Boating Infrastructure Grants Support MEGADOCK, Boating Community, and Waterfront Access

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Boating offers a gateway to the outdoors, adventure, and a unique way to travel. The United States contains over 90,000 miles of coastline, over three million lakes, and over 3 million miles of rivers offering plenty of opportunities to spend time on the water making memories. The 2022 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, & Wildlife-Associated Recreation highlights that nearly 16 percent of U.S. residents participate in motorized boating. Around the Nation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Boating Infrastructure Grants have provided millions in funding to state boating agencies to provide greater access to these waterways and the recreational, cultural, historic, scenic, and natural resources within. Boaters and manufacturers fund the grants through excise taxes and duties on boating fuels and certain fishing and boating equipment. Through these excise tax funds the Service works with state agency and industry partners to increase waterway access for large transient boats over 26 feet in length that stay for 15-days or less. One beneficiary of these BIG funds is South Carolina’s award-winning public access Safe Harbor Charleston City Marina. 

Safe Harbor Charleston City Marina, constructed in 1960, has become one of the most visited spots and temporary homes for transient mariners from across the country. Located near the historic downtown, the marina is easily one of the largest marinas in the southeastern United States. Contributing to its size is the marina’s “MEGADOCK,” which extends over 1,500 feet into the water and is currently the longest free standing floating fuel dock in the southeast. The construction of this dock and later additions to the structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

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were supported by BIG funds. “Construction of portions of the MEGADOCK was funded in part through BIG funds awarded in 2003 and since then the dock has proven to be a successful example of what these excise tax supported grants can achieve with our state and industry partners,” said Scott Meister, Fish & Wildlife Biologist with the Service’s Office of Conservation Investment. Eligible state partner agencies from all states, commonwealths, territories, and the District of Columbia can submit proposals for two different tiers of BIG funding to support the construction, renovation, and maintenance of marinas and other facilities and features for large transient boats that are used for recreation.        

Safe Harbor Charleston City Marina cemented its spot as a premier destination for transient vessels along the eastern United States generating upwards of $1 million in direct transient revenue per year following the completion of the MEGADOCK. The project also won several awards including the 2005 National Marina of the Year by Marina Dock Age Magazine and World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure’s Jack Nichol Award 2009 for outstanding marina design. This increased revenue also has benefits for local communities as large transient vessels, also known as cruising boats in the U.S., have a significant economic impact on waterfront communities and water-based tourism with purchases of fuel, provisions, and boating equipment. 

Within a few years of the dock’s construction, the marina was regularly forced to turn away transient vessels due to a lack of available space during peak season. Building on the success of the MEGADOCK project and looking to accommodate more transient vessels, the marina applied for further BIG funding. “Following the initial dock construction, Safe Harbor Charleston City Marina applied for and was awarded additional BIG funds in 2013-2018, 2023, and 2024 for projects that extended, relocated, and improved the dock by adding additional slip space, upgrades and expansion of the diesel and gas fueling infrastructure, and increased amenities like power and portable water for the transient boating community,” added Meister. “Through our annual call for proposals, BIG allows eligible state agencies to continue to apply for funding to expand projects and build on past projects and successes.” Today, the marina features 17,000 feet of linear dock space covering 40 acres of water with a variety of public berthing spaces and amenities welcoming transient boaters. 

Now in its 64th year of operation, BIG funding has helped the City of Charleston and their private partner the City Marina Company ensure the long-term success of the Safe Harbor Charleston City Marina. Initially developed to accommodate waterborne tourism and to address the need for transient vessel berthing in the city, projects like the MEGADOCK are helping meet the marina’s mission. This dedication to constant improvement and the utilization of competitive grant funds has transformed the marina into a world‐class destination for mariners, and the marina was recently recognized in the Elite Fleet tier of Boaters' Choice marinas. 

Safe Harbor Charleston City Marina is one of many BIG supported projects increasing access throughout U.S. waterways and benefitting the recreational transient boating community. Since its inception in 2000, BIG has awarded over $300 million to projects for large transient recreational boats over 26 feet in length including funding the construction of more than 7,000 berths and other amenities such as fuel docks and shower facilities. “BIG funds support transient boating opportunities by increasing dedicated infrastructure to meet the specific needs of a historically under-served segment of recreational boaters. In addition, these funds contribute to local economies by increasing opportunities for water-based tourism,” said Brad Gunn, National Lead for the Service’s Boating Grant Programs. 

By partnering with eligible state partner agencies, BIG supported projects have expanded opportunities for boating and water-related recreation and the economies and communities they support. There are over 596,000 transient recreational boats over 26 feet in length in the U.S. These boaters have a significant economic benefit to waterfront communities. Each BIG funded project improves facilities to better accommodate these boats and strengthen local community ties to transient boaters while also promoting public/private partnerships and entrepreneurial opportunities like Safe Harbor Charleston City Marina. 

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