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.