by Mr Paul Zimmerman
A Citizen's Perspective
Hong Kong needs more public marine facilities
1. The Hong Kong Government this month - belatedly – acknowledged the need for a
fundamental review of policy and management issues relating to vessel berthing space.
The review will commence in September 2013 and is intended to explore solutions for
better management of berthing spaces for local vessels and the challenges faced by the
Marine Department. The marine industry wants this review to include the supply of
berthing spaces. There is a dramatic shortfall of over 20,000 berthing facilities for vessels
used for leisure, recreation and sports. A champion is needed within government to
ensure waterfront land and seabed is set aside to address this shortfall, someone who can
develop policy, safeguard waterfront land and obtain funding to build public piers and
public marine centres.
2. The Government is starting to recognize that the composition of the population of local
vessels has changed dramatically. In 1997 there were 13,901 registered vessels, of which
7,274 (52%) were Class IV pleasure vessels and Class III outboard open sampans, small
boats primarily used for recreational line fishing. Last year, this figure has risen to 11,183
(72%) out of 15,463. This excludes the estimated 3,000 sailing and rowing craft without
an engine which do not require registration with the Marine Department.
3. These 14,183 vessels used for leisure, recreation and sports demand very different
berthing facilities compared with commercial fishing and working boats which, with their
permanent crew, can safely use anchorage areas. Small recreational vessels are best stored
on-shore in racks or berthed in sheltered water alongside pontoons. At a minimum they
are tethered fore and aft to secure moorings in sheltered water so are kept out of harm’s
way, and so that they can be insured. And this is where the problem lies.
4. Aside from naturally protected waters like Port Shelter in Sai Kung, Government has
created typhoon proof shelters by placing break waters around bays. Although
theoretically Hong Kong has sufficient typhoon shelters for local and visiting vessels
during inclement weather, they are primarily designed as big-vessel anchorages and they
are not always situated close to the waters used for recreation - or even easily accessible
over land. Within these protected waters, there are only 3,230 wet moorings (2,280 berths
under the management of private marinas and clubs, and 950 moorings leased out by the
Marine Department). Together with the estimated 800 dry berths located on land there are
only 4,000 berths in Hong Kong.
5. This shortfall of over 10,000 berths has led to people creating illegal moorings which are
rented out at extortionate rates. Small boat owners who can’t afford these expensive sub-
lets or a membership of a private marina, or are unwilling to sit out the long waiting lists,
leave their boats exposed to the risk of damage, lack of insurance cover and the wrath of
Government. You don’t have to look far to find sampans and small cruisers tied to rocks,
pulled out under trees unlawfully occupying Government land, roped together in
anchorages or at the end of illegal moorings.
6. Two studies have identified a latent demand of over 10,000 would-be boat owners,
deterred by the lack of mooring facilities. A Dutch business consultancy studied income
thresholds for boat ownership in different markets, and concluded that recreational boat
ownership would double in Hong Kong if safe, convenient and affordable public
moorings were made available. In 2012, a team from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute
(WPI) analysed the length of boats owned in different markets. They concluded that there
is a shortfall of 12,000 small cruisers (16-26ft) in Hong Kong: Boat owners have either
very small craft they can pull out and tie to a rock, or they are wealthy enough to own a
large vessel moored in a private marina or kept safe by a permanent crew.
7. We have yet to account for the potential increase in commercial leisure and tourism
vessels. People in Hong Kong love to take to the water. A growing number want to enjoy
Hong Kong's archipelago of 263 islands, white sand beaches, blue waters and a
spectacular 733-kilometre coastline including dramatic rock formations which have been
recognized as geo parks. The Sai Kung pier is crowded on weekend mornings with
boaters. Junks and yachts sail out of Aberdeen for swims in quiet bays. Tourists enjoy
tours of Victoria Harbour and Lamma's fish restaurants. Weekenders take small ferries to
8. Sports, leisure and recreational marine activities provide a great opportunity for
improving quality of life. Small outboard sampans are rented out at Eastern Channel next
to Tseung Kwan O, To Tau beach in Tolo Harbour and at Ting Kau beach to people who
go fishing. Sailing regattas are held in Port Shelter, Victoria Harbour and off Middle
Island. Windsurfers set off from Stanley and Cheung Chau. Catamaran sailors ready their
boats on beaches in Discovery Bay and Tai Tam Harbour.
9. New berthing facilities will enable an increase in boat use and ownership, which in turn
will offer jobs for fishermen who have been obliged to abandon their trade. We are
already seeing a reversal in the decline of the ship building trade as their workforce is
retrained to repair and maintain recreational boats. Importantly, as more people learn
about the sea through sports, leisure and recreation, we can start to address the systemic
shortfall in manpower faced by the Marine Department and the commercial marine
industry as identified in reviews following the Lamma ferry tragedy.
CEO, Designing Hong Kong Limited