The Pacific Northwest boasts a number of picturesque marinas with easy access to Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands and all of the rich waterways that outline Western Washington and neighboring British Columbia.
Boaters may be wondering what options they have when it comes to finding a home for their boat in this part of the world, so we’ve decided to take a look at four regional marinas. I’ve called moorage offices, emailed harbormasters, and scanned websites for the information provided in our comparison.
The marinas that we’ll be focusing on in this review are: Semiahmoo Marina, Blaine Harbor, Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham, both operated by the Port of Bellingham, and Point Roberts Marina, a short distance across the Strait of Georgia. I’ve created a handy chart to compare each head-to-head. You can see it here. In the spirit of full disclosure, my boat is currently moored at Semiahmoo, but it has been moored at both Blaine and Squalicum marinas in recent years.
Point Roberts Marina, at first glance, looks like the perfect location for embarking on sea adventures both to the north and south. Located on the southern tip of the US exclave of the same name, Point Roberts Marina lies behind the Canadian Border, south of Vancouver. Access for U.S. citizens by land is difficult, requiring a border crossing in Blaine and again at Point Roberts. By water, it’s several hours away from the San Juan Islands and approximately 12 nautical miles from Semiahmoo.
Vessels setting off from Semiahmoo Marina will find the entirety of the Strait of Georgia opening up to the west, with Boundary Bay to the north and the San Juan Islands to the south. White Rock, with its many restaurants and shops, lays across the bay. Hiking and cycling trails, as well as the famous Semiahmoo Resort & Spa, shares Semiahmoo spit with the marina.
Two things make Semiahmoo unique in our comparison. Unlike the other marinas in this review, Semiahmoo Marina is managed as a private condominium association. That means boaters have the opportunity to own your slip. This offers a number of advantages, among them, lower moorage costs and the opportunity to have a voice in how the marina is managed. The second advantage is its customer service amenities include a number of free services; free Internet service, free showers, free pump-out service, and free coffee at its marina café.
Blaine Harbor, like Semiahmoo Marina, is located within the city limits of Blaine Washington. Operated by the Port of Bellingham, and renovated within the last 15 years, Blaine Harbor provides safe haven from winter wind storms. While a beautiful city park is directly across the street, the closest coffee shop is more than a half mile away, with restaurants and shopping still further.
Squalicum Harbor Marina, one of the largest marinas in Washington and the largest of the those reviewed, is located on the north edge of Bellingham Bay in Bellingham, Washington. Surrounded by the city of nearly one hundred thousand people, it offers close proximity to hotels, shops and restaurants one would expect of a marina of that size. Its biggest advantage is its close proximity to the San Juan Islands, while its biggest disadvantage is a seemingly constant barrage of railroad noise. You can hear every train horn sound at each crossing as it makes its way. In fact, I counted more than 70 for one single train! Something to consider if you intend on spending much time at the docks.
Slip availability should not be confused with marina capacity. Semiahmoo, for example, has less than one-third of the capacity of Squalicum in Bellingham, which can moor approximately 1,400 boats. Point Roberts is also on the larger side, with 927 slips, while Blaine Harbor is medium-sized, being able to accommodate 629 vessels at any one time. However, Semiahmoo can cater to boats between 8 and 70 feet, and is the only marina in the review currently considering live-aboard customers.
Just because a marina can boast a large number of slips, the waiting list may be long for specific sizes. At Squalicum Marina, for example, the waiting for certain slip sizes can be counted in years. Of course, size isn’t everything, and the smaller marinas more than make up for their lack of slips with discounts and services available to tenants and owners that communicate an intimate, community feel.
At Semiahmoo, for example, members can take advantage of its distinctive, reasonably priced café and espresso bar located at the top of the dock. Moorage customers receive a 10% additional discount on any café, gift shop or chandlery purchases. Cross the parking lot and you can enjoy 5-star amenities like a health club, pool, two restaurants, and bar at Semiahmoo Resort and Spa; facilities which the twice-as-large Point Robert Marina and Blaine Harbor lack.
Price, Proximity, Personality
All four of these marinas offer reasonable slip rates, especially compared to their urban neighbors in Vancouver and Seattle, but amenities, services offered and overall customer value at each marina can vary substantially. Blaine and Squalicum Marinas for example, adds an 12.84% lease-hold tax to their published moorage rate, significantly affecting your moorage budget. Squalicum Marina’s fuel dock in particular, also has a somewhat confusing fuel-rate scheme. Be sure to visit and ask questions before making your choice. All four marinas have their plus points, and with all located in a beautiful part of the world, you can look forward to many glorious days on board your boat, wherever you choose to keep it.