Berths in the South of France

In 1956, Yachting was almost unknown as a leisure activity in the South of France. In that same year, the appearance of Brigitte Bardot in “And God Created Woman” suddenly spread the glamour of St Tropez worldwide. Until then the nautical industries in the area were mainly fishing and shipping and most of the marinas we know today had not even been planned. The Côte d’Azur, this now famous holiday destination, was still very under-developed and in fact throughout history most of the locals lived behind the coastline, many on “perched” villages in the hills. Napoleon, after his escape from Elba in 1815, chose to land in Golfe Juan in the Bay of Cannes primarily because he had little chance of attracting any attention! Since then artists, poets and celebrities have brought the beauty of the Côte d’Azur to the world’s attention.
It was in the 1970’s that the coastline saw its greatest transformation. Throughout that decade, France authorised the construction of several marinas to cope with the expansion of yachting. The government and local authorities were encouraging the development of tourism infrastructure all along the coast with the intention that the South of France would become one of the leading yachting and tourist destinations in the world. In order that the taxpayer was not burdened with the substantial costs of these new Marina developments, the government sold 50-year concessions to private companies in exchange for the construction of yachting marinas.  

To raise finance these private limited companies issued shares, which in many cases were purchased by local individuals. In addition these shareholders were often granted the right to use a berth for the duration of the concession. In nearly all developments the concession was for 50 years and as in most European countries, the coastline ultimately belongs to the Government. In some cases, berths were sold as a concession or a ‘right to use’ to both investors and boat owners known in French as “amodiations”.
An “amodiation” is an old word from the French legal glossary. It is more commonly used in agriculture when a landowner allows someone to exploit a field in exchange for some compensation or part of the produce. It is also found in French mining where again the government is always the owner. Very often this ‘right of use’ cannot be sold by a beneficiary to a third party, nor can it be used to endorse a mortgage (Article 68-4 du Code minier français).
The rules and obligations between the private limited marina companies, the berth users and the French government, more often than not represented by the local mayor, vary considerably in each Marina and can at times be very complex. However, the terms of the concession between the French government and the private limited marina company always come first.
Now, more than 30 years on, Yachting has grown considerably. Not only has the sheer number of yachts that cruise the Côte d’Azur risen considerably but also their size is ever increasing. In 2007, according to the “Ministry of the Sea” (nowadays attached to the Ministry of the Environment) there is a shortage of 50,000 berths in France! Also according to a study carried out in 2006, even if all the existing new Marina projects were authorised in France, they would only provide half of the berths to satisfy the demand. However, following fears of sea pollution on the Côte d’Azur in the early eighties, a law was voted in 1981 to protect the coastline which almost completely prohibited any new marina constructions.
This high scarcity is clearly a limiting factor to the development of yachting in the region and a source of concern for any yacht owner. It is virtually impossible for new-comers to rent a berth on an annual basis. There can be as much as a 10-year waiting list in most marinas and normally the larger the yacht the longer the wait! Virtually the only way to secure a berth is to purchase the remaining concession and / or lease. Although the time remaining on the concessions keeps reducing, the sheer shortage of available berths dictates that the prices keep increasing. For instance, in 1971, the buyer of a 23m x 6m berth in Antibes would have paid 40,000 FRF (£4,000) for a 50 year ‘right to use’. Nowadays, the same berth with 12 years left on the concession is probably worth EUR 500,000. In addition, this relatively short lease ensures that berths are only sold to actual ‘end-users’ and not to investors for a ‘buy to let’.
Nowadays, to enjoy cruising in the South of France the most cost effective solution for an ideal ‘home berth’ is to follow the example of our Italian neighbours. They, like everyone else, want to enjoy the hotspots of the Cote d’Azur. Italy is a country where new marinas are encouraged and you can purchase a berth at a much more reasonable price together with an exceptionally long lease, sometimes up to 50 years.

Since many yachts are ‘on the move’ during the summer, it is still possible to rent a berth on the Côte d’Azur in season for a few nights - but to find a permanent berth in the South of France is truly a challenge!!

  Moorings for Sale in the Cote d'Azur
Whether buying or selling any berths call Mr. Berth at Inwards!
Peter Murray Kerr
SARL Inwards Monaco