Premises Safety Issues in Marinas & Boatyards Expert Article

In this article, Marina and Boatyard Expert, Carl Wolf discusses some of the many premises safety issues that arise in marinas and other waterfront facilities. This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Marina Dock Age.

The experts at Robson Forensic have investigated hundreds of mishaps involving conditions similar to those described throughout this article. Contact us to discuss how we can assist with your case.

Seen, but Unseen Marina Safety Issues

Marina Dock Age, March 2017
By Carl F. Wolf, CMM

When someone talks about marina safety, what’s the first thought that crosses your mind? Many of us automatically think of workplace safety (OSHA), marina safety equipment, boat fires, or persons falling in the water. Marina managers also need to think in terms of everyday active safety for the marina boaters and guests. We see simple unaddressed marina safety issues every day in our own marinas, but do not observe the potential ramifications of each issue. The next time you walk the docks at your marina, consider the following safety issues.


Consider the bow pulpit or the anchor which overhangs the pier, sometimes only a few inches, but oftentimes, hanging a foot or two over the pier. At night, these bow pulpits and anchors become shadowy objects that a person can walk into. Electrical cords, hoses, and lines laying haphazardly on the pier can trip a person or twist an ankle. Piers cluttered with chairs, bicycles, and wide boarding steps are not only inconvenient for boaters to walk by, but can hamper a person trying to exit the pier in case of an emergency. Small grills being used on a pier (should never be allowed) not only create a fire hazard, but are dangerous obstacles for boaters to walk around. In each of these issues, the marina needs to monitor, address, and correct.

Fuel Dock

On a busy holiday weekend, boats are coming and going, boaters are climbing off or back on their boats, and employees are busy bringing normalcy to chaos. Fuel hoses, pumpout hoses and water hoses laying on the dock are tripping hazards for unsuspecting boaters and employees. Place the various hoses back in their designated locations after each use. The emptying of a holding tank can create pressures causing blow-outs or burps. Employees should be wearing the appropriate gloves, eye protection and clothing. Prior to untying a boat, make sure the engines are running, all passengers are on-board and the captain has acknowledged she/he is ready to depart. Addressing these simple issues, can help the fuel dock have a safety-event free day.


Maintenance issues need to be addressed as soon as they are identified. A loose cleat can become a flying missile if a boater applies a load during a heavy wind. Splinters in wood decks can painfully impale an unexpecting person’s toe. Like a wood splinter, sharp fiberglass hairs become exposed on fiberglass power pedestals hit repeatedly by passing dock carts. Uninspected wood deck boards, exposed to years of harsh weather, can rot from the underside and break under heavy load. Protruding nail heads or bolts can become tripping hazards. Walkways with low-level lighting, become difficult to traverse when burnt out lights are not replaced. All maintenance safety issues need to be addressed in a timely basis.


In certain coastal parts of the country, water level heights are increasing during certain tides, submerging fixed docks and access points to floating piers, which creates several safety conditions. Fixed and floating docks becoming more unstable as they age. Marinas with fixed docks and large tidal ranges need to consider having a fixed boarding ladder at each slip. Ramps and decks that have become smooth from normal wear and tear need to be re-surfaced with material to provide traction. Appropriately sized, worded, and located signs addressing safety issues, such as (but not limited to): emergency phone numbers, no swimming, and fuel dock safety must be present. Safety issues such as these need to be evaluated and corrective measures taken.

Security Issues

Security gates or access control points need to be reliable and in working condition. Plan for the unforeseen, such as the data link is interrupted and the electronic gate will not open or first responders are answering a call at your marina, and they are locked out of the marina. The marina needs to consider these circumstances and create ways to address these and other issues which may be present at the marina.

Marinas are usually spread out horizontally over large tracts of land and water. This large area creates constant challenges for management to monitor all that is transpiring at the marina. Large areas are not an excuse for marinas to shirk their responsibility of providing a safe environment for boaters to enjoy. Daily dockwalks, vigilance, employee training and scheduled maintenance will assist in protecting your marina from these seen, but unseen safety issues.

Marina & Boatyard Forensic Investigations

The marina is a dynamic environment where vehicles pulling boat trailers interface with pedestrians, cyclists, other motorists, and watercraft. In addition to the roads, walkways, and buildings involved at most other facilities, the marina introduces a waterfront and great expanses of open water. Investigating injuries and other life threatening incidents in this unique environment requires industry experience and decades of relevant experience. Robson Forensic offers the nation’s foremost experts in marina and boatyard safety.

Submit an inquiry or contact the author of this article to discuss your case.

Featured Expert

Carl F. Wolf, Marina & Boatyard Expert

Carl F. Wolf, CMM, CMI

Marina & Boatyard Expert
Carl is an expert in the operations and management of marinas, boatyards, and dry-stack boat storage facilities. Throughout his career, since 1976, Carl owned his own marina related businesses,… read more.

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