The inexact science of measuring your boat

Your vessel’s bowsprit or overhang could become an issue when trying to fit into a slip.

Story Highlights

  • How boats are measured vary from marina to marina
  • Santa Barbara requires all vessels in the harbor to occupy at least 80 percent of its slip size
  • Overhang length for boaters at Ventura is at the discretion of the marina operator
  • DBW explains how marinas should be designed to allow for vessel overhang

 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — You just bought a 38-foot boat and cannot wait to get your prized belonging into a slip (and later onto the water). After the transaction is complete you find the perfect marina to park your boat.

Imagine showing up to your home marina and finding out your assigned slip might not be the right size for your vessel (even if it’s designed to house a 38-footer).

How could a 38-foot vessel, with about 3 feet of overhang, not snuggly fit into a 35-foot slip? Perhaps how boats are measured vary from marina to marina. Such was the case in Santa Barbara, where a boater questioned the method of measuring recreational boat dimensions for slip assignments.

Boat measurements are also hot topics at in-water boat shows, where boat manufacturers and brokers display vessels for sale in a temporary slip area.

Boat Measurement Techniques

The topic of boat measurements, for the sake of slip assignments, was broached at a Santa Barbara Harbor Commission meeting in July. A local boater and the harbormaster struggled to properly fit a 38-foot vessel into a 35-foot slip.

Santa Barbara has specific requirements of how a vessel is measured and the way it fits within a slip.

For example all vessels in Santa Barbara Harbor are required to occupy at least 80 percent of its slip size. (Select vessels at the harbor’s fish floats are exempted.)

“The city of Santa Barbara has reviewed the navigational conditions within Santa Barbara Harbor and determined that the adoption of policies regarding vessel measurement and size restrictions is in the public statement,” a resolution approved by the Harbor Commission stated. “All boats must be secured so that no part, including bowsprit, boom, bumpkin or equipment will block or overhang any portion of a walkway.”

Boater Craig Cody spoke with Harbor Commissioners at the July meeting and recommended the agency look into a new boat measurement technique. He described to commissioners his attempts to shave the size of his boat by cutting inches off the bowsprit. Apparently Cody had to cut off a large chunk of bowsprit to shave just a few inches off the official boat measurement.

Both Cody and the Harbor Commission agreed the city’s boat measurement technique isn’t perfect and could be improved.

Allowable overhang somewhat varies outside of Santa Barbara. Harbors in Oceanside and Dana Point, for example, allow boaters to have 3 feet of overhang. However the overhang length for boaters at Long Beach’s three marinas is 4 feet and 11 inches.

Whether 3-foot overhangs are permitted at marinas in Ventura is at the discretion of the marina operator, according to Ventura West Marina General Manager Chuck Ormson.

“Our Master Lease limits [overhang] to 3 feet, but each marina operator decides what they will allow within that maximum requirement,” said Ormson. “We allow overhang depending on the width of the fairway behind the slip. Narrow fairways will not [accommodate for] 3-foot overhang, but the wide fairways might.”

Ormson added 3-foot overhangs are not permitted on the headwalk.

“We measure tip-to-tip which includes all appendages hanging off the hull, like swim steps, davits (with or without dinghies), anchor pulpits, bow pulpits and the like. Also we charge by the foot based on the greater of slip length or tip-to-tip vessel length,” said Ormson. “Overhang is not allowed on the headwalk and limited to whatever the local jurisdiction will allow behind the slip.”

Boaters do not have to deal with narrow fairways at these (and other) marinas.

State’s Design Requirements

California’s Division of Boating and Waterways outlines how marinas should be designed to allow for vessels with overhang.

For example the width of any given fairway should be 1.75 times larger than the longest berth perpendicular to the fairway.

“If boats longer than the berths will be allowed to overhang into the fairway, [the longest perpendicular berth] should be considered to be the length of the boats,” states the DBW policy.

The state’s marina design requirements are available on DBW’s website at

Bottom line: even with standard procedures in place be sure to double check with your local marina operator about whether you vessel will fit into the right-sized slip. Otherwise you might end up having to alter your vessel or pay more money for a larger slip.

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3 thoughts on “The inexact science of measuring your boat

  • September 29, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Bureaucracy and regulation. typically lead to solutions without a problem and problems without a solution. This, in turn, leads to more bureaucracy and regulation. Costs increase according to an as yet undetermined metric, that thus far exceeds the capacity of supercomputers, and is only limited by the tolerance of those who pay.

