If you haven't sailed in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) recently, you'll want to familiarize yourself with Boatyball.
As some of you may know, in peak season especially, the BVIs can be very crowded with boaters. Many of the mooring balls at the most prime locations, such as Cooper Island or Anegada, fill up before noon!
So, if you want to get a ball, you had to wake up, throw up those sails, and race to your next anchorage.
But, what if you wanted to spend most of the day out on the water: sailing, snorkeling, fishing, etc.
Boatyball was started a few years ago to offer a web-based reservation system for mooring balls in some of the BVI anchorages.
The balls are easily identifiable by their orange mooring color, blue markings and Boatyball logo.
In addition to balls that can be reserved, you can also pick up a First Come First Serve (FCFS) in the Boatyball program. Once secured, you can pay for it using the Boatyball application.
Boatyball partners with the ball owners to simplify payment collection using the web application. Payments for other mooring balls are either collected by someone who dinghies around a mooring field. Or, they are paid in person ashore by the boaters.
Boatyball also claims the balls are potentially safer than others you may find throughout the BVI. They are installed and regularly maintained by Moor Seacure - a trusted company that services mooring balls throughout the Virgin Islands.
If you are successful, your reservation begins at 12:00pm and ends the next day at 11:59am
First come first serve (FCFS) balls
These balls are white with a Boatyball sticker on them. They also have a 3 letter identifier.
Grab any one that is available
Once you have secured to the ball, login to Boatyball and pay the $40 mooring fee
Recently, they also began offering a way to reserve balls >24 hours in advance
This is limited to only a small number of people (8 boats in a week last time I checked)
Ensures you can reserve a ball where you want to, without fighting for one at 7:00am
You'll pay for it: this privilege will cost you $479 for a week. This fee does not include the nightly $55 mooring ball fee
Where are the Boatyball moorings?
Currently (as of December 2022), the Boatyball moorings are located in 11 bays and anchorages. Note: these numbers do not include other non-Boatyball moorings.
The great Boatyball debate
Some people love the Boatyball system, whereas others have some reservations about it (excuse my pun!). Here are some of the arguments on both sides.
Why some people like Boatyball
The reservation system allows you to spend more time out on the water.
The knowledge that there is a reserved ball with your name on it gives you peace of mind and allows you to follow a planned itinerary.
The balls are safer: they are professionally installed and regularly maintained/inspected by Moor Secure.
Makes it easier to pay for your mooring ball.
Why others do not like Boatyball
It is difficult to make a reservation - by 7:01 in peak season, all reservations can be taken. This makes it a game of chance. Spotty internet connections can also make it hard to "win" a ball.
Reservations can result in unused mooring balls that otherwise could be used for lunch stops. Some visitors are avoiding some of their favorite spots as a result.
There is no easy way to enforce the system if another catamaran squats on your reserved mooring ball.
Waking up to participate in the reservation competition at 7:00am takes away from the vacation experience.
The system didn't help solve the root of the problem - a shortage of well-maintained mooring balls throughout the BVIs at present. There are even recent reports of poorly maintained National Park System balls.
What's next - my Boatyball predictions
I'll start by saying that I've only been back to the BVIs once since Boatyball was started. I always visit in shoulder season (May or November) and I had no need to use Boatyball. We didn't have any trouble picking up a FCFS ball in the Boatyball anchorages we visited (Anegada, North Sound, and Cane Garden Bay).
If we were in peak season, that could have been another story.
Our crew also prefers dropping the hook at more secluded anchorages, so we would probably just plan to avoid Boatyball crowded bays.
While there are some frustrated sailors, it doesn't seem like Boatyball is going anywhere. They also have the support and partnership of many BVI establishments and charter companies.
Will they continue to grow and expand in the BVIs or elsewhere in the Virgin Islands? I have no idea!
But, if I were a betting man, I wouldn't be surprised to see them pop up in more BVI bays and potentially elsewhere in the Virgin Islands.
In 2022, there were 59 Boatyballs added, both FCFS and Reserved representing a 37% increase)