LBWA — Launch The Fleet

Photo Courtesy Of Randy Gaddo

Photo Courtesy Of Randy Gaddo

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.   

As the nation emerges from one of the coldest winters in recent memory, recreation specialists will begin to see water enthusiasts flocking back for sun, exercise, and water recreation. However, maintaining a fleet of watercraft and related infrastructure is a never-ending task. 

Whether the craft is a relatively simple canoe or jon boat, a more involved pedal boat, a high-maintenance power boat, or even the newest craze—a stand-up paddle board—everything requires maintenance. Plus, the docks, piers, landings, and property that harbor the fleets require special care and attention. 

“In a number of places, the infrastructure where people use their watercraft are deteriorating; they’re just not as maintained as they could be due to economic stress,” notes David Dickerson, Executive Director of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents boat, marine engine, and accessory manufacturers.  

Dickerson says information from the field reveals that some public and private infrastructure owners are choosing to close down facilities rather than repair them. 

“I have heard that owners say, ‘We’re not going to replace this series of piers,’ for example; when they become unsafe, they’re unsafe and that’s the way it is.” He adds that some owners further decide to outsource watercraft rental to private contractors.

“Sometimes the contractor will say ‘Look, if you’ll give us a 30-year lease, we’ll fix the dock, but we can’t put $300,000 out if you’re going to give us a 5-year contract; that’s impossible,’” Dickerson says. “So sometimes this causes a change in how people do business.” 

Dickerson further asserts that it is unfortunate when park systems choose to close down these facilities, especially for people who don’t own their own craft. “There just doesn’t seem to be a strong priority placed on these rentals, which is unfortunate for all concerned,” he concludes. 

Maintaining A Fleet

Numerous parks departments offer watercraft activities in which the operation is designed so extensive support infrastructure is not required, thus saving on overhead costs. For example, consider SesquicentennialState Park, about an hour’s drive northeast of Columbia, S.C.  

This park features a 30-acre lake with a fleet of 10 four-person pedal boats, eight canoes, three 14-foot aluminum jon boats, and two kayaks. Gas motors are not permitted, and there are no docks or piers. The watercraft fleet is stored on shore. This system seems to work well according to Park Ranger Adam Ginn, one of seven staff members who maintain the fleet. 

“We have two maintenance staff, and the other five are rangers, but we all cross-train and help out on maintenance throughout the year,” he explains, adding that the pedal boats require the most maintenance.  

“It takes four people to pull one of the pedal boats out of the water and flip it over to work on it,” he says. “The most common problem is the pedals breaking, but sometimes a rudder assembly will get bent if users hit something in the water. Each boat also has grease fittings that need to be serviced regularly.” 

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