You might or might not have the cash to splash out on a new yacht this summer but it's only thanks to the recession that you would have somewhere to park it!
Until recently no amount of money would buy you a place to park it Dun Laoghaire. The same was the case in Cork harbour and also in Galway.
Up and down our coasts, facilities from slipways for all kinds of watersports to state–of–the–art marinas for larger craft, are either full to capacity, in private hands, in disrepair or non–existent.
But before anyone sheds a tear for a millionaire not having anywhere to park a yacht there is a hidden economic argument that Ireland's lack of marine infrastructure is costing us all.
The marine leisure sector is capable of growing by around 30 per cent over the next three years - if the government and local authorities decide to unlock the potential that lies in Irish waters.
Providing more berths for pleasure craft in a necklace of marinas around our coast should be a government priority, according to international experts.
The development would allow increased numbers to access Irish waters, bring high spending yachting tourism to these shores, and rejuvenate disused harbours in rural areas.
The lack of berths means Ireland has one of the lowest boat ownership ratios in Europe but this could change if the government and local authorities open access for the general public to the sea and provide the facilities that residents in other European countries take for granted.
Industry experts are deeply critical of delays of up to 20 years in marina development, and they point to Britain as an example of how island nations should nurture the sector. (See side panel)
Providing facilities takes considerable investment – from the State or from private investors, or a combination of both in public-private partnerships – because marinas need expensive breakwaters or sea walls to protect pleasure craft from the open seas.
"Ireland has largely turned her back on the sea despite being an island nation," says Bernard Gallagher, a marine dealer in this country for the past 30 years. "We have simply failed to recognise the true value of the marine environment for leisure purposes."
In spite of our 4,000 miles of coast (and a further 500 miles of navigable rivers and lakes), Ireland has one of the lowest ratios of boat ownership in Europe: one boat to 172 people. The European average is one boat to 42 people.
Low participation in watersports is not because Irish people don't like boats; it's because a lack of facilities prevents both residents and tourists from getting access to the water and enjoying a coastline that is arguably our greatest natural asset.
There are only three public slipways between Dublin city centre and Bray in County Wicklow – serving a population of 750,000 or more. The situation in the rest of the country is not much better.
It's the reason few Irish residents boast about anchoring motor boats in a secluded cove for a family picnic, or island hopping in a yacht, or fishing from an open boat.
Of course, the sun doesn't always shine on this Atlantic island and the fact that there's a gale somewhere around our coast every 12 days – or at least it might seem that way – acts as a deterrent to some.
But growing numbers of the Irish public are demonstrating for the first time that boat ownership is no longer beyond their financial reach, with many enjoying their first steps afloat over the past ten years.
Over 142,000 adults are involved in boating activity ranging from sailing and boating on the sea to boating on inland waterways, according to a 2005 report commissioned by the Marine Institute, the research body for the Department of the Marine.
It also finds that almost 28,900 used a sailing boat with an auxiliary engine and an estimated 25,000 used a motor boat. Over 17,000 are involved in dinghy sailing.
These are the reasons why Dun Laoghaire marina, the country's largest, operated a waiting list in excess of 140 boats and, after opening in 2001, expanded its 500 berths to accommodate another 200 boats.
The statistics also support the 100-boat marina facility now open at Greystones could be doubled.
But industry leaders know that the possibilities on our coast are far greater. "Even if the national pleasure craft fleet was quadrupled, it would only bring us into line with the European average. There is an acknowledged 4,500 marina berth deficit" says Damien Offer of the Irish Marina Operator's Association (IMOA).
The only way to achieve sustained marina growth around Ireland is to get government support for the initiative, but in spite of compelling arguments that investment in the sector can only yield positive results, the silence from the Cabinet table has been deafening.
Marine affairs are rarely top of the government's agenda but the current situation goes much further than mere neglect. A host of developers are keen to build new marinas but, according to some frustrated developers, they are caught up in bureaucratic delays in processing marina applications which can take up to ten years to pass through the Department of Communications Marine and Natural Resources (DCMNR).
