Saturday, January 30, 2016

Severn Yachting Center

I usually like to review the places where I've spent time, and this marina and boatyard is no exception. Having been there for almost 6 months, I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the place.  "Severn Yachting Center and Yacht Yard" (formerly Severn River Marina if I believe the name printed on the travel lift) is located on the Severn River (bet you would have never guessed that) just off  Mobjack Bay in Hayes, Virginia.

Severn Yachting Center Marina

The marina is a combination of fixed and floating wood docks.  The fixed docks are obviously older but seem in OK condition, only in need of a few minor repairs. The wood is older and would not be recommended for bare feet (floating docks are attached to the fixed so you will walk on them regardless of slip assignment). The floating docks are obviously a newer addition and were retrofitted into the marina on wood pilings and are generally in good shape. The marina has two bath houses, one free standing near the docks and the other attached to the office and shop building. The free standing house is the usual his and hers arrangement with two showers on each side.  The latter are three unisex rooms, two with showers that seem to be favored by most, including us.

The facilities at Severn Yachting Center

The main building used to be the shop building but part of it was built out to contain the offices, a decent ships store, and the newer bath house.  In front of the building (the side facing the river) they have a pool and deck area that makes a nice place to hang out when the weather is comfortable. The back 2/3 of the building is still the maintenance shop.  Behind the shop is the path that leads to a modest sized boatyard. The facility has a new reverse osmosis water system so water quality is very good.  They also have WiFi (more on this below) and fuel.

It is somewhat off the beaten path, but a bit more convenient to civilization than up in Deltaville. Other than the on-site ships store, a bicycle, or preferably a car, is needed for acquiring most off-site items or provisioning. The marina is reasonably well suited for longer-term liveaboards, particularly if they have transportation. Overall the facility is decent for the price.

The owner is a nice guy and is probably one of the main reasons we chose this marina when we were researching places to stay and take on the hardtop project. Unfortunately the customer-oriented attitude is hit or miss depending on the day, who you are dealing with, and the moods of those who work there.

Our first experience with this was during the boat haul out. While power-washing the boat I wanted to confirm how they intended to block the boat since my boat has bolt-on sacrificial keels (designed so when charterers ran over things they wouldn't sink the boat). They told me they were going to block it on the keels, something the manufacturer does not recommend.  They proceeded to argue with me about it stating they block in accordance with ABYC standards. I showed them the manual where it talks about sacrificial keels and lack of load bearing. Finally, they called the manufacturer and confirmed what I, and the manual, told them.  Then they had me sign a waiver stating that I wanted the boat blocked other than their standard way and charged me for "special blocking" or something like that.  I later checked the ABYC standards, and wouldn't you know it states "check the boat manufacturer's owner's manual, if available, for lifting and blocking instructions, limitations, or restrictions" and "Keel blocking should be used to support the weight of the boat, unless otherwise specified by the boat manufacturer.[emphasis added] " At one point during this ordeal I even overheard the employee question my abilities or if I should even own a boat. So, if you have this marina haul your boat, make sure you are well aware of any blocking needs specific to your boat well before you arrive (and confirm again once you do arrive), and make sure they follow those instructions.

Later, while on the hard, I discovered that one of the shaft bearings (cutlass bearings) needed replacement.  Wanting to speed up my time in the yard and give the yard a little work, I asked if they could do it.  I received a verbal quote from the yard that it would take a day or two and they would not be able to get to it for a couple weeks.  They explained they would have to cut the bearing out and how difficult the job would be.  I declined because I knew better.  If you look at the bearing holder, you see one large bolt above it.  Removal of this bolt allows you to slide the holder out of the boat, where you can take it to a shop press and easily press the old bearing out and new bearing in place. Given it was my first time, it took me about 3 hours to remove the prop and the holder, take it to the shop so they could use their press, and get everything cleaned up and reinstalled. It took me longer to find a prop puller (actually used a bearing puller rented for free at the local auto parts store) than it did to do the work.

Late in the hardtop project, I was told that they needed the space I was using (and paying for) in the yard and they may have to move my work space.  We were nearing completion so we hustled even more to get the top done.  I came back to them and told them that we were ready to move the top, and they could have their space back.  Then the story became that they were way too busy and could not help us until after the Christmas break (it was December 8th at the time). Since they are closed between Christmas and New Year's, that would be a delay of several weeks. My wife said they seem to have a real "No Can Do" attitude unless you are an expensive yacht or government contract. We were finally able to talk with the boatyard manager the next day, while the marina/yard owner was also present, and he was then able to "squeeze" us in the following week.  The next week came, and the owner and manager were not around.  The staff didn't seem busy so I approached the lift operator and asked if he could move my top that week.  He suggested the next morning.  I later found out that neither he nor any other employee was ever even told of my original request to move the top.

