Building Boat and RV Storage: Considerations for Unit Types, Development and Operation

With an increase in RV and boat sales comes an opportunity for self-storage owners and developers to provide space for these precious vehicles. Read about the types of units you can build as well as various development and operational considerations.

Steve Hajewski

June 26, 2018

6 Min Read
Building Boat and RV Storage: Considerations for Unit Types, Development and Operation

If you feel like you’re seeing more RVs on the road than ever, you’re correct. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, shipments of RVs and campers have increased significantly in recent years.

Owners of these vehicles as well as boats and other “toys” need a place to keep them. For a self-storage owner or developer, these clients present unique opportunities and requirements. Following are the various unit types you can build as well as some development and operational considerations.

Unit Types

Let’s begin by looking at the types of units you can build for the storage of boats and RVs. There are options for exposed (or partially exposed) and enclosed.

Fully open storage is the most basic type. It’s simply outdoor parking. Spaces must be graded and paved or covered with gravel to prevent vehicles from getting stuck in the mud. They should also be clearly marked and delineated. This is a common use for extra land, even while waiting to build future phases of self-storage.

More popular in southern regions, an overhead canopy protects stored items from sun exposure. Canopy storage still carries many of the inherent risks associated with open storage, though it will typically earn double the rent of an open parking space.

The final exposed option is three-sided storage. Adding sides and a back wall to a covered space provides greater protection from wind and snow without the expense of adding doors.

Fully enclosed units offer protection from the elements, reduce the potential for theft, and all but eliminate the possibility of vehicles parking in the wrong location (if you lock your empty units). These can be broken into two categories: large, traditional storage units and specialized boat/RV units.

Traditional units are often overlooked as an option for boat/RV storage. However, a basic building in a manufacturer’s largest size will often create units large enough for many boats and campers, yet small enough to use a standard roll-up door. We’ve seen units of conventional construction with roll-up doors up to 12 feet tall by 11 feet wide.

Large “diesel pusher” RVs and fifth-wheel campers require additional height. If your clientele will store large boats, they’ll also need extra width. Units for these vehicles require more robust roof purlins to stretch across larger spans, and will be less likely to be constructed with flush panels. Ribbed “A-panel” walls are more typical.

Roll-up doors in sizes big enough for these units need wind-locks. Developers typically opt for smoother-operating sectional doors on these units, and electric openers are a nice upgrade. Smaller “man doors” can also be included as an upgrade.

Development Considerations

Much of the interest in developing boat/RV-storage units comes from individuals who have trouble finding a place to store their own vehicle and see a business opportunity. However, ask yourself: Are you willing to pay four times the going rate for a 10-by-10 unit in your community? Few vehicle owners are, and that’s why it’s rare to see a facility dedicated to this type of storage. Limiting the percentage of your site that consists of these units will help you maintain higher rates. Adding them near the ends of buildings or at the intersections of driveways can help you create some large spaces without having to invest in extra-wide drives.

If you decide to move forward, one of the first questions you’ll want to answer is whether outdoor storage is allowed on your land. Check your zoning regulations to determine if it’s permitted and if there will be fence requirements. This is normally discussed upfront if you’re applying for a conditional-use permit.

When laying out a site for boat/RV storage, you’ll need a lot more space than you would for traditional. Aside from the units themselves, clients will need 50-foot or wider driveways to back into their spaces. Consider the length of the RV or boat plus two vehicles (one in front doing the hauling, and possibly one being towed in the rear). Arranging the parking spots at a 60-degree angle can reduce the driveway width to 35 to 45 feet.

Most properties have bollards at the corners of all buildings. For enclosed units, they should defend every door jamb.

Gravel is the least expensive driveway option, but it’s also dusty and prohibited in some areas. Asphalt is normally required, but can be susceptible to divots from long-term parking.

Offering electricity is an option to consider. On one hand, it can invite problems such as fire hazards, living in units and the use of units as repair shops. However, electricity is extremely attractive for clients who are looking to keep their battery charged. Powered units are typically costly and attract a more responsible client. Installing individual meters and breakers for each unit can give you greater control.

Operational Concerns and Amenities

For open storage, theft and property damage can be a major concern. Equipping the facility with security cameras, good lighting, a fence and gate can reduce problems. Make sure renters can reach all keypads from their vehicle and navigate all gates and turns. Keep in mind these drivers might not be experienced with their vehicles, so plan a strong defense for your access-control equipment.

Also, perform regular inspections to identify any vehicles parked in the wrong space or people living in their campers. Issues are easiest to address when caught promptly.

Vehicle-storage clients are also likely to appreciate additional amenities such as compressed air, a dump station and water supply. They’ll also value a site with an office and restroom. Consider whether these extras can help justify higher rental rates. Some operators provide additional services such as vehicle washing and valet parking; however, these can increase your liability exposure.

Boat/RV-storage clients can be great long-term customers. I’ve found they stay indefinitely and are consistently on time with payments. If one of these tenants does go into lien status, however, the process will be more complicated. This is especially true for open storage in which vehicles can easily end up in the wrong spot. During the lease signing, collect accurate information for all vehicles including the model, make, year, color, VIN, license plate and copy of registration.

Demand for boat/RV-storage units is fairly strong in many areas, but is there enough demand to make it a good investment? Before building, evaluate the costs and potential income for a variety of configurations. Good luck on your next project!

Steve Hajewski is the marketing manager at Trachte Building Systems, which designs, manufactures and erects a full line of pre-engineered and customized steel self-storage systems, including single- and multi-story, portable storage, interior partition and corridor, and canopy boat/RV. He also owns a self-storage facility in Wisconsin and is a frequent contributor on Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. For more information, call 800.356.5824; visit

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