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The How-To's Of Dry Rack Storage

Waterfront marinas are disappearing, but some marinas are using a storage solution that's been around since the 1950s: dry rack storage.

Vertical boat storage system with rows of covered boats

Florida, one of the biggest states affected by this trend, commissioned a two-year, $1.5 million study on the loss of boat slips and ramps. Why? Because in Tampa Bay, boat owners wait in quarter-mile lines to use the remaining ramps. In Daytona Beach, police officers help annoyed boaters "keep the cool" while waiting for ramps. And California isn't any better. They recently did a similar study and found there will be a need for 800 new boat ramps by 2020.

So what's a boater to do? Some marinas are using a storage solution that's been around since the 1950s: dry stack storage.

How Did Dry Rack Get Started?

Dry rack storage began in the 1950s when various marina owners realized they could make better use of storage space by vertically stacking light boats on racks with forklifts. The racks were homemade wooden structures and the forklifts were regular warehouse forklifts. This storage solution was ideal for year-round boating and lake marinas where light boats were stacked for winter storage.

In the 1970's the dry stack storage industry improved as manufacturers started building forklifts and racks designed specifically for the shape and weight of boats. These new forklifts had a "negative lift," a feature that allowed the forklift to lower a boat below ground level and launch it in the water. Also steel building manufacturers started constructing large steel barns to hold enclosed racks that were four, five, even six levels high.

In the 1980s and '90s these steel barns took on a more "aesthetic" look as buildings were combined with restaurants, boating supply stores, hotels, and, eventually, condominiums, where the rack space would be sold ("rackominiums") instead of rented.

How Are Dry Racks Designed?

There are three designs typical to dry stack storage, although this concept continues to develop:

Conventional Dry Stack Buildings

Often referred to as a "barn" since they are big steel structures, they have racks on either side of the building with an aisle in the center for the forklift. Racks can be either free-standing or rack-supported, where the racks are part of the support system for the roof in case of high wind conditions. Most dry stack buildings can handle boat sizes from small runabouts to mid-size boats (35-40 feet) while some of the newer buildings can handle much larger boats (like up to 80 feet)!


These aren't the wooden structure that housed your dad's mower. They are usually a Three-Sided shed, basically three walls and a roof, or a Roof-Covered shed, "back-to-back" three-sided buildings with the boats' bows facing each other in the center and the sides open for the forklifts to access the boats. Sheds tend to hold boats up to 36 feet in size.

Free-Standing Storage Rack Units

Each unit has columns that support boats three to four racks high. Some have roofs and most are adjustable to fit different boat sizes. These units can also be portable, easily picked up with a forklift and moved to various places on a marina's lot. These units usually hold smaller boats, some not able to hold boats more than 30 feet long.

How Is This Good For Me?

There are many benefits in using a dry rack storage facility:

  • Ease of use. You call ahead to have your boat brought down and even fueled. Then you arrive, hop in, and go. When the day is over, you return to the marina, dock the boat in the designated area, and leave. The marina washes it down and puts it back up on the rack.
  • May save money. Since you don't have a trailer, you're not spending money on gas, launch fees, or upkeep on the trailer. Also, because your boat isn't sitting in the water, you won't have to clean off the marine growth or bottom paint the hull every year.
  • Keeps your boat in better shape. If your boat is sitting in a big steel barn and not constantly being bombarded by the sun's UV rays, you are lessening the possibility of gelcoat damage. However, keep in mind that if your boat is in a three-sided shed or a rack with just a roof, some sunlight might get on your boat.
  • Good protection for your boat. Most buildings have security measures like electronic security systems to stop vandalism and outright boat theft. Many of the newer buildings have fire suppression systems from sprinklers and even synthetic fire retardant foam systems. Also, many buildings in hurricane-prone zones have been built according to local hurricane codes. If you keep your boat in a hurricane-prone area, check to see what kind of protection the rack facility offers.
  • Provides alternatives to keeping a boat and trailer sitting in the driveway. Due to homeowner association by-laws or city ordinances, some small boat owners can't keep their boats in their driveways. In addition, dry stack storage is good for owners who find themselves being kicked out of marinas to make room for larger yachts.
  • Environmentally better in some circumstances. According to Delaware State Parks' Indian River Marina, dry stack storage "Minimizes need for dredging, minimizes water quality and flushing concerns, and reduces the amount of contact time between pesticide-containing bottom paints and the water."

