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Boating infrastructure grants by the numbers

by Scott Croft 14 Jul 08:56 PDT
Florence Harbor Marina, Alabama, used BIG funds to renovate an existing 460-foot transient dock by adding new dockside power pedestals, providing water service, and replacing worn decking and flotation. © Alabama Department of Environmental Management

Many waterfront towns don't make it easy for visiting boaters to stay and spend. It's not their fault. Protected, safe harbors as well essential boating services such as fuel, utilities and bathrooms, are beyond the price tag for a local town, marina or boat club budget. However, a federal program first championed by Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) in 1998, the Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) program, has proven effective in attracting boaters and their spending dollars by providing safe, transient dockage.

"In the 1990s, boat owners had a problem," explains BoatUS vice president of public affairs, Scott Croft. "Many were new to the lifestyle, and while they greatly enjoyed boating, sailing, and fishing, they had nowhere to go if they wanted to travel by water. There wasn't a lot of safe dockage to tie up to, preventing access to the local amenities such as restaurants, shopping and tourist sites." A congressional survey of 12,000 marinas confirmed existing tie-up facilities weren't keeping up with the demand for visiting boater facilities.

With a coalition of partners, BoatUS secured initial authorization funding for the BIG program in 1998. Since then, BIG has provided $263 million for safe harbor facilities for transient boats greater than 26 feet in length for stays of up to 15 days. The program supports infrastructure such as piers, breakwaters, floating docks, bulkheads, mooring buoys, day docks, dinghy docks, slips, bathrooms, showers, laundries, recycling stations, fuel docks, utilities, navigation aids, limited dredging and other services.

Now funded by the Wildlife Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, BIG is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and administered locally through state boating agencies. Sport Fish Trust Fund monies come from taxes that boaters and anglers pay on motorboat fuel, fishing tackle and equipment, imported boats, and small engines.

BIG's annual application deadline is typically in September. The application deadline for marinas, towns or boat clubs, however, varies from agency to agency, as do program requirements. A helpful applicant’s guide can be found at State’s Organization for Boating Access (SOBA). SOBA also offers a contact list of state boating agency contacts.

Here's a look at the Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) program by the numbers:

6,500+: The number of transient berths across the U.S. that the BIG program has created since its inception in 1998. These benefit traveling boaters as well as economic development of local waterfronts and communities.

$18 million: The amount of Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) funds announced March 30, 2022, to be provided to local governments, port agencies, public/private marinas and boat clubs in 20 states for the construction, renovation and maintenance of safe harborage for transient vessels. The next annual grant cycle for 2023 closes this fall.

426: The number of transient boat slips and berths that were funded in the 2022 BIG program "Tier 2" level, which is designed for larger projects. This included approximately $15 million for 5,682 feet of side-tie transient docking space. "Tier 1" 2022 grants provided nearly $3.4 million in funding for smaller projects in 19 states from Alabama to Washington.

20: The number of years that federal regulations require that a BIG project typically must be available to the public. This commitment to maintain the transient access for its useful life continues with the selling or transferring ownership of a BIG-funded facility, which requires prior authorization. During that useful life period, reasonable public access at a BIG-funded facility must be maintained, along with BIG program signage indicating the funding source for the transient dockage. Facilities must be open during boating season — closing to the public for private events or not allowing tie-ups isn't permitted, nor is leasing to nontransient vessel operators or summer slip holders.

26: The target length in feet (and larger) of recreational boats which the BIG program is designed to attract. This is about the size of a vessel with three key onboard amenities critical for overnight stays or cruises: 1. a cooking facility, 2. a sleeping facility, and 3. bathroom or "head."

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