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This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  November 2014 

We’ve all heard how crucial a first impression can be. We know how a bad first impression can lose the confidence of a prospective or existing customer in your marina.  The first impression you give, sets the tone for any future relationship.  You must view and act accordingly as though each impression made by you to a customer or potential customer as it will be their first impression.  You only get one chance to make that first impression.  It is your opportunity to create an introduction for a possible long-term relationship between you and your customer.


Yet, do we really know what that first impression is?  The first impression is created by whatever means the customer may come in contact with your marina.  Whether it’s when they drive onto the marina parking lot, tie up their boat at the fuel pier, use your restroom, or contacting the marina through your web-site. 

A Visit

What were your thoughts when you pulled into the parking lot of a hotel for the first time where you are going to be spending the next week on vacation?  Was it inviting?  As you look around, are the flower beds maintained or are the weeds growing through the mulch? Are the bushes trimmed or do they have litter lodged at their base? Are the sidewalks swept clean or are there cigarette butts laying in the curb?  Your first impression was just generated and you have already created an image of how your stay is going to be.

Likewise, when a boat pulls up to your fuel dock, what is the message the boat owner is receiving.  Do your fuel dock attendants assist the boat in tying up, welcome the boater to your marina, support the fueling process, pump out the holding tank or bring 2 bags of ice to the boat?  Are the uprights in good condition, the spider webs gone, plenty of cleats to tie up to and waters surrounding the pier are litter free?  Depending upon what they see you have just created the first impression of your marina for that boater.

Many times when I have visited a marina, the restrooms tend to create a very strong impression for me both visually and by smell on how the marina is operated and maintained. 

Verbally and In-person

Many times when a boater has their first impression with an employee at the marina, it’s with one of the employees on the lower end of the pay scale.  How knowledgeable and polite is the employee answering the phone?  Are the dockhands familiar and experienced in tying a line to a cleat or familiar with the process of using a spring line?  Are the employees at your front desk under pressure assisting customers who can be demanding? Have you ever considered that the employee using the marine radio is potentially broadcasting to all boaters with marine radios within reception?  Are they using proper radio etiquette and following policies established by the marina?

So many times, employees are hired, fill out some forms, given a uniform and put to work.  But have we trained them to be our front line?  Marinas have long been considered to be a place to keep a boat.  I beg to differ and believe that a marina is not just a place to keep a boat but a gathering place for boaters.  As such, we need to teach the employees on how to create that positive first impression that want people to come to the property and have a good time since we are part of the hospitality industry.


Boat shows used to be the way we reached the boating market.  It has changed over the years.  It used to be where a marina could go home from a boat show with a handful of signed slip agreements.  Today, our customers still go to the boat shows, but they can do their shopping at home on the internet for a place to keep their boat.  They don’t have the pressure of a salesperson talking with them.  How does your website look and is it easy to use? It’s creating a first impression on the user.

Marinas now have to consider today’s social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  Even if your marina has yet to embrace these platforms, your customers are.  Do you know what they are saying?  Each of those postings and tweets are a result of a person’s impression of your marina, first or otherwise, but could very easily turn into first impressions of countless others who rely on social media for their information and which you have no direct dialogue with.

Take the time to establish a policy on creating first impressions for your marina.  Walk your facility, look at the marina through your customers eyes.  Observe your employees, provide them the guidance on what you would like to see and hear.  This can be accomplished and have some fun in the meantime by role playing.  As manager, you want to always play the role of the customer and do not be too gentle or forgiving, because your customer will not. 



This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  September/October 2015

Thanks to the media we are bombarded daily with every catastrophic or horrific incident that takes place anywhere on the earth in real time.  Twenty plus years ago when we heard of such things we took them at face value.  Today there is an underlying implication that all of these incidents are tied somehow to terrorism.  Unfortunately this is the world we live in so the question is; how can marinas best cope with this situation?