Even those who want to provide marinas are discouraged by unrealistic State expectations.
"In one case the State wanted a million euro just for allowing me the privilege of reclaiming land that would otherwise be seabed. They need to appreciate there is a difference between land and seabed but they don't," said one developer who did not want to be named.
Of course developers aren't reclaiming land from the sea just for the good of the people. Profit is the bottom line and it is the government's job to ensure that it gets the full value for any land sold by the State whether it's under the sea or not.
But marina development does not only require the normal planning requirements with the local authorities but it is also requires foreshore lease and licensing process run by the DCMNR. This process, without any recourse to appeal, is bureaucratic and slow, according to developers.
"There is no statutory time frame in which the Department has to make its decision to grant permission," says a marina source.
The trouble is there is no central agency to assist developers through these obstacles, and to promote change within the planning process.
"The establishment of a single government entity to manage marina development from planning through to dredging would greatly assist the industry to maximise opportunities. It would allow developers access to information, such as hydrographic studies, for planning purposes. says the source.
There is little doubt that the industry needs to brush up on its empirical research to form a cohesive plan for the sector as a whole. At the moment it's made of fragmented groups, associations and members of the public.
But this is also reflected on the State side - there are no less than five government departments with an interest in the 'marine' in some shape or form.
A key finding of the 2005 Marine Institute survey found that improved facilities would result in increased levels of participation and new opportunities for revenue generation. More worryingly, it predicted a drop-off in numbers if facilities were not provided.
A strong voice for marine leisure must be heard at the highest levels of government. Without it, the fledgling marine tourism industry will continue to have a difficult berth.
GROWING MARINAS AROUND THE COAST
Ireland has not turned its back on the sea entirely – this country has benefited from substantial investment in marina development in the past few years, with numbers growing from six in 1996 to 22 in 2006. And more facilities are in the pipeline.
But this still places Ireland at an early development stage compared to our European neighbours.
La Rochelle, in western France, has 3,400 berths in its town marina, about the same number of berths around our coast from Killybegs to Carlingford.
It is estimated that a typical 50-80 berth marina, similar in size to Caherciveen or Dingle marina, can generate up to Euro 850,000 annually for the local economy.
Although Tony Rice of ICOMIA says in future 200 berths should be the minimum size for economic sustainability, in an Irish context it is more a case of 'anything is better than nothing' and commercial sense has not always prevailed.
In Northern Ireland, for example, there are more berths than there are boats. Marinas have been seen as regenerative tools by borough councils as a means to attract visiting boats rather than purely commercially minded projects.
The British Marine Federation (BMF) estimated that visiting boats to UK marinas contribute on average £150 (Euro 2.27) per night to the local economy.
Dun Laoghaire Marina had more than 820 visitors in 2006, staying on average of three nights per boat. Using the British survey figures, this means that visitors to Dun Laoghaire contributed almost Euro 600,000 to the local economy on top of the overnight charge for the marina berths.
A recent survey of businesses in Dun Laoghaire and Malahide carried out by an Irish Sea Inter-Reg project indicates that marinas in both towns had a positive impact on 37% of the respondent businesses.
On the south coast, at Kilmore Quay, some 67% of businesses surveyed believed that their local marina contributed to the success of their business.
In the west and south west, Ireland has some of the best cruising grounds within Europe but, with some exceptions, there are no facilities for cruising boats.
"The impact that marine leisure tourism can have on small rural fishing communities - who are suffering a decline in their traditional industries – should be plain for everyone to see," says Tralee-based Brian O'Sullivan of the Irish Marine Federation.
The industry is keen to demonstrate that if the correct infrastructure and a policy to encourage participation are put in place, it would be possible to double this sector by at least 50% in a relatively small timeframe.
"Marine leisure tourism is completely sustainable, eco-friendly and would bring economic benefits of tourism to isolated rural communities," says O'Sullivan.
By David O'Brien is editor of Ireland Afloat magazine, a former chair of Irish Marine Federation and Irish Times Sailing Correspondent