Find your way in Marina certification: Everybody knows but no one is aware of! | Jean-Michel Gaigné, CMM GMBA-France

It is sometimes difficult to discern the exact meaning of a certification. Marinas proudly display their awards on their website and billboards, but there are so many recognition signs that we can easily get lost…

Whatever the certification, there are always two levels of interpretation to motivate the applicant. The first one comes with the benefit of a process and quality audit, and is a reassurance for the marina operator, who is potentially confirmed in its choices, and challenged in its failures. The second one refers to the accolade deserved, which can enhance the marina reputation and add credibility by claiming that the service meets berth holder expectations. Both goals are fortunately compatible, but according to the priority given to one orientation, marina managers will have to choose among certifications galore!

Credit where credit is due: ISO standards

ISO standards are the ultimate reference in any field of application, from industry to services, environment to management, tourism to food products or agriculture to mining… They are the most rigorous and exhaustive standards, carrying an absolute international recognition, but poorly understood by the general public. Let’s take the example of hotel chains. Marriott, Accor hotels, Hilton or Holiday Inn… all these groups are ISO certified (ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 50001…) Their clients can be sure that everything is under control, from environmental management to quality management systems or energy performance, but does it affect your choice, as a customer? I am confident in saying No. Everyone is guided by the star ratings or even by a “Relais & Châteaux” distinctive certificate… Anyway, ISO standards remain an asset for the marinas which have made the effort to comply with, as it is very demanding and often awkward to manage for a small-scale marina team. As a result, some marinas have stopped with ISO certification, in particular with ISO 14001 to move towards other accreditations. However, specific ISO certifications for the marina industry have been developed over the recent years. ISO 13687 establishing requirements for marinas regarding health & safety, environment and services and ISO 21406 dedicated to luxury yacht harbours. Both have become increasingly valued by marina operators and are highly appreciated, without being explicit for the consumers…

The most popular: Blue Flag

The Blue Flag is undoubtedly the most popular recognition. Launched about 30 years ago, the Blue Flag is awarded every year to marinas all over the world. 776 marinas in 47 different countries carry the Blue Flag, which is a sign of environmental awareness and dedication to improving customer service. Far less demanding than an ISO certification, Blue Flag applicants have to observe stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria that have to be met and maintained, year after year. Another requirement for a Blue Flag marina is to carry out environmental education activities during the Blue Flag season. Mainly focused on environmental issues and the quality of facilities provided to the berth holders, the Blue Flag is far less demanding that an ISO certification process, and control visits are operated on a less thorough basis. Nevertheless, the Blue Flag achievement is a lofty goal, and due to the fact that beaches and sustainable tourism boats are associated under the same banner with a total of 4700 sites around the world, the Blue Flag is well-known among the general public and probably the most meaningful and mainstream award.

The Commonwealth reference: Gold Anchor

For 25 years, the Gold Anchor scheme has been developed by the British and Australian marina industries with the specific objective of raising standards and providing customer centric services. Marinas entering the Gold Anchor scheme are usually assessed by an expert assessor with an audit every three years, conducted by a highly experienced marina professional checking systems, infrastructure and customer service while also providing innovative ideas for improvement. A berth holder survey is also completed for customer feedback. Once the report is finalized and any outstanding actions have been completed by the marina, it is then reviewed by the Gold Anchor standards panel, to deliver the appropriate accreditation level awarded, rated at 2,3,4 or 5 Gold Anchor. A new additional Platinum level for exceptional facilities has been recently added for luxury marinas and superyacht facilities.

The Yacht Harbour Association (UK) delivers the scheme in the United Kingdom, Europe, Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean, while Marina Industry Association (Australia) operates in Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Pacific Regions, New Zealand and Australia. In recent times, the first Gold Anchor marinas have been also awarded in Americas. However, the Gold Anchor scheme remains a distinction especially valued in UK, where it counts 2/3 of the recipients among roughly 360 marinas worldwide.

