Economic Impact of Harbors on Town Revenue and Local Business Revenue

Post by - Published on 07/15/19 15:21 PM

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What happens if the marina in your town doesn't reach its potential as far as visiting boater traffic? Your town and local businesses are missing out on revenue, not just the marina. Whether you're a local business owner or a resident in a harbor town, harbor efficiency has an impact on you. 

How Boaters Spend Money in Your Town

Cruising boaters typically go ashore to explore town when they arrive in harbor. Even boaters who opt to cook aboard may need to provision, as boats are short on refrigerated storage space. If a boat part has been damaged, the owners will likely visit the hardware or marine store. If they’re vacationing, however, research shows that boaters are likely to eat out, go shopping, and partake in local attractions and nightlife.

A few more boater spending tendencies: 

  • Cruising boaters do not have cars, therefore, the businesses within a 10-minute walk or dinghy ride will get the most traffic. If a marina or harbor offers a courtesy car, shuttle, bicycles, or if it's location offers carsharing services, the 10-minute limitation expands.
  • The bigger the keel a harbor/marina is able to accommodate, the larger the boats that choose to stay there will be – with bigger crew and/or deeper pockets.

Using Municipal Data to Gauge Abandoned Revenue

Even if one were to play it conservative with the survey data, economic impact studies we've managed to find show that each harbor has at least some element of spending ashore by visiting boaters. 

Try these calculators on for size to see the happier end of the spectrum: 



The above calculator reflects potential income if your town's or marina's slips/moorings are full 100% of the time during your season. Which begs the question: Does your harbor come close to reaching its capacity? If there's room for improvement, an increase in the number of boaters your town hosts makes an impact on your marina revenue, town revenue, and revenue to local businesses:



Even if only half of the boaters you add each season go ashore, and even if they only spend half the money you estimate? Any local business that turns their nose up at extra income has its days numbered. Keep reading for some professional estimates and their potential impact. 

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Economic Impact – Marinas' Real-World Implications

Obviously the above calculator is not a precise estimate – your mileage will vary by location, marina size, harbor and town dynamics, and the boating segment they attract. But the idea here is to at least start to get some sense of the value your harbor brings to its town – and the additional value it could be bringing given the right support and/or upgrades. Here are some real-world studies we used, as sourced by state officials:

  • A 2016 regional study of recreational boating's economic impact in the states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia found that boaters spend per trip, on average, the 2019 equivalent of $337. "Per trip" doesn't necessarily mean that all $337 is going toward the harbor visited, but it's safe to say the dockage, food/drinks, and part of the fuel and oil are likely to. To run the numbers with some Dockwa marina partners: 

    • At Clayton Municipal Harbor in Clayton, NY, 67 more boaters stayed in 2018 than did in 2017. Using the equation and survey data above, that could mean an increase of as much as $22,600 spent in town on equipment, fuel, food, nightlife, and shopping during the region's 5-month season. 

    • At Onancock Wharf in Onancock, VA, 51 more boaters stayed in 2017 than in 2016, which means this town – with its population of 1,200 people – could have taken in as much as $19,200 additional revenue at the marina and in town than the previous year.

  • A 2009 analysis reported an average trip spending for Floridian boaters of $206 per trip – $245 in 2019 – including both day and overnight trips. (We'd expect the average would be higher if the survey excluded day trips.) Again, using this number as a benchmark: 

    • Gulfport Municipal Marina accommodated 102 more reservations in 2018 than in 2017. If all 102 boaters went ashore to spend $245 in the town of Gulfport, that would be an increase of as much as $25,000 spent at the marina and local businesses than the year prior. 

    • Titusville Marina increased the number of reservations by 57 from 2017 to 2018 – as much as $14,000 more going back into the town and local economy from one year to the next. 

    • St. Petersburg Municipal Marina increased the number of reservations from 2017 to 2018 by 577 – that's 577 boaters spending upwards of an estimated $141,365 on their collective boating trips. 

  • Washington's 2011 economic impact analysis reported that the 9278 privately-owned vessels surveyed in the state of Washington spent $17.6 million visiting marinas – an average of $1900/visit. 

    • Foss Harbor Marina reported a 50% increase in transient slip revenue year over year from 2017 to 2018 (view the case study), adding 10 reservations through Dockwa. If those 10 boats go ashore and spend according to the survey, that's an additional $19,000 going to the marina and local businesses. 

  • In one municipality that chose not to make their study public, a recent study reported that the average boater spends approximately $1000 per night on dockage, fuel, and provisions, ~$500/night of which is spent in town. After streamlining their operational processes, this harbor was able to open their mooring field an entire month early the past two seasons – with 80 moorings, even if you only include weekends and you only fill half the moorings, that's at least an extra $40,000 of revenue coming into the town and local businesses. 


Additional Notes re: Optimizing Municipal Harbors to Accommodate More Boaters

If your town/harbor team is willing to adopt software to aid them in streamlining their operations, here are some ways your town benefits without incurring an additional cost onto the city: 

  • Optimize marketing efforts: Attract more customers via free/low-hanging-fruit methods such as running deals with local restaurants, partnering with nearby marinas, and updating your website to allow online reservation requests
  • Increase "apparent" available occupancy: Employ software that can automate facilitation of guest turnover, thus increasing occupancy without adding physical space to accommodate more boats.
  • Increase "true" available occupancy: Using this data, persuade your town to budget for installation of additional moorings or dockage.
  • Decrease recruiting expenditures: Increase your on-site employee job satisfaction by decreasing the amount of minutiae involved with recording vessel details, and increase employee job satisfaction within municipal departments by streamlining accounting and communications. 

Advocate for Your Harbor & Waterfront

In order for your town or your local business to benefit from additional boater revenue, you need to become an advocate. If you are a business owner, get involved in your town’s decision making process as it pertains to town-owned/managed waterfront property.

If you are a town employee or harbormaster, consistently advocate for your waterfront as a revenue generator for the town – which it is, or, if it’s not, it very easily can be. With additional funds invested in a municipal marina, all municipal stakeholders benefit.

Applying for Grants for Your Marina

If your marina/town's current budget doesn't allow for a physical expansion of your space, a well-run harbor makes it easier to make the case for grant funds. Dredging, increasing the number of slips, adding amenities, or updating existing facilities will bring more visitors and/or increase your visitors' average vessel size, both of which positively impact tourism revenue.  

If no one at your municipal marina or within your town is applying for grants, congratulations, you just got yourself a new path to a promotion. Get your town a grant, add that work to your resume, and get ready to ask for a flippin' raise once you get it. Stay tuned for our next blog post on Marina Grant Applications Made Manageable. 

How to Complete a Recreational Boating Impact Survey for Your Town

Every harbor in the country is unique, and boater behavior varies according to the location, attractions, vessel size, etc. To gauge the potential for increased revenue from increased boating tourism, you have a couple options: 

  1. Use whatever existing data you have available to you. Has the town/harbor/state run a recreational boating economic impact analysis in the past?

  2. If the answer to #1 is a no, don't get discouraged – everyone's gotta start somewhere. Survey your customers with a paper or online form (Google Forms is cheap and fairly intuitive to use, as is SurveyMonkey) to ask your guests to estimate how much they spent, and where. 


Works Cited

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