Although copper (Cu) is an essential element for life, leaching from boat paint can cause excess environmental loading in enclosed marinas. The effects of copper contamination on benthic macrofaunal communities were examined in three San Diego Bay marinas (America's Cup, Harbor Island West and East) in Southern California, USA. The distribution of Cu concentration in sediments exhibited a clear spatial gradient, with hotspots created by the presence of boats, which in two marinas exceeded the effect range medium (ERM). Elevated sediment Cu was associated with differences in benthic assemblages, reduced species richness and enhanced dominance in America's Cup and Harbor Island West, whereas Harbor Island East did not appear to be affected. At sites without boats there were greater abundances of some amphipods such as the species Desdimelita sp., Harpinia sp., Aoroides sp., Corophium sp., Podocerus sp., bivalves such as Lyonsia californica, Musculista senhousia, Macoma sp., and polychaetes such as Diplocirrus sp. In contrast, at sites with boats, densities of Pseudopolydora paucibranchiata, Polydora nuchalis, Euchone limnicola, Exogone lourei, Tubificoides spp. were enhanced. The limited impact on Harbor Island East suggests not only lower Cu input rates and increased water flushing and mixing, but also the presence of adequate defense mechanisms that regulate availability and mitigate toxic impacts. At all three marinas, Cu in tissues of several macrobenthic species exhibited Cu bioaccumulation above levels found in the surrounding environment. The annelids Lumbrineris sp. and Tubificoides spp., and the amphipod Desdimelita sp. contained high levels of Cu, suggesting they function as Cu bioaccumulators. The spionid polychaetes Polydora nuchalis and Pseudopolydora paucibranchiata had much lower Cu concentrations than surrounding sediments, suggesting they function as Cu bioregulators. The macrobenthic invertebrates in San Diego Bay marinas that tolerate Cu pollution (e.g. P. nuchalis, P. paucibranchiata, Euchone limnicola, Typosyllis sp., Tubificoides sp.) may function as indicators of high-Cu conditions, whereas the presence of Cu-sensitive species (e.g. Podocerus sp., Aoroides sp., Harpinia sp., Macoma sp., Lyonsia californica) may indicate healthier conditions (less Cu-stressed). Parallel responses by faunas of Shelter Island Yacht Basin, also in San Diego Bay, suggest potential for development of regional Cu contamination assessment criteria, and call for functional comparisons with other marinas and coastal water bodies.