What to expect at an unfamiliar marina

Published online: Mar 06, 2012 Feature Brandon Barrus
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Everyone has his favorite body of water. Whether it's a lake, a reservoir, a river or what can be classified as a pond, familiar areas are comforting. And part of that familiarity is knowing the ins and outs of your marina. What are the hours? What fees do you deal with? Is the food at the restaurant any good? Are there areas of the lake that are off-limits? All of these things are second nature to us, and that's why we keep coming back to the same place.

But sometimes, the itch for adventure can strike and propel us toward another lake, another reservoir, another pond. And with that adventure comes uncertainty and the fear of the unknown. Maybe you've spent 30 minutes getting tied up to a slip in a new marina, only to be told later it was reserved for someone else. Or maybe the fried pickles weren't as good as advertised on the menu. Regardless, going in blind can be a tough spot to find one's self in, and here at Houseboat, we'd like to help you with that.

Announce Your Arrival

For some insight on how to avoid blunders when arriving at a new marina, I interviewed Mark Wood, the manager of picturesque Moors Resort and Marina on Kentucky Lake in Gilbertsville, Ky. Wood was quick to note that the harbor is very large and gets very busy during the peak months of June, July and August.

"Larger houseboats and rental houseboats should call on channel 16 for instructions before entering the harbor," Wood explained.

This can be a tricky point for novices who are unfamiliar with the radio, but if you fail to notify the marina of your approach, you may create a logjam of boats and chaos could ensue.

One look at an aerial view of the harbor (www.moorsresort.com) and you'll see how a very busy July Fourth weekend could lead to problems unless everyone is on the same page. Similar issues exist at every marina, so be sure to radio ahead on posted channels to be sure you're part of the solution and not adding to potential chaos.

Wood also suggested paying attention to the weather conditions upon arrival at Moors Resort and Marina.

"The only thing that boaters should be aware of is the direction of the wind," Wood said.

"Rarely, but occasionally, boats have been known to blow into the first large covered dock because of a strong northerly wind. However, there is plenty of room to compensate and stay safe."

Otherwise, entering the harbor is as easy as 1-2-3. As soon as you enter through the breakwater, everything is in view and it is fairly obvious where to go from there.

Rental Options

Like many marinas, Carolina Marina, on Belews Lake in North Carolina, offers pontoon boat  rentals on a half-day or full-day basis. Be aware of this option, as it may be cheaper just to rent a 'toon for a day once you arrive rather than tow your own personal runabout with you. The marina also offers cottage rentals, in case you can't comfortably accommodate your entire extended family on your houseboat during the family reunion. The name "cottage" is a bit misleading here, as the living quarters include two bedrooms, two bathrooms and central air, so be sure to make your reservations early (www.carolinamarina.com), as they go fast.

Windjammer Marina on Crooked Lake in Michigan is a popular destination for houseboaters, and the website www.houseboating.org includes a list of frequently asked questions and answers for new arrivals. The FAQ explains that pets are allowed on rental houseboats, though an extra $15 fee per pet is charged. The information includes a month-by-month list of temperatures at the marina, which allows smart packing as to what types of clothing to bring along for the weekend.

Call Ahead

When in doubt, pick up the phone and call. Every marina has a staff of people willing to answer your questions and make sure your trip to their little slice of heaven is as smooth and worry-free as possible. If no one is available at the time you call, give the Internet a try. It seems every little store on every lake has a website these days, and what better information to put on there than tips for new boaters?

So there you have it: be sure a new marina knows you're coming, be aware of the amenities available and call ahead to be aware of any little quirks you should know about. Complete these three steps and your adventure to a new lake should go off without a hitch!

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