By Gary Walker

The inflatable FAB Dock keeps copper-painted boat hulls out of the water, but water quality experts worry about its novelty and cost

Environmental advocates and Los Angeles County officials are still exploring ways to keep copper particles that leach from painted boat hulls out of the waters of Marina del Rey, five years after a study by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board detected some of the state’s highest levels of toxic copper pollution here.

Some alternative copper-free paints proved to be costly and controversial; now they’re looking at inflatable docks to keep painted hulls out of contact with the water, which would also reduce the need for scrubbing hulls.

In late September, about 20 local boat owners in Marina del Rey attended a demonstration of the FAB Dock — an in-water docking system with an inflatable rubber bed that keeps a boat’s hull out of the water while still secure in its slip.

Dean Howard, the device’s Australia-based inventor and manufacturer, joined the L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors at Anchorage 47 to show how the rear of the device deflates to allow a boat to embark from its slip and re-inflates once the vessel returns.

Once again, however, cost may be a concern. For a 28-foot watercraft, installing a FAB Dock would cost about $9,000, according to Howard, and for a custom sailboat perhaps twice that amount.

Michael Quill, marine programs director for the local water quality watchdog group Los Angeles WaterKeeper, expressed concerns about the FAB Dock’s price point and maintenance.

“My understanding is that we’d have to pay for additional slip length if we were to use such a device. The system I was introduced to added two to three feet to slip space needed to moor each boat, which would add to monthly slip rental fees,” noted Quill, whose organization maintains a powerboat in Marina del Rey.

Jennifer Mongolo, a planner with the Department of Beaches and Harbors, said vessels moored in Marina del Rey are typically limited in how far their sterns can extend beyond the slip. If a FAB Dock exceeds that limit, the boat’s owner would have to apply for a permit amendment or move to a longer slip.

“I think boat owners need to plan for the FAB Dock to extend about three feet past the end of their boat, but this should always be confirmed with the manufacturer for the model they would need,” Mongolo said.

Brock Cahill owns a 28-foot sailboat at Anchorage 47 and is a member of the Sea Change Agency, a nonprofit advocate for the protection of endangered marine species. He says keeping copper pollution out of the harbor means a lot to him.

“I’ve come to realize that bottom paint is quite toxic for the ecosystem,” Cahill said. “We’re doing our best to improve the ecosystem all over, and that starts with using one of these inflatable options instead of [re-applying] bottom paint every few years,” Cahill said.

Howard argues that FAB Dock users would reduce pollution and save money over time versus repeatedly cleaning hulls and reapplying paint.

“It was designed and built to keep your boat clean and dry, which means you don’t need to use poisonous toxic bottom paints and anti-fouling paint, and that’s good for the environment. There are no chemicals, and that saves fuel. Eventually, over a few years, the money you’d spend on normal maintenance for a boat that’s docked in saltwater now goes toward paying your FAB Dock off, so it’s good financially too,” Howard noted.

Heal the Bay water quality specialist Annelisa Moe said the inflatable device presents an interesting idea for boat owners.

“From what I have seen they are effective in reducing passive leaching of copper from the underside of boats while they are docked. Unfortunately, because they are so new, I have not
seen much data about any potential side-effects of using this system,” Moe said.

See video of the FAB Dock in action at