To the Editor:
The Marina Users’ Bill of Rights (H7525) was held for further study this year despite two hearings and three mediation sessions. Boaters are busily getting into the full swing of the boating season and may have been unaware that the issue of boaters’ rights has been another hot button legislative item with independent marine businesses and a handful of large marinas debating for the third legislative session about who has the right to provide goods and services to boat owners and what role the boaters play in that relationship. Some of these marinas insist that because the marina is their private property they have ultimate control over everything on the property, including the boats that rent slip or storage space.
The independent marine businesses like mine argue that a boat owner renting space from a marina should have the right to determine who he or she believes is best qualified to provide the goods and services for the boat. Boaters should not have to pay a financial penalty or surcharge to a marina or be at risk of losing slip or storage space if he or she hires an outside contractor over the marina staff when the outside contractor may be better qualified and more specialized in a particular trade.
From my experiences in operating in many of the marinas around Rhode Island, I’ve found that the majority are accommodating and ask me to follow some reasonable rules when I come in to work on the boat of a customer. These marinas ask that I provide proof of insurance and abide by policies to keep the marina property safe and environmentally compliant. The boat owners at these marinas are generally happy because they can do business with whomever they choose, whether the marina service department or independent companies. This is how the free market should work.
There are, however, some larger marinas that try to control the market by either keeping me out or charging fees that I would have to pass on to my customer or just absorb as a cost of doing business. I have always refused to pay fees and have been denied access to my customers on occasion for that reason. I believe that these fees and surcharges are arbitrary, baseless and their intent is restrictive and anticompetitive. The fees are arbitrary because one marina may insist upon $15 per hour or more, and another marina may want me to submit my private customer contract or invoice to them so they can add a 20 percent surcharge and bill my customer. The fees are baseless because I’m not costing the marina any money when I’m working on a boat. I carry in and carry out everything I need and all waste generated, and if I use power or water, the boat owner is already paying for that service through the slip or storage agreement.
In our state, we have the Landlord/Tenant Act that protects tenants of rental property as well as a law (31-44) that protects the owners of mobile and manufactured homes. Each of these laws recognize that the owner of personal property who leases a portion of private property still maintains his or her rights to control of the personal property located within that rented space. The same should hold true for the owner of a boat who pays a significant amount of money to a marina for slip or storage space and also spends a significant amount of money on the maintenance and repair of the boat. The boat owner should have the right to hire who he or she believes is best qualified, provided that the company carries the proper insurances and has attained any training or certification as mandated by local, state and federal regulation.
This summer we have major sailing events coming to our state that will draw boaters from around the world. The marine industry is a major part of the Rhode Island economy, and coupled with our tax-free boating, this Marina Users’ Bill of Rights would have solidified our commitment to being the most boating friendly state in the country.
A free market would offer a chance for highly skilled independent companies to grow and thrive and contribute to the economic recovery of our state. Boat owners and independent businesses like mine need to get involved next year and work to get the Marina Users’ Bill of Rights passed.
President, The Boat Guys, Inc.