As boats get bigger and are built with an increasing number of power-hungry systems, some of the nation’s older marinas are struggling to keep up. Not only do they lack the slips to fit the larger boats that so many Americans want to take out cruising, but they also lack the shorepower systems and staffs to service them.
The Town of Palm Beach Marina was a classic example of the problem. It’s the only public marina on the island of Palm Beach, Florida, and has long been popular with boaters because of its proximity to the Worth Avenue shopping and dining district. Boaters who tie up receive free access to the oceanfront par-3 golf course, the health and wellness facilities at the Morton and Barbara Mandel Recreation Center and the town’s 13 premier tennis courts—so boaters always continued to tie up, even as the marina itself deteriorated. And, increasingly, more and more of those boaters were becoming frustrated. The marina was originally built in the 1940s. It had undergone upgrades over the years, but the most recent ones were in the ’90s. Some of the concrete piles and caps were more than 60 years old, and the single-phase shorepower simply didn’t have enough juice to service today’s boats that require three-phase power.
“These boats are floating cities—they have air conditioning, washers, dryers, refrigerators. Wherever they go, they want to be able to plug in and have everything running at one time,” says dockmaster Mike Horn. “They don’t want to have to turn off the washer in order to cook dinner. In the old marina, we were getting 115-foot boats that had to do that. We got to the point where people couldn’t live with this single-phase shorepower.”
So, in 2017, a process began to reimagine the marina with a new master plan. And on November 1, that reimagined marina will reopen with 84 slips and a new Royal Palm Dock for boats from 60 to 294 feet length overall. Transient and annual slip reservations are being accepted now.
With modernization, of course, comes changes that reflect the times. Previously, the marina had a length minimum of 50 feet for boats; now, it’s 60 feet. The town didn’t want to remove the smaller boats, Horn says, but the way the master plan worked out, the space on the docks was needed for the increasing number of larger boats—whose fees will be a primary source of revenue to repay the $40 million loan used to do the renovations in the first place.
“We run this as a business. It’s not subsidized,” he says, adding that the new Royal Palm Dock is 250 feet long with space for a variety of boats. “It can handle bigger or smaller boats, and has all kinds of shorepower.”
In another sign of the times, the Town of Palm Beach Marina is also upgrading its staffing, features and services. Horn says he sees the new setup as the wave of the future in terms of meeting modern boaters’ expectations. For instance, security is getting a high-tech upgrade. There are now cameras everywhere—on the docks, at the entranceways and in the parking lots—as well as parking-lot access linked to a smartphone app. Previously, anyone used to be able to enter the parking lot; now, a code in the app will be needed to do so.
Also new will be several golf carts that captains and boat owners can summon from the dockmaster’s office for help moving luggage or anything else up the docks. Trash pickup will now be done boatside several times a day, instead of boaters having to lug their trash to dumpsters. New staff and dock attendants are being hired to increase the number of team members ready to assist marina guests.
And, the new website connects to Dockwa and its slip-reservation software. “You can request dockage through there instead of having to play phone tag with us,” Horn says.
As of early August, all of the marina’s physical renovations were on track for the scheduled reopening November 1. Horn says deposits had already been received for 80 percent of the slips, with seasonal leases set to go out in September, followed by annual leases in October.
Overall, he says, word-of-mouth has been driving interest. Some boaters kept their vessels at the Town of Palm Beach Marina prior to the renovations and are eager to come back, but others are noticing all the work being done and decided to claim a space for the first time. After so many decades of watching the marina infrastructure deteriorate, he says, it’s a great feeling to see investments in the boating community at this level.
“It’s amazing,” Horn says. “When I come over the bridge in the morning and see the progress that has been made, it’s hard to believe.”
This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.