Now before you say my marina is not in or near a commercial port or waterway but at some inland reservoir and I don’t have a problem with terrorism, I agree with you to some extent but to dismiss the need for security completely would be a mistake.  Think of it this way, terrorism may not be your issue but providing a safe environment for your customer is an issue that should be addressed.

Marinas are considered part of the recreation industry and recreation is defined as: an activity or pastime that promotes refreshment of health or spirits by relaxation and enjoyment.  With that image in our mind as to what recreation should be, when you go to a marina do you want it to look like you have just entered a highly secured military base?  I think your answer would be an emphatic no.  Now the challenge is for you as a marina owner; how do you balance a legitimate need to have your marina secure yet have your boating customer feel relaxed and safe when he or she is at your marina.  Your customer would also want to know that when they leave the marina and their boat is in your care, custody and control that next time they come to your marina their boat is just as they left it.

There are several ways that you can make your customer feel safe and secure without being obvious. Here are a few tips that we have learned through the years mainly observing what some marina owners have done.

Perimeter security is the first line of defense to keep someone off your property or channel how people enter or exit your marina.  Fencing with a top of barbed or razor wire is the best but not attractive.  Camouflage the fence with vegetation on both sides and if not possible at least on the inside of the marina.  Select vegetation that is dense and attached to the fence such as and ivy.  A hedge also is good but the trunk or branches that could traverse the hedge be of a size that would not support a person.

If your marina is in a basin where access to the marina is by a channel or limited in some manner.  When a boat arrives or leaves the marina at night it should trigger sensor that turns on a powerful light that shines across the entire water entrance of the marina but not on boats berthed in the marina.  The light needs to be bright enough to reflect off the boat entering or leaving.  Associated with triggering the light should be a camera that records the boat’s movement.

Security cameras have become popular for recording what is going on around your marina but with that comes an ongoing cost if it is to be an active system rather than a passive one.  If you are not monitoring what is going on in real time at your marina you will not know when a problem occurs until someone reports a problem to you.  For example, a customer comes to you and says he is missing some items off his boat.  That is all well and good but this was the first time that customer came to the marina and his boat in two months.  Now the question is when did the incident occur?  You start to review the recordings going back from the current date.  Your system recycles the recordings every four weeks.  You look back through four weeks of recordings which is no easy task to begin with and nothing.  Whatever happened and recorded had been recorded over and lost.

Cameras may be a deterrent if they are in plain sight but that could also be a negative to some of your customers.  We know that some boats are used for more than just boating, enough said?  This is also the reason it is not a good idea to have real time surveillance cameras that can be viewed by anyone on your website.

Not that many years ago, the feeling was if you restricted access to the docks that was all that was needed.  The feeling was if you controlled who could go through the gate, which often times looked like a prison entrance with barbed wire surrounding it, that was sufficient.  If you rely on this as your security, how many times have you found the gates tied open or tape used to prevent the latch on the gate from locking?  I would venture to say that it is a daily occurrence at some gate in your marina.  I did see at one marina where they hooked up an alarm and flashing light with a timer on it and if the gate was left open for any length of time the alarm sounded and the light flashed.  This solved part of the problem but did nothing to prevent someone entering the dock if the latch had been prevented from locking.  At lease the gate was not visibly open which did help to some extent.

In the last few years technology that was developed for non security applications is making its way into the security industry.  As more and more of this technology is adapted for security purposes the price is getting more affordable.  An example of this is the sensors that were originally developed to be put in the pavement at intersections to trigger a traffic light to change has evolved into a perimeter fencing application where a similar type of sensor is buried and anytime there is a movement over the sensor it is recorded.  It is worth checking out to see some of these new applications and what is applicable to your security needs.  No matter what you do regarding security your goal should be that when your customer comes to the property they feel safe without your security measures being in their face.