The Fixed Docks (note two missing power pedestals along left side)
Maintenance seems to be an issue at the marina.  There were two power pedestals on our dock that were missing, the wires simply wrapped in plastic.  They have been that way since the day we arrived.  I was told that there was some sort of electrical short and possible fire so they were removed and have never been replaced.  While we were there, two of the flexible hoses that fed fresh water to the newer floating docks ruptured, and one has yet to be replaced.  On three separate occasions within a one-month period they had problems with the water system, which caused the water to the entire marina to be off for 24 hours or more each time.  Only once did the marina have water trucked in, but that was because the boatyard manager was present and his house was also impacted by the outage.  Back in the yard where my work space was, the electrical plug didn't work and they had to string a long extension cord from the next plug down the line so I would have power. The water spigot at the same location is capped off because it leaks so we had to use others. The parking lot is dirt/rock (like a boatyard) and has a lot of potholes to dodge. Feels a bit like we were driving on the moon.

One section of potholes in the parking lot

They have WiFi at the marina, but it doesn't work very well at all.  I know marinas often have issues with this as it is a complex environment to configure, but this marina is worse than most, and much of the problem seems to stem from poor setup.  When I spoke with one of the boaters here who was also charged with setting up and maintaining the system, he blamed Cox (the internet provider) and the equipment.  I know Cox wasn't an issue because the internet works fine from the computers hardwired to the network in the office.  Being an ex "computer guy", I did a little investigation and found that the way they have the WiFi routers configured causes much of the intermittent access issue.  But I don't get the impression that the marina is interested in paying to have someone who knows how to fix it come out and do so.

Most of the regular janitorial work and some landscaping are done by one of the residents who is also a part-time employee of the marina. She seems to be the hardest working employee they have. Despite having another job, the bathrooms are usually clean, the trash is regularly emptied, and the grounds look good (particularly for a boatyard that seems unwilling to spend much on maintenance).

The owner and yard manager seem to split their time between this location and other(s) and are absent some of the time.  In addition, as hinted at above, communication seems to be an issue. I know of a few boats that had issues getting work done in a timely manner and one that couldn't even get them to come do an estimate for some work (they ended up going elsewhere to have the work done). When a hurricane threatened, they had only one employee who was out in the rain helping boaters get things secured.  I later found out he was actually supposed to be their maintenance guy, but seemed to always be pulled into boat projects while I was there.  Unfortunately, this hard working guy no longer works at the marina.

If you do go to this marina, don't expect to be able to hail them on your VHF radio.  They have a handheld, but don't seem to use it.  Expect to call them on your cell phone (if you can get a cell signal).

I understand that this is not the most expensive marina and there are budgetary concerns, but the phrase penny wise and pound foolish comes to mind. If they need to boost the rent by a modest amount, it may serve them well if they can use that extra cash to resolve some of the issues.  They also need to get the entire staff on board with the idea that their jobs are in a service industry and providing good and friendly service goes a very long way in creating a loyal customer base.

This may seem a bit harsh, but it is what I encountered while I was there.  And as I've said, it isn't all bad.  Some of the folks are pleasant to work with at the marina.  There are some good folks who live there as well.  The facility is fairly nice, particularly for a boatyard.  They have a fairly well stocked store and can get most things they don't have within 24 hours through their suppliers. It wouldn't take a lot of work to propel them from the industry average to a marina I would enjoy returning to.  I hope they can get their maintenance and staffing issues under control.


  1. Hi Mike,
    nice review with some constructive criticism. Some of the improvements involve little or no $s so they seem like no-brainers. How goes your battery bank and other boat work?
    Doug in VT

    1. Thanks Doug. The marina isn't bad, just a few things that they could improve upon. Unfortunately, it seems most places suffer from similar issues.

      As for the is taking much longer than I anticipated to make the switch to GC2 batteries. It is all connected up, but I'm needing to make some changes to the lid of the box and the battery hold downs. That is what I've been working on the past couple days. Will have a write up on it soon.