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Demand for boat slips in Marina del Rey is drying up

As the economy soured, more than 200 vacancies opened in Marina del Rey, which normally has a two-year waiting list. Other harbors in the area have fared better.

May 07, 2009|Andrew Blankstein

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of an empty slip.

Or in the case of Marina del Rey, more than 200 of them.

In good times, there was a two-year waiting list for spaces and small boaters complained that they were being pushed out by bigger boats. But as of February, Los Angeles County officials said, the number of boat slip vacancies at Marina del Rey had nearly doubled to 259, compared with 133 a year earlier.

Most of the 4,700 available slips are for pleasure boats under 35 feet long, say harbor officials and business owners.

"Marinawide, there is probably a 5% to 10% vacancy rate," said Greg Schem, who owns the BoatYard in Basin H. "It's mostly related to the problems in the economy." The increased supply also gives boat owners more yards to choose from.

The cost of slip fees -- between $312 a month for a 25-foot boat and more than $2,000 a month for an 80-foot yacht -- appears to be giving some boaters pause.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Craig Campbell, the general manager at the fuel dock, who began working at the marina in the mid-1970s. "It's always been very desirable, and it's always been full, even in the slow times."

It's quite a turnaround. Just three years ago, there was talk of expanding some Southern California marinas because powerboat sales were rising so dramatically.

California has traditionally experienced a shortage of coastal slips because of environmental regulations that virtually stopped marina construction a quarter-century ago. A few years ago, the state was projected to add as many as 23,000 boats a year through 2020.

About 2,000 new powerboats longer than 40 feet were registered in California from 1998 through 2005, according to Info-Link, a Florida company specializing in the boating industry. Nearly half were longer than 50 feet.

Other Southland marinas are doing better than Marina del Rey -- at least for now.

In Redondo Beach, marina operators say business isn't what it used to be, but slips continue to be filled.

Jason McMullin, an assistant manager of King Harbor Marina, the largest of four marinas in the area, said all of their 820 boat slips are occupied and there is a waiting list for boats over 30 feet.

"It has slowed down a little bit, but not much," McMullin said. "The marina's doing just fine. There's a waiting list."

At the nearby Port Royal Marina, office manager Marion Harding said revenue has been steady even through the downturn. And for small boats or large yachts, there are no vacancies, she said. Those looking to park the largest vessels may have to wait a decade.

"Most of my customers have been here for years and most of my customers have paid off their boats, so what's $500 a month [for the slip fee]?" said Harding.

Peter's Landing Marina in Huntington Harbour, also has no vacancies.

"We are full and we've been full," said Joanie Seaton, manager of the marina that houses 350 boats. "I closed my waiting list in March 2005 and I have not reopened it."

The average wait for a slip is three months to four years depending on boat size.

"You don't want to say you may not live long enough to get to the top of the list, so I closed it," Seaton said. "But we anticipate that as we have been filling any openings from that existing list we anticipate being able to reopen that list shortly.

In part, the increased vacancy rates for smaller boats could be related to the fact that owners have the ability to dry dock, which is considerably cheaper. There also are fewer brokers using the marina to showcase their boats.

Dusty Crane, division chief of the L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors, said boating is cyclical for some, but for others it's something they can't live without.

"Boating is like any other passion," Crane said. "If you love it, you will sacrifice other things for it. Boating as a luxury will probably be a year or two away" from coming back.

Not exactly a three-hour tour.


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