“The nicest thing about Mark Gelders is that he was forward thinking,” says Mark Pearson, president of Pearson Pilings, LLC, in Fall River, Mass. Pearson approached the Dania Beach, Fla., marina operator at the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show in 2006, proposing a composite upgrade.

Gelders, general manager of Anglers Avenue Marine Center, convinced marina owner Dan Longman to launch a major marina restoration, replacing aging wooden piers and decks with composites. Longman had purchased the 125-foot slip marina in 2006, when the circa-1960s facility was in need of extensive repairs, Gelders says. Tired of battling boring-worm issues, Gelders suggested a makeover. “Composites always run more than conventional wood or pretreated wood, but over the long haul we won’t be dealing with these pilings again. The number one reason we did it was for looks and aesthetics,” says Gelders. “We did our homework and found that the lateral strength of a fiberglass piling is about five times that of a wood piling,” says Gelders.

Due to the material’s properties, Gelders says he was able to choose 10-foot fiberglass pilings, instead of 12-foot wooden pilings, in constructing a new feature added to the marina: in-slip, vertical, hurricane boat lifts. Construction began mid 2010 and is scheduled for completion in 2012.

“The marina was very much in need of repair. They are now using a product with a 100-year-plus lifespan, says Pearson. All the new slips at the marina have fiberglass pilings and composite decking. Since fiberglass pilings have five times the rating for hurricane force winds, over wood, Gelders says that in strong winds, the new pilings “will just bend and flex similar to a fiberglass fishing rod.” The lengthy lifespan was an incentive for the marina operator, too. “We do this once, and we don’t have to do it again.”

Decay rates in wood pilings are widely variable depending upon environmental factors, says Gelders. Even though the boating industry is undergoing an epic disruption, Gelders says that was exactly the reason why an upgrade was necessary. “We had to build a better dock. Compared to the rest of the marinas, ours is going to stand out.” The new materials were also easier on his customers’ bare feet, says Gelders.

With the boat industry still in a slump, Gelders says the upgrade ensures a competitive advantage. “My new docks are powered by a solar system. With my nice composite docks, I don’t charge for electricity. You’ve got to make yourself stand out.”