Lack of berths leaves boaters high and dry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2012, 12:00am


With 733 kilometres of coastline and more than 250 islands to explore, Hong Kong should be a paradise for boaters. But the city's marinas are jammed to capacity and a lack of mooring space makes it impossible for most in the city to enjoy sailing or sea-fishing.

A study by Designing Hong Kong and the Harbour Business Forum found that there are twice as many pleasure boats registered in the city - 7,660 - as there are spaces at the 10 marinas and yacht clubs and the 23 designated private mooring areas.

That means many owners have to leave their boats at informal moorings in typhoon shelters and waterways. 'The existing boat berths at private clubs, public mooring areas and marine department private moorings are full,' Tyler Wack, a co-author of the report, said. 'If any moorings at private clubs are available, the boat owner cannot afford the membership and mooring fees.'

The study, called Boating Left High and Dry, was conducted in January and February by a team of students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a college in Massachusetts in America.

It found that owners have to wait years for a public berth, and even those who can afford a spot at one of the city's exclusive yacht clubs might find themselves out of luck.

'We are full,' said Michael Franco from Hebe Haven yacht club in Sai Kung. 'We have more than 200 members waiting,' the general manager of one of Hong Kong Island's two yacht clubs said.

It has 200 hard stands, 213 moorings and 53 berths. But the wait could be as long as seven years and his message is: 'If you are planning on buying a boat, forget it!'

The story is much the same at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, where the estimated waiting time is up to 10 years. The Aberdeen Boat Club is full, as is the Discovery Bay Marina Club.

And not everyone can afford the membership anyway - meaning most of the population is denied the chance to take part in a leisure activity that is part of the fabric of most harbour cities.

At Hebe Haven, a lifelong membership costs HK$40,000 for a person aged 30 or older - and that's before you even consider the HK$800 monthly charge. The owner of a 26-foot boat, which is considered small, would have to spend a further HK$990 a month to rent a mooring space, or HK$5,445 for a 'walk-on walk-off' berth.

'It is impossible to store your boat if you are not a member of a club in Hong Kong,' said Simon Milne, a lawyer who keeps his small dinghy on a hard stand at the Aberdeen Boat Club. 'Unless you already have a mooring space, you really need to think before buying a boat.' Milne is trying to sell his dinghy for HK$40,000 because he has to move to Australia.

The Marine Department says the government's responsibility is limited to providing 'local vessels and small visiting vessels with places in sheltered areas suitable for taking refuge during inclement weather'.

The study proposes to regulate existing informal anchorages in Tseung Kwan O, Sha Tin new fishermen's village and Stanley.

In many typhoon shelters or waterways, dozens of small boats or dinghies are informally and unsafely moored using tyres and makeshift ladders because their owners have nowhere else to keep them. Some even tie their boats to trees.

The study also calls on the government to allocate more areas for dry storage, and estimates it could create about 1,750 new moorings.

'The government is not particularly interested in this because they see yachting as an elite activity, and they are not willing to look into expansion of this industry,' said Gordon Hui, managing director of luxury boat dealer Sunseeker Asia.

The Marine Department says its role is limited to providing professional views on operational and traffic safety matters to marinas.

A Home Affairs Bureau spokesman says the government supports in principle the idea of marina expansion to promote sports development.

But industry professionals say a more radical approach is needed.

'A public marina is the way to go,' said Gerhard Kutt, president of HAWC Technologies, a builder of high-speed boats. 'Private clubs are expensive. Everyone in Hong Kong should be able to enjoy boating, not just the rich.'

To him, the area near the site of the new cruise terminal at the former Kai Tak airport site would be ideal. He believes 500 to 1,000 berths could be included, with berthing fees low enough that ordinary families could afford them.

To be sure, the situation is not so serious that the recreational boating industry is suffering.

'The number of inquiries has dropped dramatically,' said James Rayner, a senior broker at boat and yacht dealership Simpson Marine. Rayner said the drop-off was not due to the economic climate but the lack of mooring space. 'We are now at such a stage that people are not even inquiring any more.'

Sunseeker's Hui estimates that his firm's local sales have declined from about 20 units in 2009 and 2010 to about four units last year because of the lack of mooring space. 'Not all our customers own the mega yachts above 100 foot - many average owners were purchasing yachts between 50 and 70 foot, but that market has discontinued,' he said.

Hong Kong is also missing out compared to places such as Singapore, Thailand and especially the mainland, which have all developed marinas to accommodate a rapidly growing fleet. 'The business is all in China,' Hui said.

Extra mooring space could also create jobs, he added. 'This industry actually hires several thousand people, giving them jobs as captain, crew and servicing shipyards staff,' Hui said. 'With the decline of the Hong Kong fishing industry, the next generation would benefit from the yachting industry's continuation.'