In 2007, there were 980 moorings in Monroe Harbor on Chicago’s south side, and they were all occupied. But then, after the recession the next year, people started staying away. The city eliminated more than half the moorings, to 390, and now only 368 of them are occupied. It’s running a youth sailing program on an empty end where boats used to be moored. As the Chicago Tribune asks in this detailed story, where have the boats gone?
The real story is more nuanced than what the numbers suggest at Monroe Harbor, which is owned by the city but operated by Westrec. Taking a look at all the marinas in Chicago, in 2007 there were 5,100 total spaces for boats (slips and moorings), and they were 99 percent occupied. Last month there were 5,339 spaces, and they were 80 percent occupied. Simple math shows that there are 778 fewer boats in slips and moorings now than there were 11 years ago.
A few years ago I spent a long weekend tied up at a slip at the Chicago Yacht Club on a Beneteau 34 Swift Trawler, as part of a Great Loop expedition. The harbor seemed alive and well then; there were boats and people all around. But the Chicago Yacht Club is in a highly desirable location, immediately accessible to Grant Park and downtown. DuSable Harbor and Belmont Harbor, both on the north side, also are near capacity, according to the Tribune.
After the recession, the problems with boating in Chicago included the aging demographic of boat owners, too many marinas, too many people not having enough time to go boating, and too many people wanting to have a boat slip, as opposed to a mooring (where you have to take a launch out to your boat).
By one measure, people are staying away from boating. The number of boat registrations in Illinois, for example, fell from 373,530 in 2009 to 242,275 in 2016, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a 35 percent drop. A large number of these boats, of course, are small, trailerable boats, that don’t need a slip or a mooring. The NMMA also reports that sales of new powerboats in the Chicago area increased 4 percent last year, but again many of these are smaller vessels. Still, moorings are sitting empty. Read more: