Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Half Measures

No, I am not going to kick the U.S. debt crisis can down the road...

One of the most frustrating parts of cruising is the cost of transit slips.  In most cases the daily rate is such that a stay of more than 5 days is more expensive than the monthly rate for the marina.  Unfortunately the daily rate of marinas has risen to the point where even a one night stay has risen to the point where it is a substantial hit.  For example, a one night stay for Reboot in most US marinas is in excess of $100.  In bigger markets that number can approach $200.  When you consider that, bad weather aside (when a dock can be the only way to get a good night's sleep) the services provided by the marina are trivial - essentially the ability to plug in your shore power.  Enter a half measure solution in Europe, the Trans Europe Marina program.  This is a group of European marinas that provide half price transient berthing for up to 5 days for boats that have permanent slips at the other participating marinas.  They are trying to build a network of marinas that are "one day" apart.

A couple of thoughts:

1.  The number of empty slips at marinas in the U.S. seems to be quite high as I move around.  The only time that there seems to be a problem getting a slip is when there is some kind of festival or event in the marina town.  Certainly from an operator prospective anything to attract additional business is a good idea.  Since marinas have high fixed costs and almost no variable costs (particularly those who meter and charge for electricity separately) occupancy rate is everything.

2.I think, based on exhaustive research (I was too exhausted to do any research) that the actually number of transient boaters is very low.  Sailboats are very slow - i.e the transit from New Bern to Ocracoke for the festival occupied one full day each way.  Powerboats are very expensive, more so with current fuel prices.  Mario at Fish and Race in Key West (they repaired my outboard) gave me a rule of thumb for powerboat fuel consumption - 1/10 of the horsepower per hour for gas engines, figure 1/2 of that for diesel engines.  At $4.00 per hour (low for fuel dock fuel) a 100 hp gas engine is burning $40 worth of fuel per hour.  With slip fees and fuel fees a simple weekend cruise can easily approach $1,000 - not to mention the costs of eating out in the local restaurants.  I see very few transient power boats (except the snow birders on the ICW) in the marinas I visit.  Even trawlers, noted for their excellent fuel consumption, are absent.  With the economy being what it is that is quite a hit for a weekend on the water away from home.

3.  Real transients are treated like the "millionaires and billionaires" that some say are not paying "their fair share."  Not only do you see this in transient slip fees but also the check in and check out fees in many countries.  On my recent trip to Central America I was paying an average of $350 per country for clearances.  On my way back from Guatemala I bypassed Belize and Mexico to avoid $500 of clearance fees. The truth is that most of the cruisers are on very limited budgets.  In general the full time transient cruising community are retired persons on fixed budgets.  High fees drive cruisers away.

I laud any attempt to lower the cost of cruising.  But my take is a dramatic reduction in transient slip fees would do more to attract business then a "special deal" such as Trans Europe Marinas.

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