Designing Today’s Superyacht Marinas

29 December 2021 By Louisa Beckett
Hurricane Hole Marina, The Bahamas
Louisa Beckett

Louisa Beckett is the former editor of Motor Boating, ShowBoats International, and Southern Boating magazines, and a longtime contributor to Dockwalk. Over her career, she has written about a wide variety of vessels ranging from Sea-Doos to superyachts, and has had many adventures on the water, including riding in a U.S. Coast Guard “rollover” boat in heavy surf off Cape Disappointment, Washington.

Captains, currents, and climate change all play a role in designing today's superyacht marinas...

As the global superyacht fleet continues to expand and the boats themselves keep getting bigger and beamier, the need for modern marinas to accommodate them is growing at a rapid pace. Today, it seems like the ribbon is being cut on a new superyacht harbor somewhere in the world several times a year. Many of these new marinas are part of a large, multi-use development built to be a destination in their own right, frequently incorporating residences, retail, restaurants, recreational facilities, and other public-access areas in addition to superyacht berths.

We spoke to several of the leading superyacht marina designers to find out what goes into creating a successful facility for today’s global market. We learned that while the primary goal of every superyacht harbor is the same — to provide safe, secure berthage to patron yachts along with a high level of service and amenities that will ensure their continued patronage — no two marina master plans are alike because so many variables factor into each marina’s design.

Hurricane Hole Marina

Market Assessment

First and foremost, the geographic location of a new superyacht marina, or an existing marina being redeveloped to accommodate today’s superyachts, plays a crucial role in determining its master plan. “One of the first things we do is a market assessment. That’s to fully understand who the users are going to be,” says Sam Phlegar, president, principal engineer for marine design and engineering consultancy firm Applied Technology & Management (ATM), which has designed many IGY marinas (ATM’s parent company), including Yacht Haven Grande in St. Thomas, USVI; Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia; and Fore Points Marina in Maine; along with other superyacht harbors in the U.S. and Caribbean. “Typically, larger yachts are homeported or they’re transient. If they’re visiting, you want to know where they are visiting from, where they are going to, and what their expectations are,” Phlegar says. ATM interviews yacht captains, cruising guide editors, and other marina operators. It even uses large-yacht tracking software to help determine cruising patterns in the area.

A major consideration is whether the marina property is “on the beaten path” or not. “It’s hard to drive a destination status if you are nowhere near the traditional cruising routes,” he says. Another consideration, he adds, is: “If you are going to be a homeport for charter yachts, you have to have excellent airlift.”

A major consideration is whether the marina property is “on the beaten path” or not.

The local power grid and road infrastructure, customs and immigration accessibility, and the capacity of other marinas in the region, and a host of other questions are answered by this preliminary survey. “The market assessment gets you to understand what that marina should be,” Phlegar says.

Feasibility Study

The physical characteristics of the marina property under development are just as important as its location — if not even more so. “Once market demand is confirmed, the next step in the marina planning process is confirming the physical feasibility,” says Eric Simonton, IGY executive vice president of real estate and business development, whose most recent marina project is IGY Málaga Marina, currently under construction in Málaga, Spain. “Ample depth and tranquility are key elements of a marina’s functionality and dredging and wave attenuation are expensive and often the gating factors from a financial viability perspective,” he says.

According to Mathieu Salomon, Camper & Nicholsons Marinas technical director — whose recent projects include consulting on the design of Dubai Harbour, which when completed will be one of the world’s largest marinas with more than 1,100 berths accommodating yachts up to 160 meters in length — a marina feasibility study typically will require “a number of surveys ranging from:

  • Bathymetric and topographic surveys
  • Environmental conditions such as wind, wave, and surge
  • Sedimentation surveys
  • Affection plan (official site plan issued by the government with survey coordinates designating the boundaries)
  • Concept designs for on-shore development.”

Local tidal variations, wave activity, and storm surge are among the most important factors to consider during the feasibility study, Salomon continues. “When you are designing a marina, one of the first pre-determined items is the quay heights, which are affected by a number of variables, such as astronomical tidal variation, extreme tidal variation, storm surge, and wave buildup.”

For example, he says, “In some parts of the Northern Atlantic, you may have up to 12 meters rise and fall of tide daily, while in the Med and Caribbean that is limited to 0.7 meters under normal atmospheric conditions. As a result of this assessment, the quay height can be determined, and the quay height determines a number of infrastructure considerations.”

