By Jim Flannery / Senior Writer
Keith Knowlton isn’t the kind of marina manager your grandpa would remember, except for this: Boats and boaters are his passion.
Salary range: varies widely — $50,000 to $60,000 at midsize mid-Atlantic marina (higher depending on location, experience, size of marina, etc.)
“Being around boats and dealing with boating-type people is an enjoyable experience all around,” says Knowlton, 28, manager of Carter’s Cove Marina in Weems, Va., and the Delaware City Marina in Delaware City, Del. “People don’t generally come down to their boats to have a bad time.”
A big part of Knowlton’s job is making sure his customers have a good time. He is in the hospitality services industry and says retirees from the hotel business often find marina management a comfortable fit as a second career.
Knowlton is the managing member of Maritime Resorts, which owns and operates Carter’s Cove, a 40-slip yacht club-style marina in a bucolic setting on the Rappahannock River, and Delaware City, a 100-slip transient marina and boatyard at the east end of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
Knowlton is a jack-of-many-trades. Beyond the hospitality part of his job, he is expected to be a savvy businessman, a deft personnel manager and a creative marketer. His skill set includes basic boatbuilding (fiberglass and wood); marine mechanics; electrical and plumbing; hauling and storing boats; and oil cleanup. He is schooled in environmental, zoning and OSHA regulations; contract, admiralty and insurance law; and construction management. He also knows computers and Web design. He keeps up with legislation and lobbies politicians as necessary, and he is a very good boat handler — an essential skill for running a marina and helping customers dock in a current.
Knowlton is a 2002 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in marina management. He also is a Certified Marina Manager — a certification awarded by the Association of Marina Industries — and holds a Coast Guard captain’s license that qualified him to skipper the academy’s 38-foot raceboat and its crew of eight for the summer race circuit on the Gulf of Maine.
Knowlton is well-educated in a field that increasingly demands both formal training and hands-on experience, and he brings to the job more than just book learning. He grew up messing about on boats in his native Hingham, Mass., and it was his love for boats that drew him to the marina business in the first place. In college, he interned at Hewitt’s Cove Marina in Hingham during the summer to get experience and make sure he liked working at a marina. He hauled and launched boats, operated a hydraulic trailer, and worked as assistant dockmaster and then dockmaster. After graduating, he managed the 300-slip Fort Washington Marina in Fort Washington, Md., for three years, then the Edgewater (Md.) Boating Center — a full-service marina and boatyard for boats to 120 feet — for two more years before joining investors in buying the two yards he now manages.
Knowlton says he was surprised at how much of his time is devoted to regulatory and legal concerns — admiralty, insurance and contract law — and how hard it is to find good, qualified workers in the marine trades. The worst part of the job: slapping a mechanics lien on a boat for failure to pay a bill.
Most of the time, though, “It’s fun,” he says. “You’re not going to work in a cubicle or hassling with city traffic every day.”