Online Marina Reservations wins 2014 IMBC Best Profit Idea award

This year’s International Marina and Boatyard Conference (IMBC) participants were encouraged to compete in the events all-new Best Profit Idea competition where the audience conducted a live vote to choose their favorite profit-building idea.

With a crowded hall, the smartphone-wielding audience listened to three brief ways to build profit in your own marina. Boating Industry sponsored the event, and submitted ideas included the Vertilift dry-storage system from Florida’s Inlet Harbor, PWC-specific docks from Saybrook Point Marina in Connecticut and an online pontoon reservation system from Rockvam Boat Yards on Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka.

Inlet Harbor’s Vertilift

Dick Neland presented Inlet Harbor’s Vertilift system, which was so successful the facility already had a waiting list a few months after implementing the idea.

The crux of Neland’s plan was implementing the Inlet Harbor Advantage System that encouraged customers to use their boats more often through an increased list of perks for the marina’s customers.

Little things like free ice or fuel discounts lead to the idea to install vertical boat lifts that would allow customers to easily lift their boats out of the water. After installing the first two lifts, the empty wet slips rented for $9 per foot. Vertical lift customers rent for $15 per foot with a 12-month contract. In less than a year, ten lifts have been installed and rented for a full year, with clear demand for more.

The return on investment was fewer than 20 months.

“We think that was the best profit idea we have done in many, many years,” Neland said. “Fuel sales increased 29 percent, dry storage increased 21 percent a nd wet slips including vertical lifts was up 41 percent.”

IMBC2Saybrook Point’s PWC Docks

Abbie McAllister manages the 120-slip, resort-style Saybrook Point Marina just east of New Haven, Connecticut. The 27-year-old marina was looking to attract a different audience, and looked to accommodate different boats to accomplish its goal.

“How many of you want to bring in a younger clientele … and a more diverse group in your marina?” McAllister asked the audience at the Best Profit Idea presentation.

Her marina’s solution was to focus on personal watercrafts that are a popular and more affordable choice for many of the area’s younger boaters. Using a space that hadn’t been very popular in the past, the facility converted it to six PWC ports that were rented for $1,200 per season, a potential annual income of $7,200.

“We found in addition to the Jet Skis we could put inflatable boats on them … keeping them out of the water so the bottoms didn’t have to be washed,” she said.

The idea was an immediate success, and the last two PWC slips were rented within two weeks of their installation. That has resulted in a return on investment of 2.1 years where, “after that, it’s just gravy.”

While the ultimate goal was improved customer satisfaction, the idea simultaneously monetized an underperforming space at the marina, while also encouraging more PWC use, which tended to attract younger boaters on a daily basis, keeping the whole family happy during their stay.

“This kind of investment is hard to beat,” McAllister said. “The added bonus was showing our customers we were listening to their ideas — the next generation of boaters spending time at our marina ensures the future of boating.”

Rockvam’s Online Reservations

Located on the shores of Lake Minnetonka on the west side of the Twin Cities, Rockvam Boat Yards recently upgraded its pontoon reservation system from a FAX-based setup to a modern online reservation system. The change lead to a profit increase of 28 percent in a single season.

Rockvam found many of its customers laughing at the question, “Can I get a FAX number to FAX [you our] contract?” The reaction was understandable, given the antiquated technology’s lack of availability outside office environments. They called such customers IDHAFs, which stands for I don’t have a FAX.

The business made the decision to use an online reservation system in the winter of 2011-2012, and the design and implementation of the site was $15,000. Monthly hosting and gateway fees are approximately $100.

Rockvam created three levels of pontoons in its fleet — regular, special and deluxe. Pricing differs depending on if it’s a weekday, weekend or holiday. By going online, customers can check the availability of each boat type, allowing them to upgrade their boat or pick another day to accommodate their personal schedule. Smaller upgrades, like a captain’s hat or coolers filled with soda are also available.

The online system also prompts them to check 13 individual contract items to save staff time and eliminate the phenomenon of customers saying, “nobody told me” about key policy items.

Aside from keeping its customers inline, Rockvam’s system also ensures that its own employees are following established protocol, which eliminates special case treatment that has maximized the use of its fleet and increased profits.

“Average daily rentals in June, July and August went from 89 boats to 10-12 boats a day,” said Roxanne Rockvam. “We also maxed out our Saturdays, and Sundays are almost maxed out.”

The winner

All presenters were invited to speak for 10 minutes to explain their ideas. After all had taken their turn on stage, audience members were instructed to choose their favorite idea and submit their result by text message.

Following a brief interlude, live voting results were displayed on the overhead screen. The final tally was overwhelming, with 52 choosing Rockvam Boat Yards’ online reservation system. Second place went to Saybrook Marina, while 19 chose Inlet Harbor’s vertical dry lifts.

Rockvam received an iPad, a free yearlong AMI membership and free entry to next year’s IMBC event.


More information about the program and next year’s IMBC is available at

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