Of course, as with everything, there are some downsides. Most places only allow you one launch and retrieval per day. That launch time can get long if the dry stack is extremely busy that day. Also there usually isn't any place at the facility to park your boat in the water and use it overnight. Also, you can't just show up at the facility and tinker around on your boat. Most dry stacks don't allow boat owners to work on their boats in the facility.

How Much?

Much like a regular marina, rental rates are based on length of stay (month, season, or annual), boat length, or sometimes a flat fee. Rates are obviously influenced by location and need. At the time this is written, Loggerhead Club & Marina of Riviera Beach, FL, charged $17 per foot/per month for the year while Delaware State Parks' Indian River Marina only charged $9 per foot/per month. Some places sell the rack slip as part of a membership to a yacht club or as if it were a piece of real estate like a condo. Sebastian River Yacht Club & Marina of Sebastian, FL was selling second and third level dry stack storage for $59,995 and bottom level for $69,995.

Beyond the initial rent (or purchase price), there can be additional charges. Boats over a certain height (nine feet, for example) or width (eight feet) might get an extra surcharge. Most marinas usually include washing the boat for you in the rent however some might charge extra for washing out the tanks or flushing the engine. In the case of a rack slip that you bought, there may be extra charges.

How Do I Pick The Right Place?

There are a few things to consider when picking the right facility. First, find out when it was built. If you are in Florida, look for places built in the last decade. The lessons of 1992's Hurricane Andrew were that Florida needed a uniform building code. So in 2002, the Florida Building Code was enacted, combining about 400 local codes from around the state. Ask for information about code compliance, in writing.

Next, see what kind of racks they offer. If you live in a year-round boating area with no worry of hurricanes, then a free-standing storage rack might do you just fine. If you want a little more protection, a three-side shed might be better. But if you live in a hurricane zone, your best bet might be having your boat in a steel barn.

Last but not least, find what kind of security and fire protection systems the building has. Ask if they lock the building when not bringing boats in and out.

How About Inland?

Recently, a few companies have taken the idea of dry rack storage out of the expensive and dwindling waterfront and placed it further inland. Most of the facilities are within 15 to 30 minutes from the water and cater to not only boats but RVs also. The idea is the same: you call ahead and the boat is ready for you. Only in this case, you will need to have a boat trailer and a vehicle to tow it to the water. These storage facilities store your boat on the trailer, sometimes sitting on racks three stacks high. They offer much of the same amenities: washing the boat down, fueling it before hand, and some even have a ship's store on the premises.

How About The Future?

The future can be glimpsed right now in Ft Lauderdale. Vertical Yacht Storage Systems took a rundown marina and turned it into a state-of-the-art bridge crane boat storage facility called Port Condos and Marina. For starters, the Vertical Yacht Storage System can handle any boat up to 80 feet or weighing 100,000 pounds, storing it in a climate controlled, dust free building that is said to be able to withstand up to 140 mile per hour winds. Haul and launch times are as short as six minutes. Also, aisle space is reduced up to 50 feet because instead of using forklifts, the system has an overhead electric bridge crane that picks up boats in a "one size fits all" cradle using a computer that "sees" with photo eyes, lasers, and proximity switches. This takes valet parking to a whole new level!

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Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Award-winning BoatUS Magazine is the official publication of Boat Owners Association of The United States. The magazine provides boating skills, DIY maintenance, safety, news and more from top experts.