Blue Star certification: the seriousness ‘Made in Germany’

The famous International Marine Certification Institute, based in Brussels, but with a strong German taskforce, is the leading body assessing marine industry products and recreational crafts with the highest recognized standards of quality and safety. They operate all over the world through a network of multilingual experts, and benefit from a reputation of excellence and reliability. Among their diverse activities and their multiple contributions to ISO standards, CE-certification of watercraft, or American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) certification in the USA, IMCI has developed the Blue Star Marina certification program that rates the quality level of marinas. IMCI is a non-profit organization, independent from the marina world and acts a third party to assess and rate marinas, from 1 star to 5 stars, similar to the well-established system by hotels or campsites. Safety and security standards, as well as facilities, customer service, environment protection and management processes are reviewed and screened, leading to a Blue Star Marina certification. 34 marinas have been certified so far, in Germany, Scandinavia, Spain, Slovenia, Portugal, Italy and Turkey.

Upward trend for ‘Clean marina’ programs

Strictly environmental certifications are another step taken by many organizations in various countries. Marine Industry Association of Australia has launched its ‘Clean marina program’ to fight pollution and promote clean water, and UK has joined the initiative. 32 states in the USA have now a dedicated program too, supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), and ‘Clean Marine Program’ is developed in California. France has established the ‘Ports Propres’ certification encompassing 90 marinas in the country and endorsed by the French standard organization AFNOR, while supported by a workshop of European Committee for Standardization. Even better, France has added further refinement in creating the certification ‘Ports Propres actifs en biodiversité’ to foster the need to act for biodiversity, with a specific certification delivered for 3 years putting in place yearly monitoring assessments. And what’s about ‘Fish friendly marinas’, another Australian original enterprise, or ‘Clean Marine Anchor Rating Program’ that rates marinas every four years in Canada (Ontario)… Last but not least, ICOMIA is not out of the game, since the International Council of Marine Industry Associations endorses many clean marina programs giving the right to refer to ‘Icomia Clean Marinas Programme’ as long as the 12 criteria set out by ICOMIA Marinas and Environment Committees are met!

As regards the customers too…

Another important topic is customer care. Marinas need to give the best possible service to the customers and berth holders and improve the way they address new trends of consumption. Therefore, specific certifications have appeared, linked to the tourism sector. In Spain, marinas have a new standard, UNE 188004, drawn up by the Institute for Spanish Tourism Quality (ICTE) and the Spanish Confederation of Sailing Club Associations (CEACN). It regulates the activities of the sailing sector and allows sailing/marina facilities to obtain the ‘Q’ Tourist Quality Certificate. In France, the French Federation of Marinas (FFPP) has launched the certification ‘Qualité plaisance / Qualité tourisme’ in cooperation with the French Ministry of Tourism, and 20 marinas so far have received the honour.

The choice is yours!

Marina managers who can count on a strong and well-trained team having a wide range of skills will certainly choose to apply for an ISO certification. This implies a disciplined approach, follow up support and to ensure compliance with procedures. As a result, marina operations will be secured and benefit from a clearly defined framework. Those who want to highlight their achievement with a more customer-oriented and a more accessible certification will opt for the Gold Anchor scheme, especially if they target customers from Britain or Australasia, or the Blue Star Marina certification, which are both extensive, earnest and very helpful to structure the marina’s internal organization. The Blue Flag will be the ‘icing on the cake’, as it is always possible to apply for this single award, but many marinas carrying other certifications are also Blue Flag certified. This is indeed the most acknowledged environmental quality hallmark among the citizens, and Blue Flag marinas are challenged every year to improve the smallest details, whilst promoting environmental education. Clean marinas systems and tourist-focused approaches will provide reliable guidance in their respective domain, and could be mixed with other certifications too…

Applying for certification, there are 1001 ways to make the difference, while giving credit to your marina. The choice is yours!

Jean-Michel Gaigné, CMM | GMBA- France
+ 33 682 112 524

Disclaimer: Global Marine Business Advisors and its associated website are not registered legal entities. GMBA is a network of independent marine industry advisors. In all articles the opinions expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of GMBA