It’s a short season in the north so they put it to you, especially on larger boats,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

And beyond rates, we wondered how gratuity was factoring in this summer, so we asked Including gratuity, was the cost to dock still reasonable?

Slightly fewer — but still the largest group at 46 percent — said yes, the cost with gratuity was still reasonable.

“I wasn’t in the Riviera where that is the norm,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

“I said yes but we all know that certain places magically have slips open up when a large tip is offered,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting less than 10 years.

“The only places gratuity play a big role are the hot spots in the Med in high season,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “Owners and charterers drive these prices up. I have paid 6,000 euros a night on the dock in one place in August and three weeks later paid 600 euros a night for the same dock. I think dockage gratuities are talked up way too much by American brokers and inexperienced captains who can’t get on the dock and talk about the guy in front in the dock office throwing cash around. Bull. That does not happen anymore, and it hasn’t for years.”

The number of captains who said no nearly doubled to 31 percent.

“I always give gratuity but it should never be required,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 10 years.

“Try to get into Nantucket without a big tip; won’t happen,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Atlantis has always been this way.”

“The two aren’t related unless you are a repeat customer in the south of France and you need a dock and didn’t grease the dockmaster’s hands on the previous visit,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 15 years..

One captain didn’t answer, but still offered an opinion.

“Gratuity is always at my discretion,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “No service, no gratuity; great service, great gratuity. Nobody hands me money for free just for driving the boat. You don’t get money just because we stay with you. You still have to earn that dollar.”

We wanted to get an idea of where in the world captains felt rates were reasonable, and where they weren’t. We didn’t want to name specific places, but rather get a sense of which towns and destinations handled this best. Only about half our respondents answered this question.

Where in the world are the rates most reasonable?

Among those who named specific places, the area described best by “anywhere north of Palm Beach to anything south of New York City” was, by far, the most popular choice.

“The Carolina coasts are all very reasonable,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “Charleston City Marina is the best bang for your buck.”

In second position by about half were the out islands of the Bahamas.

“Small marinas in Bahamas are still reasonable, but they are far and few between, and limited on size and draft,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 20 years..

A handful of captains offered generic solutions to finding reasonable dockage.

“The Southern Hemisphere countries have much better rates than Northern Hemisphere countries,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 in yachting more than 35 years. “I think because of the demand, the prices naturally spiral higher.”

“Countries that are relatively new destinations seem to be a lot more reasonable,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years..

“Anywhere off season is key,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

“Only in the U.S. can rates be considered ‘reasonable’ and somewhat regulated,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

A few captains offered surprising options.

“For what you get, Monte Carlo all day long,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “It’s cheaper than Ft Lauderdale.”

And naturally we had to ask Where in the world are the rates most unreasonable?

Maybe because we asked this survey in July, the most popular response was the Med in summer, especially the popular destinations of Porto Cervo, Sardinia, and the French Riviera.

“The western Med in high season, if you’re lucky to find a spot, even with advance reservation,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years..

“Ibiza and Sardinia in August, supply and demand, and yacht charterers with too much money to throw around,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet in yachting more than 25 years.

The next most common places, by about half as many captains who noted the Med, were New England in summer — especially New York — the popular resort areas of the Bahamas, and South Florida year round.

“New England, as that is our primary cruising region,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “Certain marinas charge the highest purely because of the destination and allure.”

“[One] marina in the Bahamas is ridiculously overpriced, about double what we pay at our home port in West Palm Beach,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

One captain in yachting more than 25 years explained “unreasonable” rates this way: “Anywhere where yachties go on a regular basis.”

In an effort to put this summer’s dockage rates in perspective, we asked Over the past two or three years, have you seen dockage rates go up or down?

More than 70 percent said they have gone up.

“During the recession, they were begging you to come with dealing prices,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Now they are not working with you at all. Take it or leave it.”

“Three years ago was easier to find under $2 per foot per day,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “Now, everywhere is going up to $3 plus.”

The remainder of our respondents said rates were holding steady. No one said rates had gone down.

We wondered if “dockage rates” meant the same to everyone, so we asked What should dockage rates include?

Slightly more than half said the rate they pay should include everything, the slip, power, water, and amenities such as wi-fi.

But much of the rest — 31 percent — said the rate should include just the slip, that they expected to pay for anything else they required.

About 16 percent expected the rate they paid to include the basics of power and water in addition to the slip.

Lest we think cost is the only thing driving dockage selection, we asked When the owner and/or guests are onboard, what’s the No. 1 thing you look for when selecting a place to dock?

Eighty percent of respondents said location, proving that when the owners or guests are onboard, money is not the issue.

