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Monday
Jan302012

Managing a Live-a-board customer base

This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age – July 1997

Having been a live-aboard boater for several years, and now that I work with marina owners and operators on their problems, I can see the dilemma many marina operators face when deciding whether to accept the live-aboard boater. 

Many marinas are restricted by laws and ordinances that do not allow live-aboard boaters.  But others have the choice whether or not to accept live-aboards, and that decision should be made as a conscious one, and not by default.

The question is: What is the best way for a marina operator to deal with the live-aboard boater?  As a marina operator, the first and foremost item to keep focused on is that a live-aboard boater is at your marina at your invitation and has to abide by your guidelines.  Do not be afraid to expand the marina rules that may apply only to live-aboard boaters.

The key here is to establish these guidelines or rules that are designed for the overall safety and well-being of both the marina and its customers.  Do not establish guidelines that have any hint of discrimination.  Here are some examples of guidelines that could apply only to live-aboards: adults only, minimum boat size, minimum holding tank size, and minimum shore power connection.

You may also want to require that all live-aboards leave the marina at least once a year in their boat, under its own power.  Also, require that they undergo an annual boat safety inspection by an outside agency such as the U.S. Coast Guard.  A good rule—for all boaters—is to insist on the boat registration being current.

You want the boater who lives aboard to be there because he or she has chosen that lifestyle, not because it’s become a form of “subsidized” housing.  One of the easiest ways to determine what type of live-aboard boater you are dealing with is to look at the condition of the boat.  Most likely, if the boat is in poor condition, you will have problems down the road.

If you elect to allow live-aboards in your marina, the question comes down to economics.  I see marinas charging live-aboard fees as low as $50 per month.  On a daily basis, that equates to $1.67 a day.  I would like someone to tell me where a person can live that cheap anywhere.  Probably, in addition to this ridiculously low live-aboard rate, these boaters have long-term agreements with the marina, meaning that they are paying low slip rates.

To put this situation into prospective, consider the boat as a condominium.  From the boat owner’s prospective, the combined payment on the boat and slip fee is the cost of his or her domicile.  The live-aboard fees are similar to common area maintenance fees that cover such basics as trash removal, parking lot maintenance, landscaping, laundry room and security.

Live-aboards will say that you are discriminating against them because all marina customers can utilize these services.  Granted, that is true, but your other customers typically do not utilize the marina on a daily basis.  Take for example, a parking lot: Most marina customers utilize the marina during the day and are not concerned about the night lighting—for security—throughout the entire parking lot, nor are they particularly concerned about having convenient pathways available in inclement weather.

Each marina operator should determine the cost of these added services at his or her marina and put a value on them.  I would venture to say that if you really look at your operation, the value could easily equate to $5 to $10 per day.  If your live-aboard boaters are not willing to pay for such services, maybe they are not the type of live-aboard boater you want in your marina.

A word of caution: Make sure that the fees you charge are in line with the services provided.  Speaking from experience as a live-aboard, I did not mind paying for services that had value.

Once you have made the commitment that you want live-aboards in your marina, make sure you understand and recognize how their needs differ from your other boaters.  The natural tendency for the live-aboards is to become possessive and feel that they deserve a say in running the marina.  Never let yourself get into a tenant/landlord relationship with your live-aboards because if you do, and a legal issue arises, you are dealing with a completely different set of rules than you are with a license agreement relationship.

Live-aboards can be an asset to your marina, but only if they pay their fair share and understand the rules, and only if you remain in control of the marina.  Only then, will the relationship work.  With these issues properly addressed, it boils down to a purely economic decision.

Dennis P. Kissman, president of Marina Management Services Inc. in Boca Raton, FL can be reached by phone at 561-338-5800 or via e-mail: dennis@marinamanagement.com.

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