Are you easy?

Red ensign and motorboat wake

Making yourself available to customers

Last weekend I went boating. Me and about 100,000 other people.

The Solent was packed, Poole Harbour was packed. Chichester Harbour was packed. Boats heading east and west, all trapped along the coast because of Covid restrictions.

After the empty seas of lockdown it was joyous, exciting. But also busy.

The problem with busy days on the water isn’t safe seamanship or navigation, it’s finding a berth for the night. If you’re feeling spontaneous, you might be in for disappointment.

Not everyone had booked a berth. No chance of getting through on the busy VHF, so time for Google.

Mobile first

It got me thinking. What are the top three things a marina website needs on a busy weekend?

From my experience, I’d say:

  1. The phone number. Even better if it’s a click-to-call link
  2. The marina layout in a mobile-friendly format
  3. Some information about availability

Above all, the single most important is that a website should be mobile-friendly. Most websites are designed on a desktop with glorious images and beautiful layout for other desktop users.

The problem is that customers planning their weekend or booking berths are highly likely to be on a mobile. They may be on the Friday commute, sitting in the bar or sailing at six knots, but they’re navigating the website on a 5 inch screen. Be kind to their failing eyesight, glare from the sun and stubby fingers.

Think about your customer

If your customer is afloat, they’re probably multitasking.

Steering, keeping a lookout (it’s busy out there), navigating, nursing a mug of tea, trying not to shout at their partner/kids/dog.

Have you been there?

Be available

Busy boaters don’t have time to scroll down endless pages to find a phone number.

Idea – put your phone number in your website header.

Don’t hide it under ‘contact us’ beneath an email form.

Make it a click to call link so customers can work one-handed.

Set your rota so you have enough staff available to answer the phone. If you’re short staffed, change the voicemail message to tell callers that you’re fully-booked, or they should call on VHF, or just turn-up.

Show the way

Parking the boat in an unfamiliar marina is the single worst part of the day. It’s stressful, so help your customers out.

One of the great mysteries of life is that every marina numbers their berths differently. (Just why?) Telling a customer that they’re on D3 isn’t enough. They need to know where D3 is and how to get to it.

Idea – have a mobile-friendly map, and make it easy to find.

Maybe put the image or link on a couple of pages to reduce search time and cut frustration. Upload a couple of formats to suit different browsers.

Give us a clue

Although the water is busy with boats, it may not have occurred to your prospective customer that they’re not the only ones looking for an overnight berth.

Give them a clue. Take a leaf out of the 1980s B&Bs with a digital version of the ‘vacancies/no vacancies’ sign.

Idea – add a home page banner with your availability status.

If there’s a banner to say you’re fully booked, it’ll save your staff from being driven to distraction by the phone.

If you’ve got a marketing database, maybe send an email before the big weekend to pre-warn boaters about your availability, booking requirements or restrictions.

Make it easy to do business with you

Put your customers’ needs at the heart of your website.

You’ll fill more berths; your customers will be happier, and your staff will be more relaxed.