photo: Port Camille Rayon, France by Bart Stroiński
What mom never told you about marinas
By: David Grubb
Do I wish my mom was a salty old tar with an eye-patch, parrot, and peg leg? No, not really. Do I wish she could’ve imparted some vast wisdom upon me about the complex world of marinas in my youth? Yes. For instance why in Poseidon’s name do wharfage fees have to be so complex, expensive, and non-negotiable? What about dealing with an unruly neighbor in the adjacent slip or the best way to find a marina?

Having some marina etiquette lessons instead of table manners would’ve been nice. Although, the dining etiquette has come in very useful, so I must thank her for that golden knowledge. All kidding aside, well mostly, here are a few things I wish momma would’ve told me about marinas, instead having to learn them the hard way.

The lingo game, worse than the rule challenge.

Some of the rules and nomenclature at marinas are common sense but why do they have to vary so much from seaport to seaport and city to city? A person can usually get away with calling a bathroom the restroom, latrine or head. God forbid, if you call a bollard a cleat or vice versa in certain company or places. Man, just because many of us are sailors to the core, it doesn’t mean everyone is, even if they own a boat.

Watching an amicable old fellah get jeered at in front of his family for messing up his terminology at some posh marina enlightened me. I decided then and there that was not the type of person I wanted to be. Learning the lingo as best you can is still my recommendation but not because it may save some face. It’s good to know the difference between a quay, the seawall, and jetty, especially in emergent situations. I’m certain my mom doesn’t know what a quay is and only has a vague idea of the other two. You know what? That’s okay.

Now, onto some of those hard and fast rules.

Like most things in life, marinas come with a certain set of rules that everyone must follow for the greater good. In fact, local and federal laws typically apply but the rules specified by each marina are more akin to house rules yet stricter. Well, most likely anyhow. My mom wasn’t too bad but I can say I’ve been house broken since I was six.

Most marinas have a five knots or slower speed limit to minimize the moving vessel’s wake. This prevents a nice hot cup of coffee from scalding the lap of a person lazing about their beloved vessel because they weren’t watching for waves caused by an inconsiderate operator. The reduced speed also minimizes shore erosion and accidents.

Walkways, the structures that lead to the boats and the respective slips, should always be kept clear of gear, objects, and trash. Taking an unwanted swim at a marina will ruin most people’s day. An injury to go along with that unexpected bath before casting off or after the return will blacken a great sail day even further.

Another rule prohibits the discharge of black and grey water while a vessel is in a marina, port or harbor. This happens by accident more often than being intentional but it is a consistent problem. Black and grey water are pollutants and will damage the fragile ecosystems of our ports and harbors. They also make the water disgusting and if you decide to take a quick swim you might wish you’d gone to the marina’s pool instead, if it has one.

Always secure the overboard discharge valves for your black and grey water systems before coming into port. This helps ensure unintentional discharges of waste water are avoided. Intentional discharges are illegal and rude. My mom would say, keep your poop in the shoot so you don’t pollute. Well, if Mom was a swab that’s what she would say.

One last rule I’d like to briefly talk about is unnecessary noise in the marinas, in particular at night. A big culprit is older and makeshift generators because they tend to be loud. They might be the sole source of electrical supply for your vessel, but noisy machinery should be turned off at night. If shore power isn’t available or you choose not to use it then please be courtesy to your neighbors and turn off those rackety generators at 10:00 pm or earlier. Nothing’s worse than not getting any sleep and choking on a fellow mariner’s diesel exhaust all night long.

Sure, the rules can be overwhelming to the unversed or ignored by the seasoned salt. However, they don’t take too long to figure out and are good rules for everyone to heed at all times. Typically we can’t erect fences and noise barriers in the marinas to make being good neighbors easier. Therefore everyone must strictly follow these house rules to keep the peace and harmony.

As you can tell I’ve had issues with these matters and I’m certain many other mariners have as well. It’s too bad certain individuals didn’t learn about marinas from their mothers. Being the authoritative figure shouldn’t be anyone’s bane but the dock master, Certified Marina Manager, and harbor Police. Then again it’s also about living, working and playing together. I recognize the incidents were minor and resolution at the lowest level possible was for the best.

Some other things.

Mom certainly never warned me that a point in my life might come when living full time in a marina on board a vessel would seem like greatest idea ever. For me it never came to pass but that’s not the case for a lot of people. They permanently reside on their vessel, houseboat, or mega yacht.

These full time marina residents or at least frequenters usually love and cherish their living situations. Sometimes this way of life is cheaper than an apartment or mortgage. Other times it’s more, perhaps a lot more, but worth every penny to the inhabitant. The oceans and seas call to these maritime enthusiasts in ways they understand and ways they’ll never fully comprehend. Did I miss out on the greatest adventure of my life? I don’t know but I’m more or less regret free about the matter. Plus, I’m not dead yet and who knows what life will bring.

I think the best thing Mom could’ve informed me about was that the term boat is actually an acronym. Anyone who hasn’t snickered is about to have the greatest revelation of boating and marina knowledge bestowed upon them. Boat, Break Out Another Thousand, dollars that is, because they are expensive. In fact, I first heard the funny but true twist on the word so long ago that in today’s market it’s more akin to ten-thousand.

Of course I’m exaggerating but owning a boat often feels like that, a money pit. I would like to note that love for your beautiful cruiser, dinghy or three-masted sloop will probably win the war against your money wise sense. Like Mom not knowing sailor talk, this too is okay. Truth be told, it is highly encouraged and well understood in many people’s eyes.

Boats and all that go with them are costly in every way imaginable. From dock fees, to maintenance and even groceries for a nice half day outing add up. I’m sure you’ve heard the term house rich, cash poor. Boats and marina life are no different. Sure, there’re some exceptions to the rule. For the most part be prepared to have a good supply of money if you’re venturing into the nautical world for the first time or adding another lovely to your fleet.

I’m glad my mother wasn’t a salty sea dog but I’d have been more than happy for someone like her to help with the trial and errors of becoming an additional head bobbing around the marinas. I don’t think I made any huge mistakes or faux pas but I’m certain things could’ve gone smoother.

The thing to take away from my experiences is to ask for help or clarification when you need it. I recommend you get advice from seasoned marina veterans because your mom probably doesn’t know the answers. As I mentioned, we’re all just trying to live, work and play while striving to keep hostility and confrontation to a bare minimum or better yet, none at all. A golden rule in life everywhere, but the close quarters of a marina make that concept even more important.

As the old seafaring saying goes, I bid you fair winds and following seas.