Marina Aqua Culture

You may recall roughly a year ago a column on marinas and aqua culture, and a reservation of the right to one day wax poetic on marina aqua culture. Well, that day has come, and so instead of discussing mussels, oysters, abalone and salmon frye, the focus today is the unique culture that we as members of the boating world all enjoy!

Many would say I was weaned on boating – anything that floated and sometimes things that did not float so well. I pursued all with vigor. And, fortunately, I was not alone, and we all learned the many pleasures of boating from the six-foot skiff and the Aquaplane (anyone else remember the Aquaplane?), to the Sunfish and any number of larger sailing and powerboats. For us it was infectious! And fortunately there were many “old salts” around to help teach us not only the joys but also how to safely handle a boat and what to do in emergencies.

Today I suppose I qualify as an “old salt” myself, and suppose I may have paid it forward, especially with all the younger and not so younger folks I’ve introduced to waterskiing over the years. Yes, I gave up the Aquaplane and never looked back!

Adding decking to a portion of a slip in order to create a living and cooking area is an extra amenity marinas can offer boaters.

Over time many things have changed but the joy and fun are still there, just perhaps a bit more specialized and/or compartmentalized these days.

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Evolving Traditions
But the boating aqua culture continues, not only with the traditional and sometimes the untraditional boating, but the associated socializing, particularly when the water becomes more than just a backdrop. Boating offers the freedom to relax, explore and enjoy, and runs the full gamut from the individual personal watercraft to the superyacht. They are used for recreation, watersports, exploring, vegging, camping, beaching, socializing and lots more. But, most importantly, boating offers the opportunity to unwind and take a deep breath away from the pressures in life. And the pandemic has opened the door to even greater relief through boating by offering a socially distant opportunity to enjoy life while getting out and exploring.

Boaters are traditionally a very friendly group, and out on the water, waving to one another is commonplace, whether we know each other or not. Boaters are a relatively tight-knit circle – always sharing information, commenting on what’s going on and sharing experiences, both good and bad. And the internet has many portals for sharing from texts, emails and specific sites like Active Captain.

Many boaters use their boats not only for boating but as a second home for weekends and vacations. With the pandemic, many are working not only from home but from their boats, allowing for even more time being spent on the boat.

This offers many opportunities for marinas, which are the connection from land to water. They are much more than parking lots for boats.

Amenities Abound
Many boaters, particularly on inland lakes and rivers, are desirous and willing to pay extra for an additional portion of a slip that is decked over and used as a living/family room/kitchen. The associated accoutrements can be everything one can imagine, from the obligatory barbeque to couches, recliners, table and chairs, plants, and storage areas. The deck is usually integrated into the use of the stern of the boat for the stereo and TV. It makes for a great approach for family gatherings as well as small to larger parties, which were extremely popular in the pre-pandemic days and hopefully will be able to held again in due time.

Marinas should be proactive in an effort to retain boaters by offering amenities and events that bring customers to their facilities.

Other marinas are providing all sorts of amenities from a clubhouse to additional recreational opportunities such as a swimming pool, volleyball and other sport courts. Some offer welcome information for transients with maps, restaurants, points of interest, as well as bikes for getting around.

Personal watercraft rentals, boat clubs and boat rentals/charters, whether for runabouts or megayachts for one day or longer periods, are growing to meet the expectations of both customers and those looking to get away but who do not own a boat.

And speaking of non-boat owners looking to get away, I’d be remiss not mentioning groups like The Corinthians. Founded in 1934 in New York City, and now headquartered in Delaware, The Corinthians, a sort of a yacht club without any actual facility, has been bringing sailors without boats and boat owners looking for crew together for nearly 90 years. They also organize races, cruises, games, and other events that fit right in with what we often think of as the aqua culture–sailing to a great destination followed by getting together with fellow boaters for food, drink, and tales of the journey.