A marina designer also needs to know the local tidal cycles in order to determine which type of docks to use. 

A marina designer also needs to know the local tidal cycles in order to determine which type of docks to use. “Most megayacht facilities are in micro-tide environments, but some destination marinas are located in tidal waters,” Phlegar says. “A megayacht prefers a solid, non-floating dock, [but] when you have a larger-range tide cycle, then floating docks are many times preferred. Designing a marina is very, very site-specific — there are so many variables.”

Floating docks turned out to be the best solution for the new Hurricane Hole Superyacht Marina at Paradise Landing in Paradise Island, The Bahamas, which is being completely re-developed by owner Sterling Global Financial, Ltd. for a late 2021 opening. “We researched the market in North America and Europe, finding that Bellingham had the best product to manage our tidal change and provide flexibility for smaller boats along with superyachts,” says Brent Chapman, the company’s president and COO.

Climate Change

The bridge at Paradise Landing Marina

A superyacht marina designer must ensure the project can handle not only everyday wind, waves, and tides, but also extreme weather such as hurricanes or cyclones (in regions where they occur) and in future, the possible effects of climate change.

“Of course, we had to make sure that we could handle storm surges,” Chapman says. “The property is known as Hurricane Hole, and it actually is a hurricane hole — it’s always been a safe port in a storm. Still, the new seawall goes down 35 feet, and it is metal and concrete on top. The floating docks are designed for a 10-foot storm surge, which exceeds any historic hurricane in Nassau.”

“Climate change is a major consideration in designing any marina these days,” Simonton says. “The specter of climate change influences decisions regarding the types of docks to be used, as well as the freeboard and elevation of the docks. Upland facilities are being built to resist storm surge and sea level rise.”

“Predicted rising sea levels are an important consideration,” says Salomon. “We look at the worst environmental conditions for 100 years.” Luckily, however, he adds, “Today with hurricanes, the beauty is the superyacht knows long before and they get out of there.”


Considering the major investment required to design and build a superyacht marina today, no owner wants to see it be out-of-date tomorrow. So, part of the marina designer’s task is to “future-proof” the project against changing trends in the large-yacht market.

“Nobody’s got the crystal ball of that,” Phlegar says. “But we do take into account that boats tend to get beamier and longer over time. There are also catamaran-type vessels that are taking up more beam space within in the slips…. So, we try to build into the design as much flexibility as we can.”

For example, he continues, in the Caribbean, “We have side-tie dockage where you can have a 200-footer during the megayacht transient season, and in the summer, you can have three 70-foot sportfishers in the same spot they had the 200-footer. The challenge there is providing the power that would be needed for the different vessels…. You get creative and design power that can be stepped up or stepped down on the site.”

“Future-proofing marinas is all about having the flexibility to increase capacity,” Simonton adds. “Designing berths that can accommodate larger and larger vessels; designing utility service with the ability to add and expand capacity and maximizing Internet bandwidth are all ways to ensure that demand can be met in the future. We always have an eye 10 or 20 years out.”

Paradise Landing Marina

Utilities and Service

When it comes to the utilities and other services that today’s superyachts demand from a marina, the designer typically will ask the captains what they prefer. For example, Salomon says, “Does a yacht prefer to have underwater moorings or mooring buoys? It’s not a binary question where it’s yes or no — there are different opinions. Ropes dirty and potentially scratch the boat, but some captains don’t like to navigate between mooring buoys. It is always interesting to hear captains’ opinions on the subject.”

Clean fuel delivered via high-speed fuel pumps or in-slip fueling, black- and grey water disposal, high-speed broadband Wi-Fi, and 24-hour security are all features that yacht captains and owners have come to expect. So is abundant shore power, the demand for which has grown exponentially over the years.

“There is a great deal of innovation in the marina sector right now with increased capacity and sophistication in the delivery of utilities and services. As vessels get larger and more sophisticated, the landside support facilities must keep pace,” Simonton says. “Delivering the amounts of power that are being requested by the market is a challenge these days. The top end of electricity demand has grown significantly. Fifteen years ago, a small handful of vessels in the world may have sought 600 amps of power. We now have clients requesting 2,000 amps or more.”

