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The global boating enthusiast community is increasing at a breakneck speed, with the common interest shifting towards bigger and beamier vessels. Consequently, the demand for well-designed marinas that can easily accommodate so many boats has risen to an all-time high. However, designing and constructing a high-quality marina isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Whether you’re building a small-scale or a large marina, proper understanding of the key concepts involved and planning accordingly is imperative to the project’s success. If you’re reading this, you are probably searching for how to design a marina and looking for expert marina planning advice, ranging from basic to complex design and infrastructure. 

If that’s the case, then your search ends here. This article explores deep into the science of professional marina design and construction, from key factors involved to materials, budget estimates, and much more. Without any further ado, let’s get started.

What Is A Marina & Why Is It Important?

Let’s start with the basics; what’s the deal with marinas? At its core, a marina is a sophisticated dockyard where yacht owners, boating enthusiasts and sailors park their inexpensive vessels. These boats or yachts are most commonly used as ferries, for ocean tourism, or for delivering goods via water routes. 

Most people often compare it with harbours, considering how these spaces also host massive ships that load in goods at times. Nevertheless, marinas are mostly dealing with smaller boats and pleasure craft than large cargo ships, unlike harbours. Also, as per common boating industry trends, many people use these fancy dockyards as recreational spaces for plain vessel-watching (only if the marina has enough space to entertain such activities).

People who live nearby waterbodies such as riversides or islands, recognize the importance of marinas the most. It’s quite impractical to always commute from such areas to mainlands or towns for small errands via large ships, which is why the demand for boats and yachts is rising by the day. Did you know that in 2021, North America alone saw the number of first-time boat owners surpassing 400,000 in total? Simultaneously, the need for marinas is increasing as they’re perfect to dock these small vessels. 

Key Dynamics That Influence the Designing of A Marina

So, are you looking forward to designing your first marina? Let’s understand this first: marina planning is highly dependent on a few important determinants. 

Although the visual appeal is quite crucial for design and construction, a lot more than that goes into creating a practical layout. Ranging from the type of raw materials used to weather conditions, aligning your plans as per these dynamics helps create a safe and customer-preferred marina.

Area Available for Marina Design

First and foremost, the type of marina one must design should adhere to the space available for development. You should focus on creating ample space for proper arrangements of slips to make the most room for onboarding boat owners. 

Apart from slips, the area available for development is also dependent on its location. For instance, ocean-based marinas are usually more spacious than small-sized lakeside marinas. But if you’re planning how to design a marina on small water bodies where mostly personally owned vessels visit, having enough room shouldn’t be an obstructing factor. 

Total Allocated Budget & ROI

Real estate project quality is highly reliant on its allocated budget; the higher you spend, the fancier the output. Likewise, when it comes to designing a marina, working on a handsome budget can seriously enhance the final result. However, if you’re planning to build a dock in the busier parts of your country, best believe the costs may shoot higher than in off-beat, seasonal areas.

It’s always recommended to ensure whether you’d make hefty returns on your investment for smart marina planning; figure out whether the area has high customer demand. If the marina starts projecting massive revenue from berthing ships and boats throughout all seasons, you’re more likely to earn back your investments much faster.

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Size & Category of Boats Used

Your target audience plays a major role in the design process, and here’s how:

As discussed earlier, space availability affects marina planning heavily and that’s because you need sufficient room to berth the vessels. Although hosting small-sized personal boats doesn’t need a lot of space, it’s not the case with bigger ships and yachts. 

If you’re planning to berth large vessels and mega yachts, ensure to add the necessary infrastructure appendages (lifts, side-tie space, etc). Thoroughly analyzing what boat category your marina is capable of berthing is key to proper marina planning.

Customer & Staff Safety Attributes

Safety should always be a high priority, whether you’re building a pastry store or an Oceanside marina. These spaces are usually more prone to safety and security hazards, and the design must consider these points.

First, prepare the marina to respond to potential fire hazards occurring due to fuel or ignition malfunctions by adding fire alarms, smoke detectors, extinguishers, etc. Keep first aid kits and other necessary medical facilities at hand for any unprecedented emergency. Last but not least, install warning and exit route sign boards to easily navigate the people present in the marina to stay protected from hazardous situations.

