Demand is high, and growing, for larger slip sizes at the Palm Beach Docks.

As the season gets going, visiting boaters are calling several times a day looking for temporary hitching spots. But they're being turned away because the docks can't accommodate their size. "There's become such a demand for bigger boats, and there's not enough space for them," said Dockmaster Mike Horn. "Last week, the phone didn't stop ringing. A lot of people will call, and we just have to say 'no.' "

The 38 slips for 100-foot-plus yachts are completely booked, with seasonal and annual leases. The Brazilian, Australian and Peruvian docks have 83 total slips. There are 14 50-foot, 15 60-foot, 16 80-foot and 17 110-foot slips; but only eight 100-foot, five 120-foot and five 130-foot slips. There are also three "T-head" slips at the end of each dock that are occupied by megayachts. Horn said the marina does its best to accommodate the high demand for large slips by "double-dipping." That involves sub-leasing slips to transient vessels when full-time lease-holders are gone for extended periods. Visitors may stay for a few nights or a few weeks, depending on what's available at the time.

Horn said current customers do a decent job of letting him know when they'll leave and when they'll return. "It's a juggling act at times, but it's a good problem to have," he said. "This time of year is really when you make the big bucks with the transient boats coming to town." Recreation Director Jay Boodheshwar agreed that sub-leasing slips to transient vessels is a great way to maximize profits. The monthly winter transient fees, which started Nov. 1, are about double the annual-lease rates.

For example, the owner of a 100-foot yacht would pay about $3,200 a month with an annual lease, but about $6,000 a month with the transient rate. The demand is so high, some slip-holders pay thousands to hang on to an empty spot, according to Horn. "We have one person who hasn't even closed on their boat yet and is paying for the slip. We have one person who's in the boatyard until March and still wants their slip." There is a waiting list for interested customers. Boodheshwar said that, as far as the town is concerned, the wait-list situation has improved significantly since last year. "Over the last few years, there were potential customers who never bothered to call because there was an impression in our market that you can't get into the Town of Palm Beach docks because the wait-list is so long," he explained.

"We've narrowed the list down, and we now have a viable list of customers who are really interested, as well as a step-by-step procedure to fill slips." Horn said there are currently five people on the wait-list, but it will fill up over the season. He said several transient boaters and seasonal lease-holders also will ask to upgrade to an annual lease. Once people do get an annual lease, they usually stay. "People like it here," Boodheshwar said. "It's safe, it's secure, it's quaint, it's not very busy, it's walking distance to the beach and Worth Avenue, and the rates are competitive. The only reasons we really lose boats from the marina is if they decide not to come back to Florida, or they sell." When customers do decide to sell their boats, they almost always upgrade to something larger, Horn said. "In the long run, there should be something done to accommodate these boats, because they're going to get bigger and bigger. They never go smaller." In fact, Boodheshwar said, the town will conduct feasibility studies within the next two years, and all three docks will be replaced within the next 10 years.

 "We know we can't rebuild as is," he noted. "When we do the re-do, we're going to consider the trend toward larger vessels, we're going to make sure we have the power and utility requirements these newer vessels need, and we're going to look very hard at floating docks."

Article Author: Aleese Kopf