You can no longer run your marina the same way you did ten (or even five) years ago. Your typical boater has changed and so has their expectations and preferences. Re-evaluate and consider changing your processes to provide a better boater experience (and keep your boaters coming back).
More and more people continue to recognize the positive aspects of getting outdoors and into nature–specifically onto the water. As NMMA reports, the number of first-time boat buyers exceeded 415,000 for the second time in 15 years. While this is a great indicator for the marina industry as many of these new owners hit the water searching for slips and services, it's also a big signal for marinas to re-consider boater needs and expectations especially amongst this new class of boat buyers.
In fact Discover Boating recent research shows that “the next generation of boaters are different (from) today’s.” From age, income and education to diversity and use of media, the next generation of boaters differ in demographics and preferences compared to the traditional boaters, and marinas looking to be successful long-term will need to adapt accordingly.
From the 1000s+ marinas that Dockwa works with, we know that you are the expert when it comes to your customer. And a lot of that knowledge comes from interacting with customers directly – on the dock, over the phone or through email and text. But too often we also hear that running the day-to-day of a marina comes at the expense of spending time with your customers (and sometimes even loved ones). So much time spent tied to the office or running back and forth from the docks to the office and back.
As the new generation of boaters continues to grow, it's important to set up your marina for long-term success. Ensure you are removing any friction points with your boaters (old and new), be there when your boater needs you, and free up time normally spent on manual tasks by leveraging technology to help you work smarter.
This guide will help you identify all the common friction points between marinas and boaters, and how to remove these barriers so you can streamline operations and get back your days. Spend less time in the office so you can spend more time getting to know your boaters.
It’s easy to forget the most dangerous (and probably expensive) phrase in business: “We’ve Always Done It This Way.” Especially with the next generation of boaters, we need to think through the ways things have always been done and consider whether the current ways of doing things will serve the business in the future. Oftentimes you’ll find that now is a great time to adopt change to ensure your business thrives in the future.
There’s a common phrase: what got you here won’t get you there. That’s why we’ve outlined five areas of marina management and operations for you to re-evaluate and consider whether the processes you have in place today will ensure you’re successful in the future.
They say first impressions are everything. When a boater contacts a marina to check for availability and/or make a reservation, this is often their first impression of the marina. Yet many marinas only take reservations by phone during business hours or via a general “contact us” form that may not capture all the necessary information required for booking.
With phone reservations, boaters are limited by business hours and must call back at another time, or (more likely) inquire with another nearby marina that is responsive outside of business hours. When it comes to the “contact us” form, your marina will have to reach back out to get all the necessary information to complete the reservation request, assuming the boater hasn’t already booked with a nearby marina.
Simply put, this outdated reservation process is causing friction for your boater during the reservation process and possibly costing your marina business due to bookings elsewhere. It's time to consider the amount of time your marina is spending unnecessarily on manually processing reservation requests when Dockwa offers free tools to streamline this process.
When it comes to contracts – whether for long-term, seasonal or winter storage – if your marina is spending time printing out hard copies of contracts, physically mailing them out for completion (or delivering them in person via dockwalk), and then manually tracking completed or outstanding contracts…it’s time to consider how much time this process is really costing your business. Depending on the number of slips at your marina, this process can take your marina weeks to complete.
Even if your marina is utilizing electronic contracts and sending out copies for completion over email, the process of chasing down outstanding contracts, following up with boaters for payment or waiting to process the payment in person, there is still a large amount of time dedicated to this process when Dockwa has tools that can help you cut down this process from weeks to days (or less).
Lets face it, boaters come to your marina to enjoy and spend time on the water. On top of that, consumers at large do just about everything over the internet these days and certainly with all the first-time boat owners hitting the waters, it's more important than ever to consider digitizing your contract management process. Giving your boaters more time on the water by giving them a quick and easy way to complete their contracts and payment electronically.
Your boaters will thank you (with their repeat business) for sparing them the pain of printing, signing, scanning and emailing or mailing their contracts back.
If your marina sends out contracts whether annual, seasonal or for winter storage, odds are you’re probably spending way too many hours sending out invoices, processing payments over the phone or in person, chasing down late payments or proof of insurance, and then making sure you update customer records across all your systems. For some marinas, this process takes weeks to wrap up and happens on a monthly basis.
With help from software like Dockwa, you can get back your days because the whole billing, invoicing, and collection process is automated. You can focus less on manually chasing payments and instead, allow software to email your customers to collect payment information in a secure manner (read: no more credit card info on a sticky note) and send reminders when payment is past due. Once payment is provided and processed, the customer record would automatically update so you can get back your days and focus more on your boaters.
