Eric VanSteensburg, yard manager at Paugus Bay Marina, removes a boat from the water so that it may be prepped for winter storage. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — "It's a dance," remarked Michael Keegan of Irwin Marine, explaining that the pinch points of storing boats are in the spring, when everyone wants their boat in the water on Memorial Day, and in the fall, when everyone wants their boat stowed away for winter. "Our goal is to have 1,000 happy customers," he said, which requires not only sufficient but also qualified staff to manage it.
Marinas in the region store thousands of boats. Some, like Thurston's Marina, which operates on eight acres at The Weirs, have all their storage capacity on site. Others, like Lakeport Landing, which has two heated buildings and enough land for a third in Gilford, rely on remote locations. And still others follow the maxim of Kory Keenan at Paugus Bay Marina, who said simply "any little bit of heated space we can find, we rent it."
That is music to the ears of Michelle Dupont of the Opechee Inn and Spa, who has secure heated space for around 200 boats, along with recreational vehicles and automobiles, on her property off Elm, which is close to three marinas. Unlike the marinas, she said they only offer space, leaving the responsibility to winterize, service and transport the boats to her patrons, which include marinas. She said she rents for a minimum of six months and typically requires boats be trailered for between $5.50 and $7 per square foot.
Don Thurston said the marina began racking boats in three-sided, roofed buildings 45 years ago. He said the marina never liked shrink wrap and prefers cold to heated storage, believing that boats dry out and escape damp in the cold. But, boats are serviced in a 100,000-square-foot building with a radiant-heated floor where the temperature is a steady 65 degrees. "Boats are ready to go in the water in January, February and March," he said, "and our employees are working year round."
Keegan said Irwin Marine stores more than 1,000 boats, some shrink-wrapped on site and two-thirds to three-quarters in heated buildings at remote locations. Once the boats are stowed, he said, they are assessed, and every customer is sent a form with recommendations for servicing and maintenance specific to their boat and they are asked to choose a date when they wish to launch. "We do our best," said Keegan, acknowledging that while between 30 and 40 boats can be launched on a given date, not all preferences can be granted.
Everyone agreed space is at premium. "There has been a shortage of space for years now," Dupont said, "and the demand is growing." Likewise, they all said they were considering adding storage space to existing facilities or seeking to acquire land to expand. Recently the Laconia Airport Authority agreed to sell a three-acre parcel on Lily Pond Road to Fay's Boatyard in Gilford for boat storage, pending the approval of the Federal Aviation Authority.
However, Keegan cautioned that a successful storage operation requires manpower as well as space. He said that while additional space may be filled with boats, without the qualified personnel to get them in and out of the water, the result may be dissatisfied customers. Marinas, it appears, like other businesses in the Lakes Region, are challenged by the tight market for labor.
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