Another sign of the county’s fledgling economic recovery: Boating is coming back.
After the recession cut demand for boat slips and put to rest waitlists at the county’s marinas, operators now say an improving economy is helping to fill space for the busy summer season.
“I’ve been very aggressive at keeping full,” said Sue Sigrist, manager of Sunset Aquatic Marina in Sunset-Huntington Harbor, a county marina within Huntington Beach.
Sunset Aquatic, part of Los Angeles-based real estate company Goldrich & Kest Industries LLC, leases marina operations from the county.
Most of the space freed up at local marinas during the downturn was for smaller boats up to 45 feet in length.
Sunset Aquatic saw about 20 slips for boats 30 feet and smaller free up during the recession. Now nearly all 244 of its slips are rented, and it’s readying another waitlist, according to Sigrist.
Sunset Aquatic also is nearly rented out of dry storage spaces for boats off the water, she said.
Even with an uptick in demand, deals still can be had on space for smaller boats.
During the downturn, Sigrist said she lowered slip rents by as much as 25%. The monthly cost of a 30-foot slip rental went from $434 to $357, or down by 14% to $12 per foot.
She also started charging a flat monthly fee of $130 per month for dry storage, instead of $8 per foot, a better deal for boats larger than 15 feet.
Marinas with more space for smaller boats saw higher vacancies in the downturn because it was easier for boaters to move them off the water and into their driveways.
Other boat owners who were financially strapped had to sell their boats or saw them repossessed.
Most slips for boats 40 feet and up—typically upscale yachts—still have waitlists. Those owners were less affected by the downturn.
Demand for bigger boat space was strong enough that many of the county’s marinas weathered the downturn without lowering prices.
The members-only Balboa Bay Club marina, part of Balboa Bay Club & Resort in Newport Beach, has kept its rates steady and may raise them this year.
It still has a waitlist for boats 45 feet and up.
But for smaller boats, Balboa Bay Club has exhausted its waitlist and has a few slips available, including two 25-foot slips going for $22 per foot a month, one 30-foot space at $26 per foot a month and three 35-foot spaces at $31 a foot.
“I hadn’t had a vacancy since 2000,” said Robert Wilson, dock master. “All of a sudden, I had seven.”
Wilson said he’s rented a few open slips in the past couple of weeks.
With space available and summer coming, people are buying again, he said.
“Things are starting to settle down,” Wilson said.
Boat slip prices at local marinas range anywhere from $12 per foot to $55 per foot.
Slip rentals cost the most in Newport Beach, which has about 18 marinas. Most Newport Beach marinas are at least 90% full, according to a recent city marina survey.
Newport Harbor, made up mostly of privately owned marinas, is the largest in the county with about 9,000 boats.
There are about 4,500 in Sunset-Huntington.
Dana Point Harbor, owned by the county, is the smallest of the three with 2,400 boat slips.
Dana Point rents have held steady for the past several years and start at $268 per month for boats up to 24 feet, or $13 per foot.
Dana Point, 94% full, has about 144 spaces out of 2,400 spaces available.
All of the available spaces are for boats 25 feet and smaller.
For much of the past decade, Dana Point was full, said Doug Whitlock, general manager for Dana Point Marina Co., which runs the east side of the marina for the county. But in 2008, vacancies opened up, he said.
Prices, tied to the consumer price index, haven’t gone up or down in the past two years, Whitlock said.
Most marina operators in the county are private companies, including Newport Beach-based BellPort Group Inc. and California Recreation Co., part of Newport Beach-based Irvine Company.
The three harbors have about 15,000 of the county’s registered boats, according to the Orange County Harbor Patrol/Marine Operations Bureau.
There are about 70,000 boats registered in the county, with the majority towed on a trailer to the water from someone’s driveway or elsewhere on land.
Balboa Yacht Basin marina, owned by the city of Newport Beach, has stayed full despite some turnover in recent years, said Chris Miller, harbor resources manager for the city.
“Our marina has been 100% full for many years,” he said.
The city hires Newport Beach-based Basin Marine Inc. to run the marina, which has 172 slips.
Balboa Yacht Basin is cheaper than other marinas in Newport Harbor and hasn’t raised prices since the early 2000s, according to Miller.
Slip rent for a 31-foot to 39-foot boat is $558 per month, or $18 per foot. For a boat 50 feet and up, it costs $1,150 per month, or $23 a foot.
Irvine Co.’s California Recreation runs four marinas in Newport Beach and has some of the highest slip rental rates.
A 32-foot boat slip at California Recreation’s Bayshore Marina costs $992 per month, or $31 per foot, according to a survey by the city of Newport Beach.
Bayshore Marina has 134 slips.
California Recreation also runs Bayside Marina with 102 slips, Balboa Marina with 105 slips and Villa Cove Marina with 42 slips.
Peter’s Landing Marina, a private marina with 325 slips in Huntington Harbor, has four spaces available for boats 35 feet and smaller, according to Joanie Seaton, who manages the marina with her husband, Scott Seaton.
The last time space was available was about five years ago, she said.
Peter’s Landing Marina charges from $12.50 a foot to $18.50 a foot, prices that have been luring former Newport Beach renters, Joanie Seaton said.
She said she is optimistic that come summer, her marina will be full again.
“I’m having a lot of activity in just the last week,” she said. “Memorial Day is coming, summer is coming and they’re getting the bug.”