“The specter of climate change influences decisions regarding the types of docks to be used, as well as the freeboard and elevation of the docks. Upland facilities are being built to resist storm surge and sea level rise.”

When the marina is located on an island with limited power supply, delivering enough shore power can be one of the most challenging aspects of its design. At Hurricane Hole Marina, for example, “We’re investing multi-millions on the power infrastructure in terms of new equipment, backup generators,” Chapman says. “We are working with BPL (Bahamas Power & Light); we’ve built a main building for utility that will house the switch gear for Paradise Island…. We’ll have clean, reliable power for our yachts, our condominiums, and [our] commercial properties.”

New solutions to the power-generation problem may be on the horizon, Salomon says. “We are in the process of identifying a[nd] developing a multi-renewable energy provider that can generate power using the elements present in a marina, which [include] tidal, current, solar, wind, and wave.”

Crew Facilities

When it comes to marina design, “There are two elements that are part of the concept,” Salomon says. “The first is, what does the yacht require — power, fuel, water — the ‘hardware,’ I like to call it. These are the elements required for the boat to come in, berth comfortably, and be serviced. Second, and as important, are all the ancillaries for the crew. It goes from bars, shops, washrooms, very good Wi-Fi, to sports leisure facilities — squash court, tennis court, a pool. All these things will impact where the boat goes.” Just as a new superyacht design is often a compromise between owner areas and technical spaces, designing a superyacht marina typically requires a delicate balance between crew amenities and commercial properties — particularly if it’s a destination marina incorporating condominiums, retail, restaurants, public spaces, and more.

Paradise Landing marina's superyachts

“A marina nowadays is rarely a standalone project. It’s normally part of a real estate development,” says Salomon. “A marina is waterfront property — it’s prime land. Any developer would rather put something there that will generate a return on investment.”

The scope of the dedicated crew facilities a marina must provide depends on its location, he continues. If the yacht harbor is in the Med port with established local hangouts for the yachting community, the crew usually can find their fun off-site. “In Monaco, in the evenings, they can socialize; they can meet their girlfriends, their partners,” Salomon says. “It’s a buzzing lifestyle.”

On the other hand, he says, “If you go to a remote island like Canouan, which is a project we built in 2014, it is very secluded, very quiet — the slogan is, ‘Where billionaires go to get away from millionaires.’ There aren’t many things to do, and the nearby resorts typically are restricted to their guests, so having facilities to entertain the crew is essential…. The captain is not going to want to stay there if his crew have nothing to do.”

“A marina nowadays is rarely a standalone project. It’s normally part of a real estate development,” says Salomon. 

“In a perfect situation, the retail/restaurant offerings surrounding the marina can fully meet the needs of the crew,” Simonton says. “When that is not possible, for whatever reason — the offerings may not match the needs of the crew — the marina owner may step in and fill the gap with dedicated crew facilities. IGY also partners with local businesses to better meet the needs of captains and crew, often resulting in special, enhanced, or discounted services and offerings.”

The new Hurricane Hole Marina footprint houses multiple condominium towers, casual, and fine-dining restaurants, a gourmet grocery, and other retail stores. “The cornerstone is the marina,” Chapman says. “The marina will be secured so only the owners and guests of the yachts can actually get onto the dock. But the rest of the facility is open for the public. We are literally 120 steps from Atlantis…so there are lots of people who are walking around, looking for somewhere to go, something to eat.”

Despite the demand for commercial businesses on-site, he says, “We are building a dedicated lounge for captains, and a fitness facility for captains and crew, along with a pool. That’s where the trade-off comes in. As the owner and development manager, because this is such a long-term investment for us, we are motivated to just to make the best decision for the long run. We may give up some short-term revenue, for some retail space, for example, yet it makes it a much better property in the long run from a customer and value aspect.”

In short, the best superyacht marina designs put captains and crew first. “When owners and charter guests are aboard, the yachts tend to be at sea. So, when yachts are in port, the captain and crew are our primary clients,” Simonton says. “Making their jobs easier, and experience more comfortable and fun, is key tenet of our company ethos. Ease of access to marine service providers and vendors, dining and nightlife options, Internet, work-out facilities, places to congregate socially when off the boat, and access to fun, local experiences are all key attributes of the most successful superyacht marinas.”

This feature ran in the October 2021 issue of Dockwalk.


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