Climatic/Weather Restrictions

Next on our marinas, the design factors list is the most impactful of all — weather conditions. 

Before finalizing what type of dock to use, figure out the most frequent climatic situations and tidal cycles that the location goes through the year. If it’s most freezing or snow-laden, you may have to invest in different types of raw materials than you would for marinas in tropical atmospheres. For instance, polyethylene is more durable and damage-resistant in colder temperatures than regular wood. 

Besides, always have a backup plan to protect your marina from sudden weather challenges — read more about preparing your marina for hurricane seasons here.

How Much Does Marina Design & Construction Cost?

Next, how much do marinas design cost, on average? Sadly, there isn’t an accurate estimate as the expenses mostly depend on customer demands varying from place to place. 

For instance, building a marina in areas where the boating culture is widely appreciated, such as Florida, can cost you around USD 8 million. However, you can establish the same marina in New York, where boating isn’t as popular for less than USD 700,000.

Apart from the customer demand, the expenses also heavily rely on the quality of raw materials used for construction. If you’re using top-quality steel or wood, the budget will shoot up. Other imperative factors behind expenses include the total number of hired staff and their working hours.

To read 9 tips on effective marina management, click here.

What Materials Do You Need To Build A Marina?

Selecting the right construction materials is imperative to marina planning, as these components sustain the dockyard throughout different weather conditions. 

The material you’d require also depends on the construction site dynamics and your business goals behind marina development. Thus, ensure to choose low-maintenance, sustainable surface materials to build a strong marina that doesn’t demand an arm and a leg for periodic servicing. 


Being the most commonly used marina construction material, choosing the right type of wood is pertinent for its long-term sustainability. 

Here’s the biggest challenge: wood is prone to rotting quicker than its alternatives. In this case, opting for hardwoods can be an ideal choice; however, you’d need to clean and oil it periodically to prevent any damage caused by water intrusion.

On the other hand, choosing pressure-treated wooden surfaces enhances the aesthetic appeal of your marina’s design, but it also requires higher maintenance.


If you prioritize super low maintenance and longer sustainability over the visual appeal, using concrete for dock construction is your safest bet. Besides, newly introduced additives and advanced treatments make it even more sustainable in rigorous weather, disproving the age-old myth that concrete is highly ineffective in freezing climates. Dock manufacturers mostly apply concrete to build heavy-duty breakwaters, tiles, and pools on the property.


This goes without saying, aluminum is possibly the lowest-maintenance material on this list. Highly resistant to rotting and corrosion, it takes only a little vinegar or baking soda formula to maintain aluminum components in your marina.

However, aluminum oxidizes very quickly, which adversely affects its appearance. 


Using steel is pertinent to marinas design and it is mostly used to construct the supporting components for docks and piles. Both galvanized and stainless steel is highly durable and rot-resistant.

However, you may witness minor corrosion from time to time, which again hides easily under a paint coating.


Plastic, especially polyethylene, isn’t affected by water intrusion and does not require any maintenance at all.

Marina designers mainly use plastic for benches, floating docks, gangways, etc. Unlike wood, plastic doesn’t splinter or need sharp nails, which makes it a safer base for people to commute barefoot.

Popular Marina Design Trends to Follow

Now that we’ve discussed how to design a marina, let’s take this learning further and enlist some design trends that enhance your marina’s value. Customer preferences have evolved with time, transcending marinas from boat berthing spots to pastime destinations. 

That said, these futuristic design ideas will help your marina business last for years to come:

Going Green For Marina Construction

Marinas, in general, are quite notorious for being not so environmentally friendly. As per the United States Environmental Protection Agency, these luxurious dockyards often contribute to high toxicity levels in the water, boost pollutant concentrations among water-based organisms, and skyrocket erosion levels. 

However, “going green” or incorporating eco-friendly components while designing can help your marina stand out from the rest. For instance, refraining from wood and using polyethylene instead prevents polluting the aquatic environment, as wood tends to stain more. 