This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  April 2014

Over the years I have visited a number of marinas both wet slip and dry stack that have what I call a grave yard for boat trailers.  From a boaters perspective the trailer is like a security blanket thinking they can move their boat at any time they chose.  In reality if that trailer has not been used in the last six months most likely it is too dangerous to carry the boat over the road.  Many of those boat owners do not even have a vehicle capable of towing their boat today.  That raises the question in the boaters mind: Why keep the trailer?, and for you as the marina operator: Is there an opportunity to make money out of this situation?

Some of you may be saying “I charge rent on trailer storage” but is the risk worth it? I was recently with a client that had one of these grave yards for trailers.  A wet slip customer was moving and leaving the area after being at the marina for several years.  He wanted his trailer to put the boat on and take it to his new home.  You could have imagined the shape that trailer would have been in.  The only problem was the marina could not find the trailer even though the customer had paid monthly for storage since he first arrived.  The marina ended up buying a new trailer, and it was not cheap, for this boater and any money they received from charging rent was gone.

It appears that lost trailers are more of a problem than you may think.  If you are plagued with this problem I would like to suggest the following to minimize this embarrassing and costly situation:

1. Define an area where trailers are stored and identify a specific area for each trailer.  This is no different than what you do when a customer’s boat is in a slip or dry rack.

2. Record each license plate number and the expiration date associated with the trailer in a given spot.  Current license plates seem to grow legs when setting in a storage yard.

3. Do a weekly inventory of all trailers being stored on the property.  Having a permanent record of what trailers were on the property on a given date.  This may help reduce your insurance premium by having a good control in place.  This is no different than doing dock walks on a regular basis.

4. All trailers should have a manufactures identification number but these numbers are often hard to fine.  I would suggest investing is a steel stamp letter set.  These sets cost less than $100.00 and they are well worth the investment.  With this lettering set you can establish your own unique identification system and place the numbers in a uniform location on the trailers making it easy for employees to inventory the trailers being stored.

5. Take a picture of the trailer when it is placed in the storage yard and keep it with the customer’s record.  It is funny how boat owners seem to forget what their trailer looked like or the condition it was in when it arrived.

It may be that storing trailers on your property is not the best solution.  As a marina owner you want that customer to call your marina their boat’s home.  I would like to throw out an idea that may appeal to you.  Let’s say a new customer comes to your marina and his boat is on a trailer.  What if you suggest to him that you will take his trailer in trade for storage?  Not different than trading in a car.  Let’s say that it is a new trailer with a market value of $1,800.  The wholesale value may be $1,200 and that or less is the storage credit you offer.  Now you have a trailer to sell or keep and rent out.  The renting out of trailers may be particularly lucrative if you have an in-house service department that can maintain trailers as well as boats.  You would only want to keep the best and most versatile trailers in your rental fleet and the size of your fleet will vary depending upon rental activity.  Several trailer rental places I have checked with have only four to six types of trailers in their rental fleet and the average size of the fleet is eight trailers.  Since you will be renting to a captive audience you will be able to design your fleet specific to your customer base.

If this is a revenue stream that you believe would help you, check with your insurance agent first as I understand the laws and insurance coverage may change from state to state.  I further understand that the majority of time liability is covered under the towing vehicle’s insurance policy but not in all circumstances.  Like any other activity where mechanical equipment is involved, keep detailed maintenance records to avoid liability issues should a problem arise.

If you believe this is a good idea but do not want to get in the trailer rental business check in your area for places that commercially rent trailers and work a deal where you can get a commission if you make arrangements for one of your customers to rent a trailer.  In either case you have accomplished getting that boater out of the trailer but he still has his security blanket that a trailer is available if he needs it and he knows it will be in good shape to take over the road.



This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  March 2015

It is not uncommon to have water dependent commercial ventures operating out of a recreational boat marina.  Most of these operations are recreational boats for hire operated by the boat’s owner and operated as a separate business.  As a marina owner or manager these types of operations can have a positive impact on the profitability of the marina but if not controlled properly can have a larger negative impact.

