Stacks more than just storage

Marine Business visited Sydney Harbour Boat Storage to find out what’s on offer.

Sydney, we have a space problem. As the city becomes more congested and dwelling densities increase, boaters are increasingly finding themselves being squeezed out. The old quarter acre suburban block has been superseded by an
emphasis on urban consolidation, resulting in modern households having less room to store bulky items that may be used only a few times a year.

Local councils too are responding to the competition for parking space with new powers that will allow them to impound boats kept on the street. This puts an added pressure on boat owners, making it harder for them to keep and maintain a boat within easy reach of the city’s main waterways.

On-water marinas offer part of the solution but they are not suitable for all types of boats and getting new marina developments off the ground is never an easy process. In Sydney, too, there are often competing claims for foreshore and water access which makes increasing the availability of moorings and berths a constant battle with the authorities and residents.

For certain types of boaters, particularly those with power boats up to about 35ft, the use of dry storage or dry stacking is increasingly being seen as a viable option for gaining quick access to the Harbour. For these owners, the Harbour is still regarded the premier location for their recreational boating so anything which makes it easier for them to spend more time out on the water is obviously seen as an advantage – and worth paying for.

Currently there are three main commercial dry boat storage operations on the Harbour: Sydney Boathouse on Rozelle Bay next to the Sydney Superyacht Marina, Cockatoo Boat Storage on Cockatoo Island and Sydney Harbour Boat Storage at White Bay 6 Marine Park next to the Cruise Terminal.

Marine Business went along to meet Jeremy Rose, general manager at Sydney Harbour Boat Storage, to find out more about how the market for dry boat storage is developing.

Sydney lags behind in dry stacking

First up – the location. Perched at the end of White Bay on the Balmain peninsula opposite Barangaroo, it would hard to find a more Harbour-esque position. Hashtag heartoftheharbour indeed. Anybody who has been to the Glebe Island part of the Sydney International Boat Show will know the area as it is situated directly opposite. It is also an area that is going to be transformed in the coming years with plans mooted to transform the bayside wharfs with a mix of commercial/residential developments. Sydney Harbour Boat Storage, which holds long-term leases over the site, is well-placed to take advantage of these developments.

Dry boat storage on Sydney Harbour is not a new phenomenon but, even so, Jeremy Rose says the availability of local facilities still lags behind other boating markets, in particular the US and Europe where stacking is commonplace, but also compared to Queensland and WA.

The current site has 125 boats in storage (45 undercover) and is running at a 97% occupancy rate. There are plans to increase capacity to 220 boats by adding extra levels to the existing racks (they can go up to three high) and increase undercover storage by putting a canopy over part of the current outdoor racking. The custom-built racks are designed to allow for expansion as required: “As we grow, we build,” commented Rose.

Typical boat lengths are in the 25-28ft range although they can go up to 35ft depending on the boat. Tenants get access to services such as pre-arranged launching and retrieval of boats, washdown facilities, onsite refuelling and pump out, secure parking, a lounge area and change rooms – all at a price which Rose says is about 50% cheaper than a marina.

But does boat storage with access to the water really encourage owners to do more boating? Rose says participation rates are higher than the industry average although there are wide variations in usage; some boats, particularly share boats, will go out every possible weekend while other boats on the site will never hit the water even though the owners may visit regularly to tinker with them.

Appealing to the industry

While much of the interest in boat storage is focused on the retail side of it – the boat-owners – Rose is just as eager to highlight what the facility can offer the industry as a whole.

For instance, there are marine businesses such as Boab Boats and Collins Marine, NSW dealers for Arvor Boats, which also store their boats on site, partly because being out of the water helps keep them in better condition but also because it makes it easier for customers to come and see the boats. Having the boats on land means that potential customers can spend time inspecting them just as they would at, say, a boat show – and still have the option of going out for a sea trial. There is also a resident boat broker on site, Australian Boat Sales, providing another service for tenants who want to on-sell their boats.

The facilities on the site are also available for use by other marine businesses, for instance the lounge area has been used for industry association meetings and is ideal as a venue for product launches, especially for viewing boats on and off the water.

Boat storage also offers a number of benefits to the industry’s ancillary services. For people working on the boats, there is easy access at any time of the working week, no waiting for a boat to be hauled or arranging to meet up with owners at a time that suits them. This is a working boat yard with dozens of contractors employed on-site each month to carry out maintenance work. As such it plays an important role in greasing the wheels of the local marine economy.

Rose says he would like to see the industry work together to promote the benefits of storage. For instance, boat dealers will typically sell a boat and trailer package because that is the way it has always been done, but they could also sell the advantages of storage to customers as an alternative to finding a place to park a trailer. And if that results in a boat owner using their boat more often and getting more enjoyment out of it, then all well and good; happy boat owners are more likely to spend money on their boat and even upgrade to the next best model.

More than a warehouse

If you thought dry stacking just meant a warehouse for boats, then Sydney Harbour Boat Storage is demonstrating the potential for this type of operation to be a whole lot more. As Rose comments, it is more than just storage, it is storage and service.

“Our goal from the start has been to make it transparent and make it customer-focused,” he says.

While there are certain push factors at play forcing Sydney boat owners to consider very carefully how and where to keep their vessels, ultimately it is this focus on service and offering customers the facilities they want that may will see dry storage become an indispensable part of the city’s boating scene.

This article was first published in the August-September issue of Marine Business magazine.

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