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What to Look for in a Marina Contract

Even the fairest marina contract will be slanted in favor of the marina as it — or more likely its lawyers — wrote it. This doesn't mean there's no option but to sign on the bottom line. Not everything in a contract is written in stone, and many adjustments can be made with both parties simply initialing them. In addition to minor revisions, there may be things you want added to the contract, as well as other items you want clarified in more detail. The following is an overview of what to look for in a marina contract.

The contract term is one of the first considerations. Many marinas will offer yearly terms only that require anything from "first, last and security" to simply cutting the first month's check. Ask about pre-payment discounts, more commonly found at smaller establishments. Some marinas will allow for seasonal dockage or six-month agreements for boat owners who summer up north then cruise south for a more boating-friendly winter. Another option, though rarely offered at least during the first year, is to rent month-to-month.

Traditionally, the longer the term the better the rate, and if it's the same rate, you at least have the peace of mind in knowing you're buffered against a rate increase for the full term. Or are you? That's something else to clarify. More marinas than one might expect will allow a boater to go month-to-month after the first year or two. The downside of month-to-month is that it usually offers no protection against sudden or repeated rate increases.

If you're thinking of selling your boat in the next 12 months this probably overrides any cost issues, as you're avoiding contract early termination penalties. Before you sign anything, find out what those penalties may be, and how much notice you have to give at the end of each contract term, whether you want to move or renew. Also find out what happens if you trade in your boat for another vessel that's larger or smaller. Do you have to start all over again, or will they simply up/downgrade you to a different slip?

If you can't get the exact slip or dry storage slot you want, check if you can you move into another available location and be put on a "wait list." Or, once you've moved in, are you stuck with that spot? On the other hand, if you adore your location, read the fine print to make sure the marina management cannot move you elsewhere arbitrarily. Check if the marina has the right to move you temporarily for situations such as facility repairs without informing you in advance.

Fees are another concern, especially for dry storage boaters. Find out if there's a limited amount of times you can be put in the water per month. Likewise, check if there's a fee for being put in a work rack; as well as being loaded onto or off of your trailer, if you want to take the boat on the road for a weekend. The last is the most likely, and the charge can be several dollars per foot each time the boat is on/off-loaded. Commonly, the first off-loading when you arrive and the last reloading when you leave the marina are included.

There may be times when you want to allow someone else access to your boat, whether for pleasure or repair. Find out how you "approve" family and friends to use your boat without you. Likewise, can you have your mechanic work on the boat at the marina? If yes, what type of insurance will he need to show the dockmaster? How do you approve him to take the boat off-site to work on at his shop if needed?

Then, there's the hot button of all marina contracts: insurance. What coverages do they have? What coverages do they insist you have, and do you have to show them as an additional insured on your policy? Does the contract contain a clause that holds them harmless for liability issues, such as if they damage your boat while moving it in/out of the water or for other situations such as construction or marina maintenance? If the marina loses power and your bilge pump stops working, who's responsible for the water damage? Do you have to move your boat out if severe weather is forecast?

Lastly, look for less common clauses. Some marinas require, due to fire marshal regulations, that all gas tanks be topped up during end-of-season storage with the thought that less fumes means reduced chance of explosion.

Remember, just about anything can be written into a contract. Read the fine print.

Editor's note: This is the companion article to "What to Look for in a Marina," which can be found here: www.heartlandboating-digital.com/heartlandboating/june_2014#pg20.

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