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What’s New In Covered Marinas?


New technologies make it safer and more pleasant to keep your boat under cover.

If you’re a Seaworthy reader and you keep your boat on a covered dock in the winter, you’re probably well aware of the potential risks from fire and snowload. But you may not be aware of recent innovations that help reduce those risks. If your marina is the old-fashioned type and you have multiple covered marinas in your area, consider scouting out the others to see if any have adopted these construction techniques. If you can’t move your boat, sharing this article with the marina management might result in safer docks when the time comes to replace the existing dock buildings.

Snow Protection

Last December, a storm that dumped heavy snow and ice on a covered marina on Lake Lewisville, Texas caused part of the marina to collapse, damaging dozens of boats and sinking several. One owner who was sleeping aboard had to be rescued from the mangled metal roofing that once covered the boats.

Wet snow — the kind that’s typical in places that aren’t in the frigid North — is heavy. A one-foot by one-foot section three inches thick of the wet white stuff can weigh five pounds. Multiply that by thousands of square feet of marina roofing and you can see why many structures just can’t handle the weight and collapse.

Photo: Dissen & Juhn Co.

For fixed docks, there’s a way to prevent even the worst storms from collapsing the roof and damaging the boats underneath. After the wicked back-to-back snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic in 2010, several covered marinas collapsed in the Chesapeake Bay area, including Bohemia Bay Yacht Harbour in Chesapeake City, Maryland. The owners decided that an engineered, extra-strong roof system offered the best protection for the money. The system uses a heavy galvanized steel pipe foundation, driven into the seabed, along with a heavy-gauge galvanized steel roof structure. Much stronger than traditional timber construction, this approach virtually eliminates snow and wind load concerns. The substantially heavier equipment needed does increase the cost, but the structure will outlast conventional roof systems — and protect the boats under them — for many years.

Fire Protection

A marina fire is the stuff of nightmares, but it can be even worse when docks are covered. Once a fire gets going, the heat trapped under the roof turns the whole place into a super-heated oven that will ignite anything under it. That scenario actually happened at a marina in Gig Harbor, Washington a few years ago, and dozens of boats were destroyed.

One innovative solution is to install polycarbonate panels in 50 percent of the roofing. That way, if a fire starts, the panels quickly melt, allowing heat to escape and greatly lessening the chance of the entire marina going up in flames. In some parts of the country, those melting panels are now required by local law. The polycarbonate panels offer another terrific side benefit: Because the panels are clear, the normally gloomy covered marina feels light, airy, and welcoming.

One More Thing Worth Mentioning

One of the lessons learned from both of these incidents is the value of proper insurance. Not all marinas are built to withstand huge snow loads or fires. If your boat causes the fire, you may be liable for a staggering amount, so don’t be caught short when it comes to liability insurance. Some people mistakenly believe the marina’s insurance will cover damages to boats, too, but in most cases it won’t. You don’t want to end up like the people who weren’t properly insured and found themselves wishing that was a risk they hadn’t taken.

Charles Fort

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine