Most people associate boating with warm spring and summer months. For marina owners, boating season may wind down at the end of the summer, but marina operations continue throughout the year. In winter, a new set of challenges awaits marina facilities and their staffs – particularly that of freezing temperatures and ice. While marina insurance is designed to protect against a wide range of operational risks, owners must understand the risks behind ice. Failure to address ice risks can be costly, resulting in property damage or loss as well as claims against marina insurance policies.

Ice Risks in Winter: Challenges for Marinas

As winter weather tightens its grip, marinas located in northern climates must make preparations that their southern counterparts may not have to worry about. Freezing temperatures create ice, which is a powerful force with the potential to cause severe damage to vessels, docks, and equipment. Ice can:

  • Push vessels against dock structures and each other.
  • Rupture water lines and hoses.
  • Create “ice jacking”, which can shift or break dock pilings and walkways.
  • Build up on stored boats and equipment, leading to severe damage or losses.

Perhaps the greatest risk, especially for freshwater marinas, is when freezing/thawing cycles cause large sheets of ice to break off; tidal movements can cause these sheet to collide with vessels and dock structures. It is imperative that marina staff prepare for the possibility of ice damage to minimize the impacts it has on operations. Ensuring that marina insurance is adequate for the marina’s risk exposures is part of winter preparation.

Getting Ready for Winter

What can marina owners do to better prepare for wintery conditions? There are multiple winterization steps to be taken; each helps to minimize the potential for damage of boats and structures on marina properties. Some of the winter preparation depends on the nature and location of the marina; those in colder climates may shut down completely for the winter, while others remain open for limited use.

First, all flags and markers in waterways under the marina’s control should be removed and stored until the marina reopens in spring. Next, any waterlines or pipes should be blown out with a compressor or drained to minimize the formation of damaging ice. This is particularly important for waterlines leading to docks or berths as well as to outdoor bathing and restroom facilities. The use of heaters in marina buildings can also help to reduce ice forming in lines and piping.

For marinas in areas that experience heavy ice, shutting off electricity to shore power stations can help to prevent damage if docks or piers were to shift, potentially disturbing wiring runs. To reduce ice buildup within docking or navigation areas, many cold-weather marinas invest in bubblers or ice suppression systems. These systems are not foolproof; if the temperature plunges, they may not be able to keep up with icing.

If floating docks or structures can be pulled onto dry land, this can help to prevent ice damage. In areas where docks cannot be removed, ensuring they are structurally sound and that all fittings are tight can reduce damage over winter. It is a good practice for marina staff to periodically inspect facility grounds and equipment over the winter, even if the marina itself is closed. Spotting issues before they can cause expensive damage helps to supplement marina insurance policies in terms of risk management.

Finally, marina operators should instruct their boating customers about vessel winterization practices. This can include shrink-wrapping decks, moving vessels to indoor or dry-land storage, doubling up mooring lines, and removing accumulations of ice and snow from deck surfaces. Winter weather represents significant challenges and perils for marina operators and boat owners alike; with careful preparation, these challenges can be overcome.

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.