About 8 percent of respondents said water and power availability.

The rest opted for something else, most often security.

Not one respondent chose cost, in-slip fueling, wi-fi or amenities for crew.

Of course, things change when guests depart. When the owner and/or guests are not onboard, what’s the No. 1 thing you look for when selecting a place to dock?

This time, cost was the primary concern, chosen by 45 percent of respondents.

“Marina developers and operators are under the mistaken impression that owners or charter guests think of a marina as a destination,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “Unless you’re in a trendy location like St. Barth’s, most owners don’t give a hoot about anything in a marina other than the cost. They are merely facilities to get on and off their yachts, and the minute they’re on, they want to get out of that facility and not come back until they’re ready to get off. They don’t go to the pool, the gym or use any of the amenities.

“Marinas are for crew to maintain and service yachts between owner’s trips,” this captain said. “They don’t need to be posh, just efficient and well priced. Many owners will not put up with the marina prices in the Med and make their captains anchor out. If Ft. Lauderdale had a protected anchorage, it would probably be the same story. Marinas need to bring their prices down or owners will find other options (not that there are many).”

That was followed by location (23 percent), water/power (11 percent) and amenities (9 percent).

Most of those who wrote in an “other” choice said security was their primary concern.

“ I will pay a little more to make sure my crew and boat are in a safe location,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

We wondered, too, just how significant dockage is to a traveling yacht. So we asked captains to think about a recent season when then traveled. How much of the budget was spent on dockage?

The largest group — 45 percent — said not that much, less than 25 percent.

“I don’t run with dockage in the budget, except maybe annual or seasonal as a home port,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting less than 10 years. “It depends on when and where the owners want to be. Some want their boat to stay at a place like Atlantis all winter and others don’t care where the boat is docked when they’re not aboard.”

But almost as many — 44 percent — said dockage was a big portion of the budget, but less than half the budget.

“I always compare prices and try to plan to spend time in a less expensive marina when on stand-by and then move to high-end when owners or charters come onboard,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “For me, dockage is the second-highest expense after salaries. The same goes when choosing a yard. Dockage became a big part of the final invoice.”

“Somewhere between 25 and 50 percent, but when you travel, you travel for the boss,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “They want to go where they want to go. For us, it wasn’t much about the cost of dockage, but the short notice to secure a slip. The shorter the notice, the higher the gratuity, so next time when I called on short notice I went right to the top of the list.

“I also don’t just hand them cash,” this captain said. “I make personalized thank you cards. The next time I call, the money is gone, but the card is still on the wall or desk and they see the card with boat and boat name on it and they instantly remember. I also make sure to call remote places before I go to get requests for stuff they may need. In doing so, I get more for the money I spend, not only because it would cost them more, but I took the time to get their request, go pick it up and deliver it to them. Makes it more personal. When you make it personal, it makes it easier to negotiate a better rate, not only on this visit, but in the future as well.”

Just 11 percent said dockage was more than half their traveling budget.

When we opened the final question to any additional thoughts, several captains summarized this whole issue quite simply.

“If you don’t like the rate, go elsewhere,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 15 years.

“If you can’t afford dockage, don’t play the game,” said another captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.

A few comments from survey respondents: 

  • There is no way to determine an average “reasonable” rate. It is a question of supply and demand. It is no different than housing or office space. You are going to pay a lot more for an office on Wall Street than in West Palm Beach. If you have a highly sought-after port with few slips available, the rate is going to be high.
  • Whether it is reasonable will be determined by your decision to pay it or not.
  • There is balance between what you feel like you should pay and what you are getting. If the location is great, the amenities good, and it is well maintained then the extra dollars are worth it.
  • How about the radical different electrical prices? We pay from 20 cents per kilowatt hour, all the way to 75 cents per kilowatt hour. Our electrical bill is often more than the slip fees, and that is all profit for the marina. It feels excessive at times.
  • Location, location, location. It’s what the market will bare. Although, to have a boat is the luxury to travel away from the masses.
  • The prices for our yacht vary wildly, and even more from year to year. For example, we might pay $15,000 a month to tie up at Newport Shipyard, and just $3,000 a month to tie up in Fairhaven. Last year, we paid about $4,000 a month to tie up in San Juan, PR, and this year we went back and the rates were about double for the same slip. In Florida we paid about $18,000 a month, so we moved up to Baltimore inner harbor and our rate was $3,500 a month. Seems like a big spread for the same boat.
  • Anchoring out is free.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at lucy@the-triton.com. We conduct our monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t been invited to take our surveys and would like to be, e-mail lucy@the-triton.com to be added.

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