Revamping the Usual Material, Colors & Styles

Marinas that are more visually appealing are more preferred by customers, compared to old stereotypically-designed docks. Recent boating industry trends include building customized marinas with different themes, styles, and colour schemes to attract more customers. 

Adding More Fun Shoreline Attractions

Marina customers have changed over time; not everybody prefers spending all their time boating. In many cases, the boat owners sail down to the marinas to relax and spend some quality time on the spot itself. 

You can make the most of this trend by adding a list of fun-filled shoreline amenities. For instance, keeping fast food takeaways, dine-in restaurants, or swimming pools as a key part of your marina planning helps keep your customers happy. You can also build more inviting spaces for enthusiasts to gather, communicate and stay engaged. Besides, it also adds extra revenue to support any periodic maintenance or other critical expenses.

Advanced Wave Protection Attributes

Massive waves usually rise by hurricanes, mega yachts, or cargo ships, which adversely impact the marina property. To prevent your property and the berthed small boats from any sort of damage, it’s imperative to install larger breakwaters or floatable attenuators in the marina. Apart from storm safety, larger attenuators increase dock space as an added advantage.

Your Marina Is Set Up: What About Maintenance?

Proper maintenance is crucial for the long-term success and sustainability of a marina. Implementing a proactive maintenance plan helps ensure the safety, functionality, and appearance of the marina. Here are some important tips for maintaining a marina:

Regular Inspections: Conduct routine inspections of all marina components, including docks, pilings, gangways, and electrical systems. Inspect for signs of wear and tear, corrosion, loose or damaged fasteners, and any potential hazards. Promptly address any issues detected during inspections to prevent further damage.

Cleaning and Debris Removal: Regularly clean the marina to remove debris, leaves, trash, and other waste that can accumulate around the docks and shorelines. This helps maintain a clean and inviting environment for boat owners and visitors while preventing potential blockages in drainage systems.

Piling Maintenance: Inspect and maintain the integrity of pilings, which provide support for the docks. Check for signs of degradation, such as rot, marine growth, or damage caused by pests. Implement measures to protect pilings from marine borers and other pests, such as using protective coatings or wraps.

Electrical System Maintenance: Regularly inspect and maintain the marina’s electrical infrastructure, including power pedestals, wiring, and safety systems. Check for signs of corrosion, loose connections, or damaged electrical components. Ensure that electrical systems are up to code and regularly tested for safety.

Dock and Gangway Maintenance: Inspect docks and gangways for structural integrity, rot, decay, or any other damage. Replace any worn-out or damaged components promptly to avoid safety hazards. Clean and treat wooden surfaces regularly to prevent slipperiness and maintain their appearance.

Water Quality Management: Monitor and manage water quality in and around the marina. Implement practices to prevent pollution, such as proper waste disposal, fuel spill containment, and regular water testing. Install appropriate filtration systems to maintain good water quality and prevent the growth of harmful organisms.

Facility Maintenance: Maintain marina facilities and amenities, including bathrooms, showers, fueling stations, and waste disposal services. Regularly clean and inspect these facilities to ensure they are in good working condition and meet hygiene standards.

Emergency Preparedness: Develop and regularly review an emergency response plan to handle unforeseen events, such as severe weather conditions or accidents. Clearly mark emergency exits, install appropriate signage, and provide training to staff on emergency procedures.

Communication and Customer Service: Foster open communication with marina users, boat owners, and staff to identify and address maintenance concerns promptly. Respond to customer feedback and take necessary actions to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction. Regularly communicate maintenance schedules, updates, and any potential disruptions to marina operations to keep boat owners informed.

By following these maintenance tips, marina managers can ensure the longevity, safety, and overall success of their marina. Implementing a proactive maintenance approach reduces the need for major repairs and enhances the overall experience for boat owners and visitors.

*Note: DockMaster’s marine management software includes features that facilitate maintenance tracking, work orders, and preventive maintenance scheduling, enabling marina managers to streamline their maintenance processes and ensure efficient operations.

Wrapping Up

Here’s the biggest secret about how to design a marina that stays in business profitably: put your customers and staff first throughout the journey. In a nutshell, marinas that rank high in safety and offer attractive features to engage the customers will always outlast their competition.

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