Fall has arrived, and winter is right around the corner. Depending on where you live, you may want to store your boat away for the entire season, or you may want easy access to it for those scattered warmer days in southern locations. How you use your boat in the off season will help you decide the best method of boat storage for your individual situation.

In this guide, we’ll examine the three main types of boat storage, digging into the advantages and necessary considerations for each. We’ll also offer guidance on which types are best for various situations.

Dry Rack Boat Storage — Best for Preserving Boat Condition, Small- to Mid-Sized Boats

Dry rack storage became popular about 60 years ago, as marina owners began looking for ways to get more boats into their storage space. They started using racks and stacking lightweight boats on the racks with forklifts. This system was easy to use and allowed boat owners to access their boats when they wanted to, simply by calling ahead and making arrangements with the marina to have the boat ready to go when the owner arrived.

Over time, dry rack storage systems became more sophisticated. Special racks were created specifically designed for boats, and forklifts were built with features that made it easier to launch the boats into the water. Building manufacturers began constructing large steel buildings to house racks. Eventually, a whole industry grew up around rack storage. Today, you can find “rackominums” that provide amenities like boating supply stores, restaurants, and hotels, all in the same location.

Benefits of Dry Rack Storage

Dry rack storage is popular for a reason — many reasons, in fact. There are five key benefits.

  1. Easy to Use — Simply call ahead and your boat will be ready to go when you arrive (although you may need to wait if there’s a line). When you’re finished, just drop your boat off at the marina and leave. Some marinas provide fueling and cleaning services as well.
  2. No Need for Interim Cleaning — If you store your boat in the water, you’ll need to regularly clean off growth and paint the hull. Dry rack storage reduces the amount of time spent on both of these tasks.
  3. Preserves the Boat’s Condition — When your boat is protected, either in a covered barn or by a boat cover on a rack, it won’t experience the damaging effects of UV rays.
  4. Provides Security — Most marinas offer electronic security systems to prevent theft and vandalism and have fire suppression systems. You’ll enjoy greater peace of mind with dry rack storage.
  5. Can be Better for the Environment — Paints and fluids can impact water quality. If the only time your boat spends in the water is the time you’re using it, you’ll have a much smaller environmental impact.

Drawbacks of Dry Rack Storage

With all of these benefits, why wouldn’t you use dry rack storage? There are a few reasons.

  1. Not Common for Large Boats — If you have a large boat, it may be difficult to find dry rack storage to accommodate it.
  2. Once-Per-Day Limit — If you want to take the boat out more than once per day, you may have trouble locating a marina that allows this (most permit only one retrieval per day).
  3. No Overnight Use — If you want to use your boat overnight, you’ll likely need to find a place to park your boat in the water since most marinas aren’t staffed 24 hours a day.
  4. No Tinkering On-site — If you enjoy working on your boat, you’ll need to figure out how to move your boat elsewhere, since most marinas don’t allow owners to work on their boats at the storage location.
  5. Fees — For boat owners who don’t plan to use their boats frequently during the storage season, dry rack is typically cost-effective. But waste, trailer, and other fees can add up to $300 per month or more, not including launch fees, particularly at prestigious “rackominum” facilities.

Types of Dry Rack Storage

You can find a variety of different styles of dry rack storage. The most common are large steel buildings with racks on either side and an aisle in the center that allows a forklift to operate. These conventional buildings are typically designed for small- to mid-sized boats (although you can find conventional buildings that accommodate larger boats as well).

Sheds are smaller, with three sides, and most often house boats up to 36 feet. One side is left open for forklift access. Free-standing racks are portable and adjustable, and the entire structure can be picked up and moved with a forklift. They’re designed for smaller boats, up to 30 feet.

Whichever type you’re considering, keep in mind that if you don’t plan to use your boat in the off season, you’ll want to winterize it.

Wet Storage — Best for Convenience, Frequent Use

For boat owners who want to use their boat frequently throughout the season, wet slip storage is an attractive option. Wet slip storage is available at marinas or storage yards, and offers the utmost in convenient access — your boat is ready to go whenever you are. Your boat is stored in the water, in a “slip” (like a parking space for the boat).

