Survey of Chesapeake Bay Marinas

The Chesapeake Bay is truly a unique location for recreational boating, having more shoreline than the entire west coast of the United States. With over 11,600 miles of shoreline, there are an almost uncountable number of creeks, bays and beaches for recreational boaters and fisherpersons to explore.  There are small towns and big cities up and down the Chesapeake Bay and not surprisingly, the Bay also has an unprecedented number of marinas.  We currently track over 700 marinas and boatyards throughout the Chesapeake Bay that service the recreational and commercial boaters that use the Bay.

A lot has changed due to the pandemic of 2020, but thankfully for all of us, the need to escape to the water has only grown stronger. We recently completed a survey of marinas located throughout the Bay, and it looks like for the second half of this year that the marina business is starting to improve.  All our survey respondents operate marinas with less than 250 slips, with the majority ranging between 50 and 250.  Most of the respondents offer fuel, and also have haul-out and repair services.  A number offer boat sales, there were some with restaurants and a smaller number with boat rentals.

As expected, the first half of the year was difficult for everyone and almost all respondents indicated  their overall business was worse the first half of the year compared to the same period last year. Although the early Spring had shutdowns and dramatically reduced access, the bright spot is that the late summer season has been busy in most areas.  Marinas have worked hard to find ways to handle and space their customers, while also focusing on the safety of their staff.  There are a lot of brand-new boaters and just when we probably need them the most, there may also be fewer dock attendants available.

Overall, the percentage of slip rentals increased slightly while there was about an even split between slip rental rates being increased and staying the same. No one indicated they lowered rental rates.  For most marinas, operating expenses increased, and most indicated that it was largely due to handling changes required by the pandemic.  It is no surprise that the majority of respondents indicated that fuel sales were off a lot during the first half of the year. Interestingly, the anticipated change to the bottom-line profit covered the full range from expecting a decrease, to staying the same, to even a few expecting an increase. 

The bright spot for the year is boat sales are through the roof as pandemic participants look for a safe way to get outside, social distance and still have fun.  New boats are in short supply as most manufacturers closed or dramatically slowed operations during the worst of the pandemic.  Boat inventories are very low and from the looks of it, the boat shortage may be around for a while. Service departments have also fared well because it is easier to distance the employees and keep the public out of the shop.  The large number of new boats purchased has also been good for set ups and miscellaneous supplies.

Once they were allowed to reopen, marina operations were slow to get rolling, but then toward the end of the summer got busy.  Local boat owners needed to get outside and more frequently have a way to entertain the kids, and themselves.  Thankfully, some of the money not spent on vacation travel and restaurants the first half of the year, is now being spent on boats and fuel.  Hopefully, this trend will continue.

Unfortunately, the real drop off in the industry has been with the transient traffic.  Moving from place to place has been almost impossible, difficult at best.  The annual migration of boats north has been hit hard by quarantines, closed marinas and closures to out of state traffic.  With more planning than normal and a lot of patience, boats are finally moving again.

The first half of the year was crushing for most businesses, marinas included. The upside is that once marinas were able to open and get operational, the boaters came back in force.  We hope the fall season remains strong and the overall year turns out OK for all. Our special thanks to those that responded to our survey and we look forward to keeping you updated in the future.

Chesapeake Bay News

Norfolk, Virginia – Morningstar Marinas based in Charlotte, North Carolina has purchased Vinings Landing Marina located at the Little Creek inlet in Norfolk, Virginia.  Morningstar Marinas owns and operates four marinas on the east coast including Norfolk and Gwynn’s Island in Virginia, Golden Isles in St. Simmons Georgia and Mayport in Jacksonville Florida.  Morning Star will make additional upgrades to the Norfolk marina facilities and has renamed it Morningstar Marinas at Little Creek.  The facility is located on approximately 12 acres, currently has 66,000 square feet of dry storage to accommodate around 350 boats and wet slips to accommodate around 200 boats.  The upgraded marina will include a ships store, gas dock, WiFi, restaurant and pool.  City records indicate that Morningstar Marinas purchased the property in February of 2020 for $4,830,000.00.

Kent Narrows, Maryland – Safe Harbor Marinas based in Dallas, Texas has purchased the Mears Point Marina at Kent Narrows in Grasonville, Maryland. Safe Harbor Marinas operates over 100 marinas throughout the country.  The Mears Point marina has been renamed Safe Harbor Narrows Point and includes over 500 wet slips along with a pool and other amenities. Records indicate the property encompasses over 41 acres and was purchased in May of 2020 for $11,950,000.00.

Chestertown, Maryland – Safe Harbor Marinas based in Dallas, Texas has purchased the Great Oak Landing Marina located in Chestertown, Maryland.  Safe Harbor Marinas operates over 100 marinas throughout the country.  The marina has been renamed Safe Harbor Great Oak Landing and includes over 350 wet slips along with additional amenities including a beach, lodge, restaurant and six-hole executive golf course.  Records indicate the property encompasses 68 acres and was purchased in February of 2020 for $2,950,000.00.

Available

Chesapeake Bay – A search of records indicates that there are currently over 25 marinas and commercial waterfront properties for sale located throughout the  Chesapeake Bay.  These marinas range from small boatyard operations with a handful of wet slips to larger full-service marina facilities that include well over 100 wet slips and even full-service dry storage operations. If you are looking for a marina investment, there is a full range of opportunities right in our back yard.

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Jonathan Guion

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