Commentary: A Highly Seasoned Boater’s Advice on Our Marina

By Wally Moran

Having stopped in Fernandina Beach by boat more than 50 times myself, and having led 10 boating rallies that have stopped here, I feel I need to comment on your marina fee issue.

Fernandina Beach is a gem along the Intracoastal Waterway for boaters making the seasonal transit north and south. Unlike many stops along the Eastern coast, Fernandina Beach is easily accessible from the water. With a vibrant, attractive downtown just steps away, it’s a favorite stop in Florida for many — myself included.

Your mayor commented at a recent city commission meeting about transient vessels being “millionaires’ yachts.” The fact is, the majority of boats traveling south aren’t “millionaires’ yachts,” they are typically 35 – 45 foot vessels belonging to retirees, people living on a fixed income of pensions and their savings.

These boaters are not people who blithely throw $100 bills at the peasants, these are people who watch their expenses carefully. In today’s economy, they are even more cautious. Painting them as “millionaires” does nothing more than mislead people on how to properly manage marina issues.

Then there are the thousands of people who come to town to go for a boat ride, or fishing, putting money in the pockets of local businesspeople. When all of these folks arrive in town, whether by boat or car, they explore, they spend money at restaurants, shops, boat supplies and more. They are a significant part of the health of your downtown business sector, and the marina is the door through which they come in.

Some of your elected representatives may see the marina as a money pit, a hole that sucks up taxpayer dollars. I wonder how many of them have the wisdom to see the marina as a facility that generates millions of dollars for the downtown merchants, that helps to ensure that your downtown remains the attractive and viable place that it is.

Without the marina, just how would your downtown fare? I think that question is rather easily answered, given the recent history following the hurricane that put the marina out of commission. The marina is a significant generator of traffic for your city.

Then there is Oasis, the marina management company. Your city commission needs to keep in mind the fact that Oasis’ interests are in keeping the operation profitable for Oasis. They don’t care about the financial well being of your downtown. That’s not what they are there for. So when Oasis asks the city to increase prices, it’s to benefit Oasis, not Fernandina Beach.

Unfortunately, the city marina has developed a reputation amongst boaters as an expensive stop. Here’s a review from last March in

“Nice concrete docks. The slips aren’t secure, no key cards to enter dock area. The showers are filthy, full of mold. No paper towels to wipe your hands using the toilets. The lounge is only open until 1700. Shockingly expensive for services.”

And for this level of “luxury,” the average millionaire – er, boater, is paying $100/night or more, plus another $6 – $25 for power. You can stay at a local motel for less than that, with a pool and other amenities, clean showers and 24/7 staff.

I have observed this recent trend of city administrations on the East Coast handing over a valuable marina asset to management firms. In no location that I can think of have services improved. In truth, services have typically been reduced while costs to the boater increase. How could they not? The beast needs to be fed, and inserting another entity into the mix guarantees higher prices.

Boaters lounge? Shut it down at 5 p.m., despite the fact that most boaters arrive late in the day and leave early in the morning and so, won’t be able to use it. Clean showers? If we have time. Gotta watch those profits.

The fuel issue. The city has lost 3/4 of a million dollars “due to myriad design and equipment flaws at its fuel dock.” Well, who is the genius behind this fiasco, and has it been corrected? Because of its location and the distance to the next marina with fuel, Fernandina Beach is a mandatory fuel stop for many boats.

Fixing whatever the problem is here should be a priority, since those fuel profits could go a long way towards lowering those losses being complained about. Is there anyone taking charge of this? Hello?

The Fernandina Beach city marina had a well deserved reputation as a friendly, well managed and reasonably priced stop for many years. My advice to your city commission is to hire a results-oriented marina manager — they’re out there — and dispense with feeding a profit-oriented company. Those profits can be used to the city’s benefit.


Wally Moran’s land base, though he is rarely there, is Orillia, Ontario. He says, “I actually travel pretty much full-time on my sailboat with my dog, Aduana, who I rescued from Cuba a number of years ago.” He retired at 47 to go sailing. Before that, he was a newspaper editor and publisher. He writes for a variety of sailing publications and gives seminars at boating shows. And yes, Fernandina Beach is one of his favorite spots in Florida.

Wally Moran

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Noble Member
[email protected](@angeldoccie2003yahoo-com)
8 months ago

Sometimes we need to hear from a boater who actually lives the life. Thank you for your advice. I love our Marina and hope it survives and thrives.

Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
8 months ago

Outsourcing municipal services rarely saves money or improves said services; the marina seems to be a good example of this

Joe Blanchard
Noble Member
Joe Blanchard(@jlblan2)
8 months ago

The way the marina is funded and the arrangement of it being required to be self sufficient ignores the fact that it is an asset to the community and brings a lot of money into the community. We have told both Oasis and the City that by increasing the fees, a point will be reached where no one can afford to come to our marina. If the Federal Channel, that hasn’t been used in over 40 years, were to be dis-established then the marina could be expanded north, the southern basin closed and the overhead costs reduced. The ICW will still be there for barge traffic. The marina would then be the gem that it has to potential to be.

Trusted Member
8 months ago

Well said. I wonder if there could be a committee of boaters and shop-owners who could drill down on some positive ideas for improvement. Is there a yacht club there? Years ago I dated a sailor who did Pacific Cup to Kaneohe HI. Their yacht club was casual and friendly: a pool, great restaurant, drinks, showers, safe dock and slips. I hope you will continue to weigh in on this issue. Great editorial!