Benefits of Wet Storage

Wet storage has several positives that make it another popular option. Here are the two most significant benefits.

  1. Convenience — As mentioned, wet storage provides anytime, convenient access. If you’re planning to use your boat throughout the season and you don’t want to pay extra fees or wait in line, wet storage is a good solution.
  2. Amenities — Some boat owners actually spend more time at the marina than in the water! If your marina offers amenities like heated pools, dog parks, and recreation areas, keeping your boat in a slip is a fun way to enjoy these.

Drawbacks of Wet Storage

While wet slip storage is ideal for convenient access, there are a couple of things you’ll need to take into consideration before choosing this type.

  1. Bottom Maintenance — The fact of the matter is that your boat’s underside will suffer damage from being in the water all the time. You’ll need to stay on top (no pun intended!) of bottom maintenance, including cleaning and painting.
  2. Weather Damage —  Weather damage can be mitigated with a boat cover, but you’ll need to take into account the potential for damage from high winds, particularly if you live in a hurricane zone.

Trailer Storage — Best for Cost Savings

The cheapest way to store your boat is trailer storage (after you have purchased the trailer). Trailer storage is a method where you simply keep your boat on the trailer, parked in your yard or on your driveway.

Benefits of Trailer Storage

Trailer storage has many advocates, and there are three great reasons for this.

  1. Cost — You can’t beat trailer storage for cost. Most boat owners want to have a trailer for the boat anyway, and there is no cost for trailer storage after your purchase the trailer.
  2. Proximity — You can easily keep an eye on your boat if it’s parked in your yard or driveway.
  3. Flexibility — You can take your boat to a variety of locations, without having to pick up the boat at the marina and transport it from there.

Drawbacks of Trailer Storage

However, although the benefits are attractive, trailer storage has drawbacks. Here are the cons you should consider.

  1. Inconvenience — When you want to take the boat out, you’ll need to hook the boat up, drive it to the ramp, wait in line to put the boat in, find a parking spot, and walk back to boat. When you’re finished for the day, you have to repeat the process in reverse.
  2. Exposure to the Elements — Trailer storage presents the same problem with weather damage that wet slip storage does. Be sure to use a boat cover, and winterize if you’re not going to be using the boat during the season.

Don’t Forget to Block Your Trailer

One thing you’ll want to make sure you do if you go with trailer storage, particularly if you won’t be moving the trailer all season, is to block it. Blocking a trailer is a straightforward process.

  • Choose a Location — Choose a location out of the way of falling tree limbs and other debris. The ground should be firm.
  • Chock the Wheels and Level the Trailer
  • For Trailers With Spring Suspension, Chain Axles to the Trailer Frame — This will prevent the axles from sagging. Be sure you’re not running the chain across brake lines or trailer wires. (This step is unnecessary if your trailer features torsion-axle suspension.)
  • Raise the Trailer — Position a floor jack a few feet behind the rear axle, then lift the frame until the rear tires are a couple of inches above the ground. Position a jack stand under the frame with a piece of wood underneath for support, then lower the floor jack. Next, position the floor jack a few feet in front of the front axle, and repeat the process. Finally, readjust the trailer level.

Be Sure to Use a Custom or Semi-Custom Cover

With trailer and wet slip storage, you’ll need a custom or semi-custom cover, since your boat will be subjected to rain, wind, and (depending on where you live) snow. Custom fit covers are designed specifically for the make, model, and year of particular boats. Semi-custom fit covers are patterned to fit a specific boat style and its overall length and beam width. Either option will work to protect your boat, so you aren’t surprised with damage when you’re ready to take it out again.

As you can see, each type of storage has its own pros and cons. There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of which method you should choose. The decision will be based mainly on how you anticipate using your boat during the off season, and your own personal preference. What matters most is that you’re able to enjoy the boat when you want to take it out, as easily as possible!

Next Article: 6 Steps to Winterize and Store Your Pontoon Boat