Marina berths are in short supply around the UK, especially for annual berth holders, due to a rise in boat ownership and cruisers choosing to sail at home rather than abroad

An increase in UK sailors choosing to cruise at home and the rise in boat ownership due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a nationwide shortage of marina berths.

The Yacht Harbour Association says berth occupancy is ‘very high’, with many full to capacity.

‘There is no north-south divide, although marinas on the south coast filled up a lot earlier than those in the north,’ explained the general manager of the association, Jon White.

‘But there is a challenge of availability of berths, especially along the south coast. There have been lots of local visitor traffic in the UK, with people travelling between marinas. This is partly due to the COVID-19 boat buying boom, and it is good to see new boaters. We have also seen people bringing boats back from Europe because of Brexit, but this should re-balance going forward,’ he added.

A white and red boat with white sails sailing

The COVID-19 boat buying boom has also led to a scarcity of marina berths Credit: Richard Langdon

The Yacht Havens Group operates nine marinas in the UK and Europe at Lymington, Largs and Troon in Scotland, Fambridge in Essex, Neyland in Wales, Plymouth and The Netherlands.

Its group marketing manager Jonathan Cook said all of them were currently running at 100% annual berth holder occupancy, and all of the marinas have waiting lists.

‘To put the demands in context, We manage around 4,000 marina berths and, earlier this year, we had almost 1,000 boats on a waiting list for berths around our group,’ he said.

Cook added that there were signs of boats being sold over the past few months, but the strong waiting list meant it was likely that demand for berths would stay high, although it remained to be seen what impact the cost of living crisis would have on the industry.

Premier Marinas said it had some availability, but a customer may have to go onto a waiting list for several reasons, including the length of boat, availability of berths for a particular draft or beam, existing customers wanting to transfer from berth to another, or the timescale a customer requires a berth or transfer. Visiting boat owners are recommended to pre-book a berth.

‘It’s no secret that there has been a boom in boat sales since 2020 and this has obviously led to higher occupancy rates. We invest heavily in improving all our sites and currently have dredging operations at two sites which has caused a temporary loss of availability, however we will have more berths, with deeper water, to provide to customers post the dredge,’ said a spokesperson for Premier.

The firm said it did provide a berth on a temporary basis, until a home berth can be identified, and it sends berthing renewals months in advance so it can identify vacant berths early.

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You can moor in the heart of the city when cruising Newcastle. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

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The situation is putting pressure on the availability of visitor berths too. Some marinas, like MDL, have introduced new online booking systems for visitor berths, with fees having to be paid at the time of booking, non-refundable ‘except in exceptional circumstances’.

This has resulted in some clubs cancelling visits due to the new policy, including Hollowshore Cruising Club on the East Coast.

Its commodore Dick Holness described the policy as ‘harsh’, given that ‘our ability to arrive at any pre-planned destination is subject to weather, equipment failure, illness, personal circumstances; a whole host of possible reasons.’

‘I have never encountered pre-booking conditions of this sort at any other harbour or marina. A direct result of this new policy is that my own club, and at least one other local club, have both cancelled an annual club visit this autumn to MDL’s Chatham location, and decided to go elsewhere. In the case of my own club, we have for years been running two visits a year to Chatham, and I am sure we shall never go there again so long as MDL persists with this policy,’ he said.

In response, MDL said that since 2020, there had been an ‘occupancy challenge’ at all of their marinas.

‘Visitor berthing can often be difficult to secure due to high occupancy and high volumes of day sails as opposed to extended summer cruising here or abroad, this coupled with yachts simply not turning up or cancelling at the last minute. We’re always listening to customers and working to improve our customer experience; this latest development allows berth holders and visitors to view real time berth availability and to book vacant berths online. Part of this also allows current berth holders to be rewarded when cruising outside of our network when their berth is utilised by a visiting vessel.

A man wearing a blue tshirt smiling on the deck of a yacht

MDL says its new booking system guarantees marina berths for its visitors. Credit: MDL

‘Our online berth booking system allows visiting yachts to pay and book a berth which guarantees them a space at the time and for the duration they require.

‘If the visitors plan change, then the booking can be moved to an alternative date. Obviously if the reasons for cancelling cannot be avoided then of course a refund will be issued.

‘Visiting yachts and boats can still book a berth on the day, or a few days before, and pay at the marina office as they have previously. The online booking system simply guarantee’s the berth and around 40% of our visitor bookings are now made this way. All bookings generate Otium points (10% of the berthing value) that can be redeemed against fuel, berthing, boatyard services and even our tenant businesses so it makes sense to visit an MDL location.’ concluded the statement from MDL.

Enjoyed reading Marina berths: Why is there a UK wide shortage?

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