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Faith Ross
Active Member
Faith Ross(@faith-ross)
8 months ago

The taxpayers of Fernandina Beach pay for the debt on the marina, $600k a year. Without their support, it is insolvent (doesn’t matter who runs it). According to the State of Florida’s Revenue Department, the City of Fernandina, just the City, generated $35 million in sales tax last year. That’s great! But how much did the State give us back? ONLY $3 million. Why not ask Nassau County and the State, who received the $32 million of our sales tax to subsidize the $600k a year plus a few million for the upcoming dredging costs that the City residents will need to add to their tax bills next year? Sounds fair to me! And I will repeat, all of that “business” that happens downtown, that money doesn’t come back to the City of Fernandina or the marina. Anyone have another solution on how to pay for a costly marina that most City residents can’t use but must pay for?

Amy S
Amy S(@amy-s)
8 months ago
Reply to  Faith Ross

Could you provide us with the link to were that stat is available?

Gypsy Wind
Gypsy Wind(@sailgypsywind)
8 months ago
Reply to  Faith Ross

@Faith Ross – The City of Fernandina Beach generated $35 million in sales tax, but you don’t take the next step and ask – how much of that $35M is a result of the marina and its associated operations?
And all that business that is generated downtown? Much of it does come back to FB in wages, purchases from other local businesses, sales and other business taxes.
And – the marina is there for ALL FB citizens to use, if they so choose. Not everyone plays golf on the city’s course, and it doesn’t generate the same kind of tourist revenue that the marina does, but I don’t hear you bewailing it, do I?
Want to make the marina pay for itself? First, as I said, hire a results oriented marina manager, someone in the industry who understands how to make a marina pay for itself. Next, as @Joe Blanchard notes, disestablish the federal channel and build out the marina to the north, perhaps over a period of years so as to keep costs manageable.
Third, establish a serious marketing program that gets the word out about what a great place FB is to visit by boat. I never see anything of this nature promoting FB to the boating world. People go by, they see the industrial nature of part of the waterfront and don’t stop because of that. That’s their loss, but it’s the city’s loss as well when they eschew a visit here.
I’m sure there are more ideas out there.

Active Member
8 months ago

Wally’s assessment is true. The marina used to be well-run and managed, which kept us sailing back through every year since 2007.. We boaters would have happy hour in the lounge, staff was helpful, accommodating, and remembered is each year. Thanks to that kind of welcoming, we’ve lived on land here for several years. That said, we’ve watched the disinterest in the marina grow, watched boating community not even bothering to come here anymore, and now the squeeze to run the charter fisherman off with high slip fees AND NO FUEL!
Walking the docks is an evening ritual for sunsets for residents as well as tourists, and not always just to see the
mega yachts.. It’s just a hellava way to maintain a focal part of our city through greed and dwindling care. Years ago a councilman said” Fernandina is not known for taking care of what they have”. thanks for proving that now.

Dave L
Trusted Member
Dave L(@dave-l)
8 months ago

Some good points about the boater amenities (or lack thereof) but also some misstatements in Wally’s article. Please tell me where in Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island one can find a motel/hotel room for $125/night unless it is the Fort Clinch campground? I’m not sure how Oasis benefits from an increase in fees as I didn’t think their payment was a % of revenue unless the marina is profitable which you know isn’t going to happen any time soon. Yes, the fueling issue has been a fiasco and been a huge drain on the overall revenue position of the marina.
While some proclaim that the marina is a major economic benefit to the downtown area I have never seen any objective studies to support that statement. So in the weeks/months after Hurricane Matthew put the marina out of commission, how did the downtown merchants fare? Looking at sales tax numbers should tell the story.
Faith, I believe your statement about sales taxes is not totally correct. While the county is paid the taxes collected by the state, they remit a portion to the city based on the percentage collected. The proposed budget shows the General Fund as receiving approximately $2.7 million in sales and use taxes as revenue.

Faith Ross
Active Member
Faith Ross(@faith-ross)
8 months ago
Reply to  Dave L

Dave, there is a complicated formula for getting our tax money back. However, it is based on Florida Law. According to the Florida Department of Revenue, the City alone, generated $35 million in sales tax in 2022. And in the end, it gets distributed back to the City on a percentage of the population of Nassau County. I was kind in saying that the City received $3 million of its money back. The 2023 Florida Statutes XIV
Chapter 218
View Entire Chapter
218.62 Distribution formulas.— (1) Each participating county and municipal government shall receive a proportion of moneys earmarked for distribution within that county.
(2) The proportion for each county government shall be computed by dividing the sum of the unincorporated area population plus two-thirds of the incorporated area population by the sum of the total county population plus two-thirds of the incorporated area population.
(3) The proportion for each municipal government shall be computed by dividing the population of that municipality by the sum of the total county population plus two-thirds of the incorporated area population.
(4) Effective October 1, 2000, the apportionment factors shall, except in the case of error in the population certified pursuant to s. 186.901, remain in effect for the fiscal year. Adjustments to distributions to correct errors shall be made subsequent to receipt of a corrected population certified pursuant to s. 186.901.

Alan Hopkins
Noble Member
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
8 months ago

The mismanagement of this place is astounding. From the golf course to the Marina and everywhere in between. Sorry you are the victim of our sorry past and current leadership. Hopefully it will be fixed but I have my doubts. The council just “found” $1,700,000 and spent it like all good politicians in a New York minute. Didn’t think of returning a dime to those of us who paid it. Also I don’t think the bathrooms or showers at the Marina were even thought of. To many other “Interests” in front of you.