Boaters’ Choice award winners heavily lean toward East Coast

Only two marinas from California were recognized by the website, with most of the recognized boating destinations located in New England and New York.

NATIONWIDE—Leading off this op-ed with a “Nationwide” dateline is a tad misleading. The point of this opinion piece, as you’ll quickly decipher, is to question the merits of a recent announcement of top marinas in the country, as selected by the website, More than 200 marinas were honored – a majority of them on the East Coast. Most of the East Coast marinas recognized call New England or New York home. Only two marinas on the list are located in California.

Don’t poo-poo this column’s claim of East Coast Bias. California is one of the five most active states when it comes to recreational boating, yet less than one percent – 1 PERCENT – of the marinas recognized on’s annual list were located in Southern California. One – Shelter Cove Marina – is in San Diego. The other – Dana Point Marina – is in Orange County. Marinas in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other coastal regions were mysteriously absent.

Nearly 100 marinas in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, however, were noticeably present on the list – which comprised of “Elite Fleet Winners” and “Boaters’ Choice Marinas.”

Representatives with the website stated the selections of Elite Fleet and Boater’s Choice Marina winners were based upon user ratings. Users would specifically rate a marina on the website. Those marinas with a 4.8 rating (out of five stars) and at least 10 reviews during the year qualified to make the 2019 winners list.

Why the geographic imbalance of winners, though? Does specifically cater to East Coast marinas? The website’s headquarters, as it turns out, is in Massachusetts. Does this explain why so many of the marinas on the winners list are based in New England? Are Southern California’s marinas truly “inferior” to their counterparts in the Midwest and East Coast, where a vast majority of this year’s winners are located? Or could it be something as simple as East Coast boaters are more proactive in rating the marinas they patronize than their West Coast counterparts?

So many questions! The answer might be simple – perhaps I am overanalyzing this year’s list of winners. But when I see a list of the nation’s “best marinas” with only two locations hailing from California, something doesn’t feel right. Statistics released by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2017 revealed Florida had the highest number of registered boats, followed by Minnesota, Michigan, California and Wisconsin.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island dominated with the 2019 winner’s list, with more than 60 combined marinas in both states labeled as a Boaters’ Choice or Elite Fleet destination. Neither state is on the Top 20 list of total number of registered boats – there were only 39,685 registered boats in Rhode Island; Massachusetts was home to 134,538 registered boats (both numbers were 2017 figures). This isn’t to imply there should be a direct correlation between the number of registered boats in a state and the number of quality marinas within that state for those boats to be docked at – bigger or more isn’t always better.

The optics of the 2019 list, however, is not friendly. Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which are neighboring states, dominate a list of top marinas … which was compiled by a website based in Massachusetts. There were nearly two-dozen marinas from Connecticut and Maine on the list of winners, as well. Four of the top six states on the winners list are in New England (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maine); the other two states at the top were New York and Florida.

California, somehow, snuck in with two marinas on the winners list. The only other West Coast marina on the winners list was based in Washington State.

The list of winning Boaters’ Choice and Elite Fleet marinas ultimately implies states such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island are ideal destinations for boaters, because they can find the best slips and amenities on their shores. This is not to say Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the rest of New England can’t indeed be home to great marinas. It’s difficult, however, to take an award-winning list seriously when a vast majority of those “elite” or “top choice” marinas are based in the same exact region where the website used to set the winning standard is also based., of course, is entitled to compile a list of  “elite flight” or peer-selected marinas. Boaters, however, should not always take these lists at face value, as we don’t always know the standard applied in compiling such lists. The 2019 list of Boaters’ Choice and Elite Flight Marinas appears to have a bit of an East Coast Bias.

Visit to see the list for yourself and decide whether states such as California and Washington were “slighted.”

One thought on “ Boaters’ Choice award winners heavily lean toward East Coast

  • January 3, 2020 at 10:31 am

    Thank you for your interest in’s 2019 Boaters’ Choice Awards! Regarding West Coast representation on the list of marinas, you make a valid point that we, too, noted internally as we crunched the numbers to reveal this year’s winners.

    In summary:
    – It was certainly not our intention to slight West Coast marinas!
    – Your article refers to the list “as selected by the website,,” however set the requirements and does not “select” the winners – boaters, in effect, do this as they leave reviews throughout the year. Therefore:
    – For more West Coast marinas to earn Boaters’ Choice awards, their managers can claim their profiles if they haven’t already, and encourage boaters to submit reviews after their stay – and:
    – West Coast boaters can proactively review marinas to commend their hard work and good facilities, or to give feedback on what can be improved
    – We will be working this year to balance our user base throughout the U.S. and beyond.

    To provide more detail and backstory:’s user base – made up of boaters and marina managers/teams – is stronger on the East Coast, and we’re working to grow both communities throughout the country. There’s clearly work left to be done, and balancing geographic distribution is one of our top priorities.

    As you noted, the 2019 Boaters’ Choice recipients earned this year’s designation based upon the cumulative reviews submitted by boaters on throughout the year. Prior to The Wanderlust Group’s acquisition of in 2017, becoming a Boaters’ Choice Award recipient had been more of an advertising play; namely, a way in which some marinas could pay for the designation of “best.” One of our priorities during the transition of was to democratize the Boaters’ Choice Awards in a way that would legitimize the award while leveraging one of the site’s key features: boater reviews. We considered conducting an end-of-year vote, but that method is subject to its own biases (e.g., ballot-stuffing). We took a page from travel industry leader TripAdvisor, and decided to lean on the “votes” submitted organically and continuously: boater reviews.

    We’re working to improve our communication efforts with marina teams to educate them on Boaters’ Choice Awards requirements, as well as why online reviews matter, why receiving a Boaters’ Choice Award matters, and how can further help their business across the board. All businesses are eligible to be honored; there is no ranking system, and no cap on the number of marinas that can earn a Boaters’ Choice Award. Further, since the reviews on which the award is based are within one calendar year, earning a Boaters’ Choice Award is a milestone that all marinas can reach despite changes in management, construction projects, etc. More marinas achieving Boaters’ Choice status indicates, among other things, an increase in marinas going above and beyond to provide awesome experiences to their boaters, and leveraging relevant avenues to promote their marina and communicate with customers in order to continue to improve and grow their business. 

    The list of Boaters’ Choice Award winners is intended as a celebration of the businesses that boaters are most excited about, not an intentional judgment with regard to the quality of inland and West Coast marinas. The representation was and is due to, admittedly, a geographically-skewed user base. We’re sincerely looking forward to announcing this year’s awards in December 2020 and the months leading up to it as we grow in regions where we currently have less of a presence.

    Thank you for drawing attention to and the Boaters’ Choice Awards to help us kick those efforts into high gear!

    Becky at



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