At some marinas, when boaters purchase fuel or goods like beers and ice, the check out process involves taking down payment info, running to the office to process payments and running back to give the boater their receipt. We know that boaters come to your marina for a great time on the water, yet this process takes away from that time by forcing them to wait for payment processing.
Re-considering this process and implementing a point of sale system like Dockwa would give you and your boaters time back. Especially with Dockwa’s Point of Sale Tool, you can easily give boaters the option to pay and be underway. Streamlining your point of sale process on the docks by offering:
When you can spend less time processing payments, you can spend more time reminding your boaters of all the reasons why they need to keep coming back to your marina.
Plus, when you make the payment process quick and seamless, boaters are more likely to continue spending money at your marina. In fact, a study conducted by The University of Illinois found that when consumers adopted a mobile wallet, “total transaction amount increased by 2.4 percent and that the total transaction frequency increased by more than 23 percent.” Simply put, enabling a wallet-less experience with point of sale tools like Dockwa could unlock more boater spending.
Whether your marina tends to be full or often has vacancy, inventory management (ie. dockage, moorings, land storage, etc.) warrants more than pen and paper (or your whiteboard and marker). This common but inefficient way of managing reservations is costing you time and money.
In fact, understanding your inventory could unlock new revenue streams with the concept of backfilling. Easily keep record of when your boaters might be leaving for a few days to understand any last minute, short term vacancies at your marina. With software like Dockwa, you can build a short-term waitlist of boaters looking for slips, reach out to boaters directly, and let them know of your availability. Backfilling a vacant long term slip with a transient reservation allows you to capitalize on a slip that would otherwise sit vacant.
Additionally, managing your inventory beyond pen and paper will allow you to accept and manage future reservations that may be months out. Imagine receiving a request for a reservation three months out, and being able to see your inventory accurately so you can confidently confirm that reservation. No need to take down their information on a paper or return their call at a later date because you are unable to confirm future availability.
Utilizing software like Dockwa gives you the ability to capture the boater booking request, quickly check your slip inventory, and reply back to confirm the request—all within minutes.
The team at Donovan’s Shady Harbor & Mohawk Harbor used to spend weeks each year creating, sending, and tracking down payments for seasonal dockage and storage contracts. Eager to spend these hours on improving the boater experience instead, they embraced the Dockwa Contracts tool.
“We’ve run the gamut of contract management processes, and we love the customization [of Dockwa Contracts]. Customers are accustomed to DocuSign documents, and adding an end-to-end system that handles both the contract signature as well as automatic payment processing was a huge benefit. There is also a definite time-saving component – once a customer signs the agreement, the automatic payment processing is scheduled and eliminates our team from having to track down customers for payments,” said Kathy Donovan, co-owner of Shady Harbor and co-operator of Mohawk Harbor.
Nantucket Moorings runs a transient field of 125 moorings in Nantucket Harbor, providing nightly DIY accommodations to boaters. They first adopted Dockwa’s reservation platform in 2016, and in 2021 switched their booking system completely to Dockwa so every reservation was input and charged through the Dockwa digital platform. Reservations through the Dockwa website and app soared.
“I’ll tell you that using Dockwa has provided me with more time, because I'm not on the phone all day making reservations and literally filling out reservation papers. Now, it's all the click of confirm, print, and file. It makes our life a lot easier, for sure,” Leigh continued.
The team at Waterboat uses Dockwa to manage all dockage requests, whether booked on their website, through the Dockwa app, or over the phone. Boater payment details are stored on digital Dockwa reservations ahead of arrival, so there's no need for boaters to stop and pay for dockage. In fact, Waterboat uses Boat Charges to create boater house accounts so boaters don't have to stop and pay for their non-dockage purchases, either. Boaters can ask to charge items like ice, UPS shipments, metered electric and more, right to their Dockwa reservation, and their stay at Waterboat becomes a wallet-less experience.
"Boaters would always say ‘You have my card on file with Dockwa - can’t you just charge it for my ice?’ With Boat Charges, now we can,” said Chris Cannon, Manager of Boston Waterboat Marina.
As owner and/or operator of your marina, you know what’s best when it comes to your operations and what it takes to deliver on an exceptional boater experience. With the new wave of first-time boat owners surpassing 415,000 since 2021, and the next generation of boaters trending younger with savvy tech preferences, now is the time to think about how to ensure your marina can stay successful in the future. When re-evaluating the manual processes that currently burden your marina, it's equally important to consider how boater expectations have changed and will continue to change in the future.
Questions to consider:
Running a marina is hectic. Dockwa helps you streamline your entire operation so you can get your Saturdays back. Better than traditional marina management software, we're a boater relationship platform that comes with hundreds of thousands of boaters built right in, so you'll see stronger demand and smoother days.