  • September 29, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Nothing is simple in California

  • October 19, 2016 at 9:19 am

    I am writing in response to your recent article about boat measurement issues. As my name and circumstance were specifically mentioned in the article.
    In April of this year I purchased a 35 foot Europa style trawler in Marina del Rey and brought it to Santa Barbara to put in my 35 foot slip to replace the Catalina 36 sailboat I had been living aboard. During the out-of-the-water portion of the survey of the trawler I hung plumb bobs from the one of two protrusions at the tip of the anchor platform (there was a gap between them to allow space for the anchor rode when at anchor) and the swim platform in the centerline of the boat. The measurement was exactly 38 feet, the maximum allowable for my 35 foot slip. I also measured the beam of the boat and it measured 12 feet 6 inches, exactly what the spec sheet on the boat showed and well within the beam limits of my slip.
    After arriving in Santa Barbara, I put the trawler in a guest slip as my Catalina was still in my slip and had not yet been moved to a broker’s slip. I removed the anchor and anchor roller with the intention of modifying the roller to pivot upward to stay within the allowable boat length of 38 feet for my slip. I measured the length of the boat again, from a plumb bob at the tip of the anchor platform along the centerline of the boat to a bulkhead between the window and sliding door access to the cockpit then from the outside of the bulkhead to a plumb bob at the rearmost edge of the swim platform. Basically the same method used by the Harbor Department for measuring a boat. Factoring in the measured thickness of the bulkhead my result was, once again, exactly 38 feet.
    I requested a “courtesy” measurement while in the guest slip (the measurement isn’t “official” unless it’s taken at the city courtesy dock). Using the same criteria … measuring along the centerline to the bulkhead and from the bulkhead to the swim platform and factoring in the thickness of the bulkhead … the harbor patrol officers arrived at a measurement of 38 feet 1 ¼ inches. The difference was likely due to their tape not being pulled tight. I felt certain that when I removed the two 4 inch protrusions (they were damaged and unnecessary for my purposes) My boat would be well within the allowable 38 feet. That evening I used a Sawzall to cut them off. Then next morning I took the boat to the city dock for my “official” measurement. This time, however, they did not measure directly down the centerline of the boat, but rather at an angle to get around the bulkhead. Their measurement was 38 feet one inch. Frustrated, I said I would remove more of the anchor platform, and asked to be allowed to put the boat in my own slip (which was now vacant) to do the modification work and avoid paying guest slip fees. I was told by harbor patrol commander Steve McCullough that I could not do that, as the boat was “too long”. Again I used a Sawzall and removed an additional 2 ½ inches from the anchor platform. I returned to the city dock the next morning, having now removed 6 ½ inches from the boat that I personally measured at exactly 38 feet and that the harbor department measured at 38 feet 1 ½ inches before any modifications were made. When the harbor patrol officers measured the boat, again not on the centerline but past the bulkhead, their measurement was …. 38 feet 1 inch!!!!! Did the boat grow overnight?
    Oh … and apparently John Norek, the designer of the boat, doesn’t know that the boat is not 12 feet 6 inches wide as he stated on the spec sheet. Rather it is 12 feet 8 inches, at least according to the Santa Barbara Harbor Department. One of the harbor patrol people … the same one involved in every measurement of my boat … said, “It bulges out up there, let’s measure it there”.
    By now I was beyond frustrated and asked to speak to Mick Kronman, the harbor operations manager. I explained the situation and told him that I found their measuring protocol to be “severely flawed”. He denied that there were any problems with the methods used, stating that they had been “accurately measuring boats this way for many years”. At this time, I was allowed to put the boat in my own slip pending further modifications. I used the Sawzall once again and cut another 1 ½ inches from the boat. I refused to bring the boat back to the city dock and requested that the measurement be conducted in my own slip. They complied with my request and their final measurement was 37 feet, 10 ¾ inches.
    So … which, if any, of the three 38 foot 1 inch measurements the harbor department arrived at was correct? All of them? One of them? None of them? I have since re-measured the boat along the centerline and it is NOT 37 feet 10 ¾ inches. It is actually 37 feet 3 ¾ inches.
    My issue is not that the boat had to be modified to fit in my slip, I knew that was a possibility going in, rather that the harbor department seemed unable to accurately measure my boat. This is an ongoing problem in Santa Barbara. Something that numerous boat owners and yacht brokers have complained about.
    I am now in a position of having to make expensive modifications to the anchoring system of my boat because of the ineptitude of the Santa Barbara Harbor Department.
    Thank you,
    Craig Cody



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