Some of the more common enterprises include sport fishing charters, day sailing cruises, dive boats and what is commonly referred to as head or party boats where a large number of people are on the boat for a particular activity or event.  These types of operations operating out of your marina attract a different type of clientele than the typical recreational boater.

There are three important aspects to consider when a commercial venture operates out of a recreational marina.  First, is the increased risk of liability, second, additional wear and tear on the marina’s infrastructure and third is if the marina is designed to accommodate commercial ventures.  Let’s look at each of these three issues and understand what is at stake.

First on the subject of risk; as the marina operator you need to ask yourself the following questions.  Are the boats that are working out of your marina for hire recognized by the public as a legitimate business?  Do they have a business license and do they carry the proper insurance coverage that includes the marina as an additionally insured on their liability policy?  If you answered no to either of these two questions you could be placing your marina at risk should an incident occur involving one of these operators’ paying customers while on marina property.  One of the more frequent incidents with people not familiar with marinas is the “slip and fall”.  If a slip and fall accident occurs when that person is either boarding or disembarking the charter boat it is unclear who is at fault, the marina, the boat owner or the injured person.  What you can be sure of is that the marina will be named in any litigation resulting from that accident.

If you have the possibility of this happening at your marina talk to your insurance agent to make sure you are properly protected.  Also have your insurance agent review the boat owners insurance to confirm they have the proper protection for the marina.

Second, boats operating as commercial ventures will add additional wear and tear on the marina’s infrastructure as compared to that of a recreational boating customer for two reasons; first the increased number of people coming to the marina and second the frequency in which it happens.  Also, a commercial charter boat, because of the frequency it departs the dock and returns, puts more pressure on the mooring cleats, pilings and the dock structure itself than you would expect from a pleasure boat customer.

Is there a designated location in the marina where commercial boats are docked or are they scattered throughout your marina?  If they are scattered throughout the marina it is a problem.  It is like trying to mix oil and water.  Recreational boaters come to their boat to relax and enjoy the ambiance of the marina and being out on the water.  Once there is commercial activity on the dock that ambiance is lost and often times results in losing your recreational boating customer all together.

To minimize this impact on the marina all commercial activity working out of your marina ideally should have separate access to a dock dedicated to this type of activity.  Depending upon your marinas configuration this may not be possible but you should try to at least group these boats with like activity as much as possible and keep then as close to the bulkhead or shoreline as possible.  Although your recreational boat customers may have to walk pass this activity when going to their boat they will not have people walking by their boat on a frequent basis.

The third issue; is your marina designed to accommodate commercial ventures? Charter boats will add additional demands not only on the docks but also on the marina’s parking lot and restroom facilities.  Most times these issues are not mentioned in any permitting requirements imposed on a marina but the marina should address these issues so as not to inconvenience your recreational boating customers when wanting to use their boat.  If it is your decision to cater to the commercial boat customer then you should take into consideration their specific needs.  One example is that we have found these commercially operated boats always need more secured storage space whether on the dock or in a dedicated storage facility than that of a typical recreational boat owner.  Also, these commercial operated boats will usually demand more utility services than the recreational boater.  Make sure that your utility infrastructure can accommodate the higher demands.  If your dockage rate structure includes any utility services these commercially operated businesses should be sub metered and charged based on usage.  If you do not do this there is a good chance that the marina will end up subsidizing their businesses.

If you have or are considering commercial boats working out of your marina consider an alternate rate structure that would be appropriate for commercial boats for hire working out of your marina as their demands on the marina are far greater than the recreational boater.  As previously stated, commercial ventures operating out of your marina can have either a positive or negative financial impact on your marina.  Since no two marinas are exactly alike I think it is safe to say that thinking through all the consequences of your decision is paramount.  Take into consideration either the short and long term gains or losses keeping in mind short term gains in profitability may result in long term losses.



