As the interface between land and water, marina docks receive much of the attention in daily marina operations. Boaters and marina staff both use facility docks for many purposes, including launching, mooring, and fueling. Because these structures are so important to marinas and yacht clubs, it is imperative that facility owners and their employees implement robust dock safety procedures. Dock safety can supplement the protections afforded by risk management strategies like commercial marina insurance. Here’s how to ensure dock safety at your client’s marina.

The Role of Docks in Marinas

When most people think of commercial marinas, they tend to think of rows of wooden docks lined up with watercraft of all types. For many marinas and yacht clubs across the country, this is an accurate representation. It can be argued that these structures are the most important aspect of any marina operation. Docks at marinas are used whenever boats come and go from the facility. They are also used when fueling watercraft or pumping out holding tanks. Docks can be used for temporary mooring or long-term storage, and some marinas even allow for liveaboard residents who rely on shore power and water connections supplied from dockside equipment.

Risks Associated with Docks

Docks are utilized in nearly every service marinas and yacht clubs provide to their guests. These vital structures are not without their risks, however. Understanding the risks associated with docks is the first step toward developing a dock safety program for your marina. Risks associated with docks include:

Slip and fall hazards – lines and cables, electrical cords, cleats, and fittings can cause injuries to marina workers and boating guests. Docks that are warped or in bad repair can also cause a person to trip and fall.

Fire hazards – malfunctions, leakage, or improper use of dockside fueling equipment can lead to significant fire hazards, which may cause injury and extensive property damage.

Electrical hazards – shore power systems and conduits supplying electricity to marina lighting and navigation equipment pose shock hazards to staff and customers, especially if electrical equipment is damaged or poorly maintained.

Drowning hazards – if someone were to slip off a dock and into the water, they could drown. Swimmers on marina properties are also at risk of drowning due to collisions with watercraft, entanglement with underwater structures, and electric shock drowning (ESD), a deadly condition that results from the combination of electrical currents and water.

Pollution/Environmental spill hazards – poorly maintained fueling and lubrication systems can discharge pollutants into the waters surrounding marinas. Dockside spills of chemicals can also damage fragile ecosystems and require expensive mitigation on the part of marina owners.

In general, marinas and their docks are safe places when the marina itself takes dock safety seriously. The risks described above can be successfully managed through a comprehensive dock safety program.

The Dock Safety Program: Managing Hazards in Marinas

Dock safety at marinas begins with a clear understanding of the risks involved with dock usage. To foster a safety-oriented culture within the marina workplace, and to protect staff and guests from injury, marina owners need to establish dock safety programs.

First, training staff members on safe dockside procedures is a critical step. Training should be ongoing, especially as new equipment and services are added to the marina’s operations. Smart marina owners know that safety briefings for facility users and guests can also be a valuable way of reducing risks.

All marinas should develop dock safety plans, which should include:

  • Safe operating procedures for dockside equipment (fueling, lifts, shore power).
  • Incident reporting procedures.
  • List of contact numbers that includes marina managers, fire/rescue departments, and the Coast Guard.
  • Environmental spill/discharge procedures, including what to do and who to notify if a spill should occur.
  • Safety policies for both staff and marina guests.

Because marinas can be busy – even chaotic – places during the boating season, it is a smart solution to forbid swimming on marina property. Swimmers can be struck by boats or can drown if they are exposed to faulty wiring discharging to the waters surrounding docks. To help prevent drowning incidents from slip and fall accidents, docks should be equipped with egress ladders and life ring stations at regular intervals.

Routine and regular checks of all dockside equipment goes a long way toward improving dock safety. Equipment that is damaged or leaking, such as fueling systems or shore power towers, can lead to fire and electrocution injuries. Inspecting this equipment, and maintaining or repairing equipment, can greatly help in preventing dockside injuries. Docks should be equipped with emergency fuel and electrical cutoff switches and fire extinguishers. Marina workers must be trained on the use of these emergency systems.

Finally, facility owners should carefully review their marina insurance policies. Gaps in coverage or emerging risks as services are added to marinas may mean that insurance policies need to be updated. With marina insurance and a robust dock safety program in place, marina owners can ensure their staff members and guests are protected from many of the common risks associated with docks.

About Merrimac Marine Insurance

At Merrimac Marine, we are dedicated to providing insurance for the marine industry to protect your clients’ business and assets. For more information about our products and programs, contact our specialists today at (800) 681-1998.