Courting Captains: What Boat Owners Want In a Storage Facility

Posted by Brad Hadfield on Mar 28, 2024 1:30:15 PM

There’s a saying in Florida that there are two types of people: those who are boaters and those who plan to be boaters. Whether this is a Sunshine State phenomenon or not, it’s no surprise. Recreational boating has been a thing ever since kings and their royal regattas took to the Thames River in England back in the mid-1600s. Of course, today recreational boating is not just for royalty. 


In America alone, QuickNav statistics reveal that nearly 100 million people go boating each year, and nearly 12 percent of U.S. households own a recreational boat (sales surged 40 percent during the COVID pandemic, making boat ownership more popular than ever). Another interesting statistic: The average boat in the U.S. is operated just 54 days per year. This means that many boat owners need a place to keep their vessel when they’re not navigating open waters. 


Storage may simply be a necessity for some captains. There are nearly 360,000 homeowners associations (HOAs) in the U.S., representing more than 40 million households. Those living under HOA rules must obey the governing documents, many of which limit the owner’s choices, including the right to keep boats on property. Making this more of a hardship for boat owners, less than 14 percent of existing HOAs offer storage and/or parking for watercrafts within their communities. So, the only option is to find an off-site boat storage facility. 


Many savvy self-storage developers have been able to build their storage facilities within the confines of the HOA-governed community, or nearby, alleviating the boat storage problem for these residents. If you’re located near HOA-restricted neighborhoods or happen to be in an area where boating is a popular pastime, offering boat storage can be highly lucrative for your operation and beneficial to boat owners. 


Different Storage Options 

Different boat owners want different storage options. Some will be happy with no-frills storage—a simple parking spot or canopy covered storage will suit them just fine. “Open parking storage is useful if you have an existing parking lot that is rarely used or if you have available land to pave,” says Sarah Swingler, business development manager at MakoRabco. “Construction costs for this type are minimal, other than possible site mitigation and the type of surface that is to be applied.”


She notes that some municipalities have created more rules and regulations pertaining to the open lot concept, requiring visual blockers from roads and/or mandatory landscaping, which is something to consider. 


Other boat owners, typically those who have made considerable investments in their boat, will want fully enclosed storage. “This provides the most protection,” says Scott Ramser, managing general partner with the Ramser Development Company, which has an established portfolio of quality RV and boat storage, self-storage, and industrial outdoor storage assets.


Ramswer Altamonte

A Ramser Development Company property located in Altamonte Springs, Florida


“Exposure to the elements such as sun, rain, and snow can take a toll on a boat's appearance and performance. Enclosed storage helps protect boats from Mother Nature and subsequent weather-related damage. This can also be important in coastal areas where flooding and hurricanes can be a big concern when it comes to boat slips.” 


Continues Ramser, “While enclosed storage will be the most expensive to build, it will also bring in high rental rates.” 


For enclosed storage, Swingler recommends a 16-foot low eave height to accommodate a 14-foot-tall door and a width between 12 and 14 feet, with drive aisles maintaining a minimum 50- to 55-foot span between buildings to make maneuvering boats as easy as possible.


“As someone who previously worked at a marina on Florida’s East Coast, I can attest to the challenge of navigating large vehicles in tight areas,” Chadwick Macferran writes in the MSM story RV & Boat Security And Technology. “However, convenient access to the facility and individual units are just as important as wide aisles and space for maneuvering large vehicles.” 


Length of stay is another consideration when it comes to storage options. For much of the country, recreational boating is a seasonal pastime. Some boat owners may keep their watercraft in a boat slip during the warmer months and look to store their boat on land during the off-season. By offering flexible rental agreements, you can attract short-term and long-term rentals. 


Top-Notch Security 

Boats are a big expense for many owners, so they want to be sure their toy is protected. If your facility is equipped with sophisticated security, make this a selling feature. In addition to perimeter security, highlight access control systems that limit facility access to authorized visitors. Many of these systems with cloud-based software also equip facility’s staff with next-generation monitoring and control capabilities.


A technology-forward video surveillance system that allows you to respond to incidents in real time is another big selling point for boat owners. If your monitoring service leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure the property is always being watched, make this known. 


10-Federal-Drone10 Federal Storage is one self-storage provider that offers a high level of security for boats. “We offer both uncovered parking spaces and interior units with enough space for parking, so boat owners have options when they rent from us,” says Andrew Capranos, president of 10 Federal, which operates 20,000-plus storage units at more than 75 locations across 14 states. “Our facilities use facial recognition and other AI technologies, and that’s important to people storing expensive boats.” Capranos points out that many facilities also use drones, providing an “eye in the sky.” 


“Our night watchperson works in our corporate office and watches video feeds from all of our properties every night,” says Capranos. “If there is suspicious activity, a drone can go in for a closer look. This is the type of security that makes boat owners feel safe storing with us.” 


Making self-storage even more attractive for boat owners is the fact that some insurance policies provide discounts for keeping vessels in a secure and dry location when not in use. According to Discover Boating, boat owners should always ask their insurance provider about what is commonly referred to as a “lay-up” discount. “You’ll have year-round coverage with a discount for the months your boat is in dry storage,” according to the news outlet. Self-storage owners may want to let tenants in on this secret when someone is considering renting a spot. 


Boating Amenities 

To bring in boat owners, it helps to offer more than just storage space. For example, if your facility has a retail section, consider including items that boat owners may need, such as ice, marine toilet paper, boat line, water-resistant phone and tech pouches, life jackets, trailer hitches, cup holders, fishing tackle, bait, and so on. 

But boating amenities can go much further than retail items. “I recommend including a wash station, where owners can clean their boats when returning them to storage or picking them up, or flush the engine with fresh water,” suggests Ramser. “A dump station that allows them to unload wastewater into a septic or sewer system is also a big plus.” 


Many of the facilities Ramser owns and manages also offer valet service, and employees are trained on how to carefully tow a boat to and from its parking spot or storage unit. Some facilities go as far as transporting watercrafts to a boat launch or fueling them up for the tenant, providing unlimited in and out service with advance notice. 


For these types of services, it’s important to address them in the rental agreement. Include addendums that cover valet service, dump stations, and wash stations to be sure liability is properly allocated between your facility and the tenant. If you’re charging for these services, make sure the costs are clearly spelled out in the agreement. It’s best to always have an attorney familiar with this area of the law review the agreement to be sure you’re protected. The lawyer may also recommend you set up separate entities to handle some of the “riskier” parts of the operation, such as transporting boats to a launch. 


Finally, if your operation also includes traditional self-storage units, you may consider offering one to a boat owner storing their vessel at a discount (you’ll earn more from the boat space rental, so it is beneficial to do so if it helps convince them to store with you). Many boat owners may want a unit to store related items, such as fishing gear, water sports equipment, or even jet skis. 


Booming Business for Boat Storage 

According to the 2024 Self-Storage Almanac, there is currently an imbalance between supply and demand; development of boat storage has generally not been keeping pace with the increased demand for it, which will keep occupancy rates for watercraft storage elevated. Additionally, the publication reports that investor interest in the boat parking sector has never been higher, as indicated by the record number of sales over the past few years. 


While it's important to remember that boat storage supply and demand has regional differences and nuances that should be understood when choosing a market and location, it could be a potentially lucrative endeavor. If you decide to add boat storage to your facility, build boat storage from the ground up, or make an investment in a boat storage facility, wishing you “fair winds and following seas.” 



Brad Hadfield is a staff writer and news researcher for Modern Storage Media. He also manages the Modern Storage Media website.