Stacking Up Storage Profits

October 1, 2001

5 Min Read
Stacking Up Storage Profits

Self-storage operators and developers in recent years have targeted the ever-expanding boat-storage market as another potential source of revenue. Providing ground-level storage of boats in vacant lots, under canopies or in individual storage units can generate reasonable fees. However, by overlooking the vertical storage of boats, self-storage operations are missing out on far greater income.

The vertical storage of boats is known in the marine industry as dry-stack storage. The concept is to store boats vertically, two to six levels high, in storage racks. Large forklifts that can handle boats up to 50 feet long lift the boats to their respective racks.

Dry stack was pioneered by modifying warehouse pallet racks to store boats on land in limited applications. Since the boats were small, the forklifts needed to handle them were relatively light-capacity, and the racks themselves were light-duty. The typical system had open racks designed to store small boats (14 to 20 feet long) in single-bay cubicles. The height of the racks was limited to the lift height of the forklift, usually 20 to 25 feet. These early dry-stack systems were often installed inside clean-span buildings that measured 80 to 90 feet wide. These systems provided water access to boat owners, along with protection from vandalism and the elements.

As boating has become readily accessible to more people, the demand for water access has increased dramatically. The majority of new housing developments have covenants that prohibit storing boats at one's home. While new marinas continue to be constructed, many of the best sites are sold for the development of waterfront communities. This creates even more pressure to increase the supply of boat slips--wet and dry.

Dry-stack storage has become the essential answer to the increased demand for water access. Today's dry-stack applications give marinas a method of supplying boat owners a slip for their prized possessions. Whether the marina is very large or quite small, dry stack greatly increases the number of boats in a facility. It adds a tremendous benefit to the revenue stream for the marina, with construction costs far less than that required to add more in-water slips. It can also enable the marina to reconfigure its wet slips to accommodate larger boats, while providing a home for displaced smaller boats.

As the demand continues to exceed the available slips, off-water dry-stack storage facilities become attractive alternatives for boat owners. By using the same type of marina forklift to handle the boats, these off-water sites can accommodate double or triple the quantity of stored boats as can the ground-level storage lot. And these facilities can be constructed on land far more affordable than premium waterfront property.

Dry-Stack Systems

There are three basic dry-stack systems: free-standing racks, covered sheds and fully enclosed buildings. All of these systems should be designed to resist environmental loads as specified in the local, state or federal building codes. And each of these systems should be designed to store current and projected boats. In most marketplaces, these structures are being designed for much larger (heavier, wider, taller and longer) boats than their predecessors. The racks can be constructed to store two or three large boats side by side on a given shelf level. The racks can be designed to store boats and trailers in the same or separate bays.

Covered sheds are the dry-stack structures most consistent with self-storage applications. These include roof-covered systems, three-sided covered sheds and bow-to-bow covered sheds. They provide protection from rain, snow and ultraviolet rays that can seriously damage a boat's interior and exterior. All three sheds are rack- supported structures, with the racks providing the main support of the building components. For the most part, these systems are open on and accessed from the stern side. The three-sided sheds can have individual doors placed on each unit, or can have large sliding doors that span the full height of each storage bay. In most cases, a fenced yard will provide the desired security for the boats.

Fully enclosed buildings are considered the ultimate dry-storage structures, as they provide the maximum in boat security and protection from the elements. These buildings are either clear-span with free-standing racks or rack-supported. In the latter, the racks are the integral support of the building structure and must be designed to take all applicable environmental loads (wind, snow, etc.). Since they provide the utmost protection for the boats, these structures most often generate the highest storage revenues.

The dry-stack storage operation will require more labor than the typical self-storage facility. A trained forklift driver must handle the boats on the upper levels. It is not a self-storage operation in that the customers are dependent on others to access their stored boats. But the convenience, security and protection dry stack provides can result in significant revenues, especially when multiplied by two, three, four or more levels. For example, a lot measuring 150-by-150 feet can provide efficient, accessible storage for approximately 20 to 30 boats. Two four-story, covered sheds on this same level lot can accommodate up to 112 boats.

Dry-stack storage is not for every self-storage facility. However, many businesses should look seriously at developing this vertical boat-storage application as part of their existing operation. The density storage of boats will greatly enhance their revenue stream and profitability. By dry-stacking boats, profits will definitely stack up for the storage operation.

Patrick Farrell is a co-owner of Coastal Marine International Inc., a manufacturer of dry-stack boat-storage systems. The company has provided storage for more than 30,000 boats to marinas and storage operations throughout the world. For more information, call 704.948.6895 on the East Coast or 209.523.5012 on the West Coast. Visit

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