Why Now’s the Right Time to Invest in Boat/RV Storage and Considerations for Building It

There’s a shortage of places for owners of boats and RVs to store their “big toys,” which makes it a lucrative opportunity for self-storage operators. If you’d like to add this product to an existing or new facility, here’s what you need to consider by way of location, layout and design.

Steve Hajewski

June 6, 2023

7 Min Read
Why Now’s the Right Time to Invest in Boat/RV Storage
Columbus Self Storage in Columbus, Wisconsin

As a self-storage operator, you’ve likely fielded calls like these: “Do you have space for a pontoon boat?” or “Do you have a unit with a tall enough door for my camper?” In recent years, boat and RV sales have surged, creating opportunity for facility investors and owners. In fact, there’s demand for vehicle storage most markets. Though many self-storage owners prefer to build smaller units because they typically have a higher per-square-foot rental rate, that leaves a lot of unmet demand and minimal competition for those who are willing to build larger spaces.

Another reason boat/RV storage makes a great profit center is the customers are long-term and loyal, often using the service for the duration of their vehicle ownership. Many keep their units year-round, and some may be repeat seasonal customers. They also tend to be extremely reliable in terms of paying rent, as they would never want to jeopardize their expensive toys.

Now that you understand the benefits of building this type of storage, let’s explore how to do so correctly.

US 1 Boat & RV Storage in Moncure, NC

US 1 Boat & RV Storage in Moncure, North Carolina


If you’re looking to build a facility with a focus on boat/RV storage, the land-search criteria is slightly different than for self-storage. Essentially, you’ll need much more land. A typical self-storage site starts at 3 to 5 acres. For boat/RV storage, 10 to 20 is desirable.

One thing that doesn’t change is the need for proper zoning! Research what zoning allows standard and outdoor storage in your desired location. If you’re expecting to request a change, speak to city officials early to understand what challenges you might face. A modification is usually more difficult, costly and time-consuming than you think.

The land also needs to be affordable. Because vehicle-storage units usually have lower rent per square foot and require large driveways, the business model is less likely to work in areas with high land costs.

On the plus side, being close to homes isn’t as important with boat/RV storage as it is with self-storage. The clients are willing to drive a little farther out of town. A large parcel on a high-traffic road within a few miles of a more densely populated area is typical, and the site should be in a region with lakes or campgrounds. If a neighborhood restricts outdoor storage or parking, meaning a homeowner can’t park a boat on the driveway or next to the garage, that’s an additional factor that increases demand.


To do a quick analysis and determine whether a boat/RV-storage project is financially feasible, create a sketch of your layout to estimate building footprints—in the early stages of planning. It’s easier at this point to run your projections in terms of cost and revenue per square foot than attempt to create a detailed unit mix.

Also, consider what types of storage your potential customers are likely to seek. There are three options:

  • Fully enclosed: These are essentially large storage units, on a concrete pad, each individually accessed and secured. They offer the best security and weather protection and are often allowed where outdoor storage is prohibited.

  • Canopy or three-sided: These units are more prevalent in the South where sun damage is a bigger concern and snow isn’t. Construction costs and rental income will be less than with fully enclosed units.

  • Outdoor: With the lowest cost to develop (and lowest rental rates), outdoor parking can be a good temporary service to offer while you work on building fully enclosed or canopy units in phases. These spaces as well as canopy-covered spots can even be placed on grass, dirt, gravel or concrete.

To determine potential rental rates in your area, start by surveying local competitors. If none exist, find similar businesses in cities farther away. Keep in mind that your site should charge higher rates if its competitors are full, built to a lower standard, or offer fewer services and amenities. You may also want to hire a feasibility consultant with experience in evaluating this type of project.

Drive-thru unit at US 1 Boat & RV Storage in Moncure, NC

The drive-thru units at US 1 Boat & RV Storage


Facility Design

Once you’ve identified a property and have it under contract, you’ll need to invest in the services of a civil engineer to help with site design and storm-water planning. Design and construction for boat/RV storage is different from traditional self-storage. In general, it’s on a bigger scale.

The most obvious change is these units need to be wider and longer, though the specifics will vary depending on the types of vehicles that are popular in the area. For example, fishing boats common on inland lakes usually fit within a 12-by-25-foot unit; but if boats with wakeboard towers are popular in your city, factor in some additional height. In coastal areas, many boaters have larger, taller vessels.

Camper and RV customers may need unit lengths anywhere from 30 to 50 feet long. Widths are typically 12 to 15 feet. Door height is also an important factor. About 70% of campers will fit under a 12-foot-tall door. This includes most smaller RVs (Sprinter conversion-style) and “travel-trailer” campers that are towed with a standard hitch. Larger bus-style RVs and fifth-wheel campers are normally taller and require a 14-foot-tall door.

In fact, doors are a critical detail. There are three general options available:

Standard roll-up. For most large units, you can still use standard roll-up doors. Depending on the manufacturer, you’ll find doors as large as 10-by-10 to 11-by-12. You’ll need to pay attention to wind ratings because as doors grow wider, the wind ratings are lower. These doors will be the least expensive option.

Large-opening roll-up. Your door vendor likely offers a specific model for large-opening applications. Unlike standard roll-up doors that open and close with a rope pull, these should have chain hoists. Depending on your requirements, these doors may have wind locks to improve performance under adverse conditions. They’ll be more expensive than standard roll-ups but cheaper than sectional doors.

Sectional. These doors have traditionally been the most user-friendly option for extremely large storage units. They offer more effective insulation options and a wider variety of motor operators. A major drawback is these generally have a dedicated key instead of a latch mechanism for a customer padlock or manager overlock. They’re also the costliest option.

Another major design difference between boat/RV storage and self-storage is wider drive aisles to facilitate backing a trailer into a unit. Your engineer can help you determine the required spacing. As a rule of thumb, a driver will need about 1.5 times the length of their rig. For example, a 20-foot-long truck pulling a 30-foot-long camper is 50 feet long and requires about 75 feet of space to straighten out and back into an aisle.

Here are a few other design tips:

  • Inset bollards 1 inch from all door openings where you expect to have customers backing trailers into units.

  • No dead ends!

  • Leave enough room for customers to use the entry keypad without their trailer blocking street traffic.

Finally, boat/RV-storage customers may look for specific amenities in your facility that aren’t found at traditional self-storage properties. Power in each unit is highly desirable to keep batteries charged, and you can charge an additional fee for this service. Dump stations are also helpful for camper customers. Some sites even provide a station to wash vehicles.

With proper research and the right location, boat and RV storage can be a great profit center for a new site or expansion. It’s certainly worth a look for your next project.

Steve Hajewski is regional manager for 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’s also a partner of three facilities in Wisconsin and a frequent contributor on Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. For more information, call 800.356.5824.

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