Boat owners need a place to keep their boats, both during the boating season and the off-season. While some boats can be kept on a trailer and launched, other vessels cannot -- and even boaters who have trailerable vessels often don’t want to have to launch and take out their boat every time they go out on the water.
A marina business offers boaters a place to keep their boats, docking or mooring them in the water during the boating season, and storing them on land the rest of the year.
Learn how to start your own Marina and whether it is the right fit for you.
Ready to form your LLC? Check out the Top LLC Formation Services.
Start a marina by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Marina
- Form your Marina into a Legal Entity
- Register your Marina for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Marina
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Marina
- Get Marina Insurance
- Define your Marina Brand
- Create your Marina Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your marina. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
What are the costs involved in opening a marina?
Starting up a marina business or purchasing an established one requires a significant financial investment. At the time of writing, there were 18 marinas for sale on Marinas for Sale. They ranged in price from $625,000 for a marina in Upstate New York to $8 million for a marina and hotel development opportunity in Florida.
One of the largest upfront expenses when building a marina is the installation of wet slips (places for boats to dock). These can cost $50,000 to $60,000 each, although there are ways to keep them more affordable. In addition to wet slips, marinas usually need equipment for taking boats in and out of the water, buildings for on-site storage, land for uncovered storage, a building for an office and insurance. Additionally, obtaining the necessary permits and licenses can be a long and expensive process.
Because it costs so much to build a marina, business owners who want to keep their costs manageable may prefer to buy an established marina. Getting an established marina can make the permitting and licensing process easier, and there won’t be a need to install wet slips. Business owners may be able to get an especially good deal if they can find a motivated seller, such as someone who’s becoming older and doesn’t have children who are interested in taking over the business.
Business owners that want to install new or additional wet slips might be able to reduce the cost of the slips by using floating docks. Floating docks are only practical if the water is always calm, and they need to be taken out before any ice comes. In calm areas of lakes that don’t freeze, though, these can be an inexpensive way to increase a marina’s docking space.
What are the ongoing expenses for a marina?
The ongoing expenses for a marina business, like the startup expenses, are significant. Some of the larger ongoing expenses include maintenance costs, employees’ wages, insurance premiums and licensing fees.
Who is the target market?
A marina business’ ideal customer is someone who owns a sailboat or powerboat that’s too large to easily trailer. Not only will such a boat need to be docked or moored during the boating season, but it will take up a lot of docking space. Since docking and storage fees are often charged by the size of a boat, the costs for keeping these boats can be high. Large powerboats also require a lot of fuel, which can bring in more revenue if a marina sells fuel.
How does a marina make money?
A marina business’ primary source of revenue comes from providing docking, mooring and storage for boats. Docking and storage fees are often charged based on the size of a boat.
Other potential sources of revenue include:
- Selling boating supplies and equipment
- Selling fuel for boats
- Selling fishing licenses (depending on a state’s licensing requirements)
One full-service marina in Minnesota even offers on-site entertainment and a firepit for evening gatherings.
How much can you charge customers?
Docking and storage fees vary a lot. How many amenities a marina offers, where a marina is located (both including its geographic region and particular location within a harbor, the size of a boat and the type of a boat all can affect how much a marina charges. For example, Mint Life reports that mooring rates for sailboats can range from a few hundred dollars per season to $1,000 or more per month. A marina in the caribbean charges $1.05 per foot of boat per day during the boating season (if paid daily)
How much profit can a marina make?
The profit potential of a marina also varies. How long the boating season is in a marina’s region and how big people’s boats are greatly impact how much a marina can make. A marina in a good location, however, can potentially earn tens of thousands of dollars, if not much more, each year.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Marina businesses can increase their revenue streams by partnering with charter fishing and tour boat companies. Often, these companies may be willing to pay a fee for any customers that a marina refers.
A marina may also hire a mechanic to service and repair boats. In some cases, this can become a very significant second revenue stream for a marina.
Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your marina is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from BILL and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
In most states, it is necessary to obtain a marina license. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
To decrease liability and increase transparency, it is best to have customers sign a Marina Storage Agreement. An example of such an agreement can be found here.
Marinas are periodically inspected by state health departments mainly to ensure that sewage is disposed of properly. A sample marina inspection checklist can be found here.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
FInd out what types of insurance your Marina needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Marina.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a marina
Connecting with local boating professionals is also one of the best ways to market a marina business. As a business owner connects with local captains, they’ll develop a reputation. When recreational boaters see commercial vessels at a marina, they’ll assume that the marina is a quality place to do business.
How to keep customers coming back
As is the case with many land-based businesses, location is extremely important when running a marina. Local boaters will want to be able to quickly get to the marina and take their boat out, so a marina should be easily accessible by road. Visiting boaters won’t have a car when they dock, so a marina should ideally be within walking distance of local shops, restaurants and other businesses. Finally, all boaters will want to be able to easily get into and out of a marina, so having easy access from the water is important.
It may take time to find a marina that’s easily accessible by road, walking and water, but a business owner’s patience in selecting a location will likely be well rewarded.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Is this Business Right For You?
People who are familiar with boats and mechanically inclined may be well-suited for owning a marina business. Having boating experience will help a business owner anticipate their customers’ needs. Basic mechanical skills can help reduce maintenance costs, as owners can make basic repairs to docks and other facilities themselves. These skills aren’t absolutely necessary, but they can help a lot.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a marina?
Most marina business owners are highly involved in their business’ daily operations. They both interact with customers and manage their business. Depending on what services a marina offers, a business owner may:
- Help boaters fuel up
- Sell boaters supplies and equipment
- Relay the day’s weather forecast
- Recommend places to go boating
- Help weigh fish
When not directly helping customers, a business owner may:
- Manage and schedule employees
- Reorder and restock products and supplies
- Repair docks and other facilities
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful marina?
A marina business owner should be able to maneuver a boat themselves, so they can help any customers who have trouble launching, docking, mooring or taking a boat out. While boaters are generally expected to be able to hand their own boats, helping an inexperienced boater or someone who’s having trouble is preferable to having them damage a dock or launch. For interested business owners who don’t have experience boating, the U.S. Coast Guard has a variety of safety courses that are offered throughout the country. Other organizations, such as BoatUS Foundation also offer courses on different aspects and types of boating.
Business owners also need to know how to manage employees and inventory, price their products and services, and market their marina. They also need to be familiar with environmental regulations, such as the Clean Boater Act. The Association of Marina Industries offers several levels of training on topics like these.
What is the growth potential for a marina?
Many marina businesses remain independent businesses with one location. Some, however, have grown to be regional or national chains. Freedom Boat Club, for instance, has more than 115 locations. Nautical Boat Clubs is a smaller franchise, with 10 locations in four states.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a marina?
Boaters will come to marina owners for all kinds of boating information. They might ask about the current weather conditions, the best places to go boating or what type of bait to use fishing.
To be able to answer customers’ questions, marina owners need to become very familiar with the waters surrounding their facility. They also should connect with captains of fishing charters and tour boats, as these captains are often the best source for current wind, weather, boating and fishing conditions. They’ll have knowledge that only locals possess.
How and when to build a team
The number of employees that a marina business needs depends on how many services it offers. A marina that only offers mooring may be able to get by with just one or two employees who help move boats and repair facilities. A marina that has products for sale, sells gas and offers other services may need several employees from the outset.