This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  May/June 2014

One topic that I have written and spoken on at many marina conferences is the importance of good record keeping and financial reporting.  I think it is time to revisit this topic as many marina owners do not put enough emphasis on it when conducting their business and making those important decisions that will guide their business and, more importantly, their profitability going forward.

There are several issues that come to mind but I believe the most important is having consistency in how and what you report.  Even if your information is not the most detailed or complete, having consistent information that is presented in a consistent format will allow you to compare from one year to the next on how well you are doing.

Following in importance is non financial information.  We are in a reactionary business and there are a number of outside factors that you have no control over but still have to react to.  This can impact your profitability. Some examples are the weather, inland lake water levels, economy and other recreational activities in your market area.  One of the busiest holidays for boating activity is the Fourth of July.  If July fourth falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, boating activity in that year will be less than if the fourth falls on any other day of the week.  Keeping track of this non financial information in a consistent manner is just as important as the financial information.  Make sure that when you look at what you wrote a year ago it still has meaning.  To help me, I like to make what I call a “cheat sheet”.  This is just a list of the external issues that impact your business.  The one thing that tops the list of issues is weather.  Typically if there is bad weather when a holiday occurs most likely it will negatively impact your bottom line for the year.

I would like to get back to the financial information and how non financial information plays a role in helping make the right business decisions.  I stated how important consistency is in financial reporting but many times the difference in a number does not tell you what is going on in your business.  If you did not understand the makeup of the amount reported for prior year as well as the current year the decision you make guiding your business may be the wrong one.  Let’s take a look at one example, fuel sales, and dissect what is or is not important.  What are the important components that impact the profitability of your fuel sales; gallons of fuel sold, the price you paid for the fuel, the price you sold the fuel for, the weather and local economic conditions and last but not least, the fuel inventory balance.

I want to put some numbers to the analysis mentioned above to show how you arrive at some meaningful information to make a business decision on.

In this example the marina only sold one type of fuel.  If more than one type of fuel is sold a similar analysis should be performed.  The information shown in the first section represents basic information that is from your accounts payable for fuel and your daily sales log of fuel sold.  The information shown in the second section in the table represents what you have recorded as revenue and cost of sales for the period.  The bottom section of the table is the analysis of the numbers that are previously stated in the table.









Gallons of Fuel Sold




Average Sales Price Per Gallon




Average Costs Per Gallon




Gross Profit Per Gallon







Total Fuel Sales




Total Fuel Costs




Gross Profit on Fuel Sales







Due to reduction of Gallons Sold



Due to the Price Increase on Gallons Sold



Due to the Cost Decrease on Gallons Sold



Net increase in Gross Profit









You may be asking how you arrive at those numbers to explain the increase in gross profits.  Here are the formulas:

  1.        To get the Reduction of Gallons Sold you take the difference in the top line ($1,812.0) times the gross profit per gallon for the prior month ($1.20).
  2.        To get the Price Difference you take the gallons sold for the current period (6,928.0) times the difference in the average sales price per gallon ($0.25).
  3.        To get the Cost Difference you take current number of gallons sold (6,928.0) times the difference in the cost per gallon sold ($0.08).
  4.        The Gross Profit is the net of one through three above.  Keep in mind as a general rule decreases in gallons sold result in a negative number while price increases and cost decreases result in positive numbers.

Now that you have the financial information analyzed you can apply the non financial information to further explain the change and make changes accordingly.  For example, there are three factors that could have reduced the number of gallons sold.  They are: local economy, weather, or price of fuel which would be a factor in the status of the economy.

This is just one account that we have analyzed but similar types of analysis can be set up for every type of revenue and expense account as long as you understand what the components are that goes into determining the amounts reflected in your profit and loss statement.

This is just one more reason for keeping good records of your business’ performance.  This whole process may sound complicated at first but once you get into it you will see how much easier it is to make the right decisions to improve your marinas profitability.