Improve Access and Improve your Marina Customers’ Experience

Conscious design choices can enhance ease of accessibility within your marina. Learn 5 things that will promote universal access and guarantee a positive experience for all your customers.

Bellingham Marine's concrete docks at Silver Gate Yacht Club

A dock that is well-lit, has a wide, stable walking surface and is free of trip hazards is appreciated by all boaters.


A happy, satisfied customer can be a business’s best marketing tool. Their word of mouth marketing has the power to quickly build you up or tear you down.

Give your customers something to talk about. Like how much they appreciate the ease with which they are able to navigate your docks. And how comfortable it is to be tied up at your marina.

The idea of accessibility or Barrier Free Access is nothing new. These terms are often used to describe the extent to which an environment is accessible by people with physical limitations or disabilities.

In the United States, the Access Board, a federal agency committed to accessible design gives guidelines for boating facilities, to ensure compliance with mandated accessibility and barrier free access laws and codes. Many other countries have a similar governing body which oversees legal accessibility requirements.

Code requirements often include:


Beyond legal accessibility guidelines is the idea of universal design.

Universal design is concerned with making things more accessible, safer, and convenient for everyone. The concept of universal design is gaining popularity in many building sectors and has largely replaced the idea of “barrier-free modifications,” which are adaptations designed to simply meet code.

When we look beyond what’s required by code, we can create a space that best meets the needs of a diverse human population and results in a positive user experience for a broad customer base.

There are 5 key design elements that can impact the level of accessibility within your marina. These are dock surface, dock stability, live load capacity, freeboard and lighting.

1. Dock Surface:

Wide, smooth surfaces with a non-slip finish are ideal for the elderly, young children and individuals with physical limitations. Uneven or slick surfaces can be a trip or fall hazard and make it difficult to navigate the docks.

2. Dock Stability:

A dock that is solid and stable offers users the best possible experience. Floating docks that are prone to movement or feel spongy underfoot can compromise an individual’s sense of balance and limit their ability to move around the docks independently.

3. Live Load Capacity:

Another factor to consider is live load capacity. A wide dock with a high live load capacity can easily handle golf cart traffic and motorized chairs safely and will improve accessibility to your dock slips.

High live load capacity also allows crowds to gather on the docks without fear of sinking or tilting.

4. Freeboard:

Another design element to keep in mind is freeboard. Freeboard is the height of the dock from the surface of the water. When a dock’s freeboard takes into consideration the size and type of boat moored alongside the dock, loading and unloading from the vessel is easier for everyone.

5. Lighting:

Lighting is another factor that can impact an individual’s ability to get around the docks safely. Accent lighting on gangways and along a dock’s edge can be of great benefit to young children and anyone with impaired sight.

The items above not only improve ease of access on the docks but have a business purpose as well. They support a sustainable business strategy, accommodate an aging and more diverse boating population, and broadcasts a set of values.

It’s worth noting the world’s population is rapidly aging. The current average age of boat owners is 59 years and steadily increasing.

According to a study commissioned by Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in 2009, an aging population is predicted to decrease Florida’s boating by nearly 2%. “If we are able to meet the demands of the changing demographics, it is possible for the state to see less or no decline in boating demand,” said Pat Harrell of FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section in reaction to the study’s findings.

Concepts employed in universal design are appreciated by everyone, not just individuals with mobility limitations. They can become a source of competitive advantage – not to mention a source of positive P.R.

Remember, the aim of universal design is to produce environments that are usable and effective for all.

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