We can never underestimate the allure of that last part. A southern/Caribbean version of it is certainly something Jimmy Buffett figured out, or at least sort of fell into. Have you been watching the rise of the Margaritaville resorts? Although for the most part they don’t have marinas, they are all focused on that destination reached in the tropics, and the lifestyle attached to it. This is something many a marina have seized upon with their own tiki bars – whether they are in the tropics, the Midwest or Long Island.

Crosby, Stills and Nash of course hit upon a similar nerve with Still’s famous Southern Cross (a song Jimmy Buffett has been known to cover!):
“Got out of town on a boat goin’ to Southern Islands Sailing a reach before a followin’ sea… We got eighty feet of the waterline nicely making way… When you see the Southern Cross for the first time You understand now why you came this way… I have my ship and all her flags are a-flyin’ She is all that I have left and music is her name”

Feel free to sing the chorus! Of course you don’t need the tropical islands to share in the romance of the voyage, as it tends to be part of most any type of boating you can imagine, whether on an 80-foot yacht or a 15-foot canoe.

A Variety of Options
In fact some of the fastest growing segments of the boating community include paddle boarding and kayaking. These are fun, easy to use, are relatively inexpensive, can be enjoyed individually or in groups and do not need elaborate set up or put away time. They also don’t necessarily require an extensive amount of skill, at least to get started. Marinas who are taking advantage of this market have seen the rewards.

Fishing is again popular for both fresh water and saltwater. Bass boat fishing has gained in popularity in the rivers and lakes along with various catch and release protocols. Saltwater fishing ranges from the small to large game fishing with their respective outboards, deep v boats, to serious inboard yachts. Offering bait, ice, and provisions can be an additional service to the customers and profit center.

The active specialty water sports from pontoon to both inboards and outboards has again taken off. Marinas that support these uses with their ship’s store merchandise as well as fuel and service are much desired by customers.

The demographics show that the boating population has gotten older. Major efforts have been made to bring the younger generations into boating, but a majority of the younger generations have been spending their free time on electronic devices – from smart phones to computer games to things that I do not even know how to pronounce– and parents of kids seem forever occupied with the kids’ sports programs and other activities.

Campaigns to bring people, particularly the younger generations, into boating had not been all that successful–despite that romance that still seems to permeate our culture.

When the pandemic hit boating initially went into shutdown mode. But by mid-summer the pandemic, in many ways, had brought new and heightened interest in the active and passive use of boating. Family use is up dramatically as is the younger generation’s active use with their friends.

Boating recreation has returned almost overnight into an “in” thing again. And there are of course so many reasons for it. Boating is fun, safe, and offers a great escape from being cooped up inside by the pandemic. It is a great approach for family fun. People also were not going away on vacations and traveling as much, and most live sports, movies, concerts and other in-person events were shut down with few exceptions. Dealers sold out their inventories, manufacturers could not keep up with the orders, the marinas were full and busy and, most importantly, the younger generations have been coming to the water.

Being able to be in the outdoors with the sun shining on the water and the ability to do multiple things from fishing to water sports is an easy prescription to fill.

Keep Momentum Going
The challenge for marinas now is to keep the boating interest not only alive but the momentum going. Marinas are in a unique opportunity to do that. Being proactive in organizing Zoom classes for those that need to obtain licenses to captain a boat, scheduling a safe boating course to help customers get an insurance discount, hosting fishing contests, and other sporting events are just a few ways. Just sitting back and hoping boating interest will continue at our current high levels will not work. One has to keep interest up and promote safe usage . As the vaccines become widespread, and things start to ease up, there are numerous other opportunities for marinas to be proactive with regattas, cookouts, exhibitions, etc. In addition to putting customers in touch with groups like The Corinthians, there are multiple apps available to connect boaters lacking crew with would-be boaters who don’t happen to have boats – yet.

The more one can promote aqua culture, the more the aqua culture promotes boating – a definite positive reinforcement loop.
Happy boating!

Dan Natchez is president of DANIEL S. NATCHEZ and ASSOCIATES Inc., a leading international environmental waterfront design consulting company specializing in the design of marinas and marina resorts throughout the world. He invites your comments and inquiries by phone at 914/698-5678, by fax at 914/698-7321, or by email at