Staying Afloat: San Francisco Bay Marinas Face Unique Challenges

Despite being one of the nation’s premier boating regions, San Francisco Bay is seeing a decline in its number of marinas. Five have closed in the last ten years, all in the South Bay, and two more are expected to shut down in the near future. The decline in marinas has also coincided with the loss of services such as those provided by boatyards. While there are currently 57 marinas still left in the Bay, most are over 50 years old and in need of serious upgrades.

Boating in the Bay Area isn’t what it used to be when the boating boom began in the 1960’s, but that’s not due to a lack of interest like you may be thinking. There are more than 800,000 registered boats in California with 8,000 new boats that were sold in 2016, not including kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and other alike watercraft. What is important to note here is that over 90% of these boats are trailerable under 26 feet. This allows boaters the flexible and less costly option to store them on land instead renting a slip (think parking spot) at a marina.

Furthermore, it would surprise you to learn that berthing rates (how much it costs to rent that parking spot) in the Bay Area are the lowest in the state. For example, the berthing fee for a 25 foot boat in the Bay Area might run between eight and ten dollars per foot while the same in San Diego could cost up to $18.

So the berthing rates are low and the interest is there, so why are Bay Area marinas experiencing a decline? Simply put, the operating costs for marinas in the Bay Area are very high. This is in part due to the overabundance of small slips, which now largely go unoccupied as more boaters move to putting their boats on trailers. Marinas could do better by moving with this trend and upgrading their facilities to include more large slips, which continue to see high demand; however, as noted, such upgrades are very difficult to make. As a result, Bay Area marinas continue to experience operating challenges with the high number of vacant small slips combined with very low berthing rates.

This information was recently provided by members of BPC’s Marinas & Boatyards Committee in a presentation to staff at the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission. Recreational boating provides a valuable opportunity for the public to experience the Bay. Moreover, it is a strong economic driver contributing nearly $9 billion annually to the state. BPC will continue to monitor such status and trends and engage in initiatives to improve the boating industry in San Francisco Bay. Access the full presentation and learn more about the Marinas & Boatyards Committee here.

The Bay Planning Coalition is a non-profit organization well known for its advocacy and credibility in the San Francisco Bay Area corporate and environmental community. When we speak about an issue, legislators and regulators listen.” – John A. Coleman CEO