As chief of marina operations at Washington state’s Port of Everett Marina—the largest public marina on the West Coast of the United States—Jeff Lindhout is basically running a small city.
He oversees 2,300 slips that need to accommodate commercial and recreational needs alike, with off-season seiners sometimes a stone’s throw from elegant sailboats. More than 5,000 linear feet of transient mooring space floats within easy access of restaurants, a microbrewery, shops, a new convention hotel and other activities.
The six-acre boatyard, recently named “Marina of the Year” at The Docks Expo, must be equipped for do-it-yourselfers as well as trained professionals, with the Travelift always in good repair in case haul outs are needed. The fuel dock, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, needs to be run in an orderly fashion that keeps boaters safe and moving on.
“It is extremely important to create a business-friendly environment that encourages a vibrant waterfront while offering the many services and amenities important to boaters and the public, from marine retail, sales and services to restaurants and hospitality, recreation options, office space and more,” Lindhout says. “The port has been improving and investing in this waterfront for the better part of the last decade, and in the last few years, the fruits of this labor and strategic vision have really come to light.”
That vision is one that marina operators nationwide can learn from if they want to appeal to more long-range cruisers. While attributes such as cleanliness and safety are of course important to owner-operators as they cruise into any new waterfront, it’s a marina’s logistics and infrastructure that ultimately make some facilities more appealing than others to liveaboard and long-distance cruisers.
In the case of Port of Everett Marina, that infrastructure now includes everything from upgraded docks and power to new hotels and restaurants, in addition to expanded events and access to open spaces—the types of things that make a marina a true destination within the broader municipal scene.
“When a waterfront area is adjacent to parks that hold local events, favorite local eateries and stores, and other attractions, it creates a great atmosphere,” says Kimberly Russo, director of America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association. “The boaters get to experience the town. The locals get a safe, scenic area to enjoy. The businesses get both local and visiting patrons, and the town gets more tax revenue. It’s an all-around win for the community and the boaters.”
Just ask Janice and Steve Russell, avid mariners who met through a shared interest in cruising the Caribbean. Having sailed extensively together aboard their Tayana 37 cutter, the Russells tacked over to trawler life to conquer the Great Loop, where their favorite stretches were the Canadian canals and the Florida Keys.
“We completed our Loop in 444 days, allowing us a slower pace than some others,” Janice says. “Dock talk and potlucks forge friendships with other Loopers that last forever. Strolling through historic waterfront towns and visiting with locals gives a historical perspective that might be missed when visiting by car. We really cherished those aspects of the Loop.”
Waterfronts with lively restaurants, pub scenes, parks and boardwalks for enjoying sunsets held the Russells’ attention. Less dynamic waterfronts, whether due to a lack of resources or interest by the community as a whole, not so much.
Norfolk, Virginia, is another place where marina infrastructure and logistics complement what the local community has to offer. The city’s waterfront is a social, cultural and economic hub, with attractions including Harbor Park, home of baseball’s Norfolk Tides (a Baltimore Orioles farm team); Town Point Park, which has an interactive fountain with 12-foot spray jets; the 10-mile-long waterfront Elizabeth River Trail for pedestrians and bicyclists; and Nauticus, a maritime and science discovery center with hands-on activities, the battleship Wisconsin and more.
In the heart of that environment is Waterside Marina, where general manager Tom Van Benschoten says the goal is to add first-class boating services to the big-picture mix.
“The city realizes that a vibrant and active waterfront is important not just for visitors, but also for residents’ quality of life,” he says. “Cities may own the properties, but they typically are not experienced at operating marina facilities, so partnerships with private operators can create win–wins.”
Like the Port of Everett on the West Coast, Waterside Marina is in a true maritime hub with all kinds of vessels. Van Benschoten’s office has a view of the Intracoastal Waterway, with all of its trawlers and other cruising boats, while the occasional tugboat or aircraft carrier might go by, bound for the city’s U.S. Navy base.
It’s a hectic scene where a marina with smart logistics and infrastructure—complemented by well-trained staff—can make all the difference to visiting cruisers who might need the name of a good mechanic, diver, detailer or other local service provider.
Concierge-style services are something that long-distance cruisers are now starting to expect at better marinas, Russo says. Helping boaters with whatever they need can create a fantastic impression, in addition to the marina’s facilities.
“Some stay open late when they know a boat is arriving after dark and might need help getting in and tying up,” Russo says. “Some offer courtesy cars if they’re not within walking distance of things to see and do, so that the boaters can explore the town. The marinas that realize transient boaters are arriving in a new place without the luxury of ground transportation, and go out of their way to accommodate them, are often the Looper favorites.”
Creating that level of service, like maximizing logistics and infrastructure opportunities, takes time. Lindhout says the Port of Everett Marina has been developing for half a century and continues to evolve along with the marine industry.
Back in the day, for instance, boaters didn’t necessarily pay as much attention to things like well-lighted facilities and good signage. Today, they want those things and more, be it secure gatehouses, larger boat launches or multiple pumpout stations. And expectations are always evolving: In keeping with today’s push for environmentally friendly practices, the port recently added a Seabin, which filters microplastics, oil sheen and debris out of the water.
While Lindhout names trendsetting as a key component to a benchmark waterfront, it’s the community, he says, that makes the great marinas tick. Public-private partnerships and grants can help marinas upgrade in ways that create a more vibrant waterfront scene, he says. That type of scene, in turn, will attract more boaters.
“Loopers aren’t really in it just for the boating component; the boat is their method of transportation to get from one place to the next,” she says. “But once they arrive in a new place, they want to see the town, meet the people, explore and learn the history of the places they are visiting. Any waterfront that helps make that possible in a convenient way is awesome.”
All of those qualities are things that people ashore and on boats came to appreciate even more during the Covid-19 pandemic—and that should make it clearer than ever to municipal planners and marina operators that smart waterfront development is a great way forward for transient cruisers and local residents alike.
“The appeal of being close to and connected to the water is not going away,” Van Benschoten says. “Places that embrace their waterfronts and position them as inviting destinations will continue to thrive.”