A lot has been said and written about superyacht berths and marinas.
Let’s approach some of the misunderstandings about them, the ones often discussed at the pub and which arguments get both lubricated and fuelled by a pint or two.
Empty berths and yachts in waiting list.
For some years, and as result of untidy/unfriendly behaviour from a few captains booking a berth and not showing up without previous warning, many of the marinas in high demand request a deposit before making a booking for high season (either summer or special events). Such request for a deposit is the best memory booster in the Universe. Superyacht agents hate to waste money, no matter how wealthy the yacht owner is. Sometimes the captain tries himself to book too. When I was a superyacht captain, I never assumed a possibility was not viable until I confirmed it myself. And that is something a good captain will still adhere to nowadays, no matter how good his agent is. Most captains develop quite a strong relationship with suppliers including marinas, and such a relationship is not totally transferable to a go-between. A captain calls, no matter how busy the place or that season is, and his personal call will be handled differently than one from an agent. Of course, agents develop such contacts too, but we are talking about the extremes captains will go to make the season happen. They can find a place in a marina which is not his first choice, book it, and later find a better one and forget about cancelling the first. It goes with the job and the stress. But times are gone when marinas could afford to waste a free place during the season. The same happened in the hotel business all over the world.
Berth bookings databases and booking websites and apps
It sounds light and easy, but creating such database demands a big investment which can only show positive results after the system is already working. First a critical mass of berths must be engaged and a working agreement achieved (less and less marinas accept the old and very negative commission scheme, as the price of a berth today is a part of the marina presentation and nobody wants to be more expensive than their own policy indicates). Then a critical mass of users must be reached. This would take at least a couple of years from the moment the investor starts pumping money, employing a researcher, a marketing person, an IT technician to maintain the database (which must be kept alive with updated prices) and waiting for a couple of busy seasons to have the first results and trim the tool to try to achieve better results.
To compare hotel business or air tickets with berth booking is naïf (like: if they can do it, we can do it) Booking.com makes 1.200.000 reservations per day. Like big berths, right??? Tell me about economies of scale, and the need of reaching a reasonable critical mass.
Marina operators are not used to share data, specially prices, yet. A marina manager wants to know which boat is requesting the berth before taking a decision. There are good boats and bad boats, people that are a pleasure to serve and people that always leave a bad taste behind. Prices shift depending on the date and the marina experience with the boat (it is not the same to have a 110m yacht using three cars than a 90m one willing to park 7 cars, two vans, and a team of 4 armed security people next to the yacht) That’s why we do not like automatic bookings on big berths. We must know beforehand who’s coming to assess the possibility of accommodating the yacht and deliver the services requested. I have berthed in Palma a 93m yacht with an urgent need for a berth (Pinmar Golf Tournament). The marina was not finished, the agent and captain were warned about the shortcomings, but we rigged 6 points for tie up with chains around concrete pillars, fitted an extra bollard at the stern, and contracted a legal guard from a local security firm. It not only worked, but the captain, a well-known veteran, kept thanking us for the flexibility. Superyacht people are the most professional people of the yachting business and will appreciate help when they need it. What they hate are unpleasant surprises.
If a yacht owns a berth and leaves its management to the marina, the marina will fill their own berths first :a healthy practice of every business. If the yacht introduces a new client for the berth, the marina can take a small percentage (we took 15%) for handling the booking, the paperwork, issuing access cards, sometimes adapting the ground lines.
The pricing depends upon the time of the year and events in the area. This is a practice adopted by most marinas for medium to big sized berths.
Marina management has changed drastically in the last 10-15 years and most bribing has stopped. Plus, for the red ensign flag yachts, the Bribery Act of 2010 applies, and any gift, invitation or gratuity over 100 GBP is considered a bribe and both individuals who give and receive it can be prosecuted. In the yachting case, even the yacht agent can be implicated.
I am aware that tips, sometime generous, are given to marina personnel, from manager to dockhands. For me a bribe is when dodgy money is requested to perform a service, a tip is offered to show appreciation for services rendered. Yes, there are tips on arrival to smooth the stay. They are not advisable in this day and age.
The world of marinas and yacht clubs is still fascinating. Design and management practices have changed drastically in the last 10 years, and those changes are hard to see beyond the quays, ground lines and harbour office. We (marina people) are aware that yachting has evolved a lot faster than yacht harbours and that we must catch up. I am part of an ISO workgroup developing a standard for yacht harbours (basic, medium, superior and luxury) for people all over the world to be able to refer to the same standards.
Rome was not built in a day. We have a long way to go.
By Oscar Siches, Marina Consultant
Tel : +34 667 494 858