What boater hasn’t thought of turning his or her weekend passion into a career? The marine industry offers such a rich tapestry of niches and jobs and career paths that almost any talent, temperament, training or experience, nautical taste or interest can be woven into it somewhere. Be it in business or government, the opportunities to work on or around boats and the water are as diverse as the universe of boats, boaters and boating.
For a young person entering the workforce, marine career paths run the gamut, from crewing on a megayacht to servicing boats at a dealership to designing them for a builder. With the right experience, second-career workers might put their sales knowledge to work as a yacht broker or redirect their hotel management expertise to operating a marina. Do you run your sportfisherman offshore to fish on weekends — and love every minute of it? Maybe there’s a job for you as a charter captain.
Don’t dismiss the thought out-of-hand. There are dozens of ways to earn a living in the marine field doing the things you love to do — or maybe imagine yourself doing as you lay on the sunpad daydreaming.
Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, playing Coast Guardsmen in the 2006 film “The Guardian,” highlighted the challenge, adventure and danger of a career as a rescue swimmer, jumping from helicopters to help those in distress. It’s demanding work. Fifty percent of trainees wash out in rescue swimmer school, but what a great job for some young, adventuresome type who loves the water, likes to help people, and is a glutton for physical fitness.
Adventure is a big draw of many marine careers. Sign on as a deck hand aboard a megayacht, go to crew school, get some training, work your way up to mate, earn your licenses, get more experience and training, become a captain — see the world. Visit Monaco and Genoa, Antigua and Newport. Hang out with the glitterati. Run high-tech systems on a mini-ship. Not a bad gig. Or become a self-employed delivery captain. Every boat is different. Every job is different. Every owner is different. No boredom here.
“Never a dull moment. I’ve never been to Alaska before,” says Sid Preskitt, 56, of Daytona Beach, Fla., boarding a flight from Las Vegas to Anchorage to run boats for a cable-laying crew in Cook Inlet. A couple of weeks earlier, Preskitt, who holds a 100-ton captain’s license, delivered a worn-out lobster boat from New Jersey to Florida. “You get to see the good and the bad,” he says.
If you like to pore over nautical charts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employs crews that go out on 24-foot workboats to survey channels, usually to check a chart’s accuracy but also after hurricanes to identify and remove hazards to navigation. Or if you’re a science buff, you could crew on a university research vessel gathering data in faraway waters.
The novelist Joseph Conrad, who earned a master mariner’s certificate in the British merchant navy, worked 16 years on sailing ships and steamers before settling down to the life of a writer. “The sea has never been friendly to man,” he wrote. It has its dangers, but Conrad also saw the sea as “an accomplice of human restlessness.” If you’ve got the itch to travel and see new things, a career in the merchant marine might be your ticket to work that satisfies.
Today, budding Conrads can graduate from one of the academies, go on to a career in the merchant marine — become a ship’s officer, see the world — then do some writing. Or, after a decade at sea, they might set their sights on the pinnacle of their profession as a harbor pilot, guiding ships into and out of a port. It’s exacting work, very well-compensated but seldom routine when you’re climbing the sides of ships from a pilot boat and guiding them through flotillas of small craft.
Boats are objects of endless toil, fascination and satisfaction for people who like to work with their hands. Boats are labor-intensive, whether you’re building them, fixing them, restoring them or renovating them. The craftsmen and women who work on boats are cornerstones of the industry. If you are of a traditional bent, you can work in wood in a trade that still values exquisite craftsmanship. Or you can build boats with space-age materials — Kevlar and carbon fiber and honeycomb composites — and learn vacuum-bag layup.
“Technical jobs are in terrific demand, even in this slow economy,” says Ed Sherman, education director with the American Boat and Yacht Council. Engine mechanics, electronics technicians, workers in composites and layup, gelcoating, wiring and assembly. Technology is changing so fast that technicians are always learning, always training. Marine service today is sophisticated and high-tech.
Yet the field also has jobs for those with an artistic flair. If that’s you, think about working as a magazine writer, marine photographer, painter, or a yacht designer. There are few skills or disciplines not represented in the marine field. Marine dealers, manufacturers and service providers need lawyers, accountants, insurers, lenders and salespeople to do business. And every marina and boatyard has a general manager — a jack-of-many-trades who is a shrewd businessperson; knows how to run and fix boats; understands the customer; and is schooled in the fundamentals of contract law; environmental, health and safety regulations; and property development.
Yard and marina managers “aren’t just dockmasters running the fuel docks,” says Cayce Florio, training coordinator for the International Marine Institute in Warren, R.I. They are professionally trained businesspeople.
If you like boats and the water — and have the skills or are willing to acquire them — there is a marine-related job with your name on it. “I enjoy the water,” says Keith Knowlton, of Delaware City, Del., manager of a Virginia marina and Delaware boatyard. “That makes it worth doing.”
Boat Designer: the reward is in the ride
By Chris Landry / Senior Reporter
It was Intrepid’s first defense of the America’s Cup. Lou Codega was 12 years old, and he and his father had taken the 40-minute drive from his hometown of Barrington, R.I., to Newport to see some of the great 12 Meters.
Salary range: starting $45,000 to $55,000, mid $60,000 to $70,000, top $80,000-plus
“Intrepid was on a marine railway,” says Codega, now 52. “I still have a Kodak picture of her. They were all such beautiful things.”
That trip to Newport inspired Codega to design boats. However, it was — and remains — tough to earn a living designing sailboats because of the market’s small size. So Codega focused on powerboats, and for 20 years he has been churning out proven designs for the likes of Regulator, Carolina Classic, Hines-Farley and Mirage Manufacturing (Great Harbour trawlers).
“Lou understands the ride of a deep-vee hull,” says Joan Maxwell, co-owner and president of Regulator Marine, in Edenton, N.C. “Our boats and their ride are really all about Lou’s bottom. He designed the 26, and that boat set the standard for us.”
Codega designed that smooth-running Regulator Classic 26 center console in 1988. Just this year, he completed the drawings for the Regulator 34, due out in a few months. The Maxwells took a chance on the young designer in the late 1980s in part because they knew he was well-educated, with an undergraduate degree from the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, N.Y., and a master’s in naval architecture and marine engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Codega says he was a somewhat lazy high school student, “bright but not a particularly hard worker,” he says. That all changed at Webb. “It was extremely difficult. I had to really work to keep my head above water.”
You don’t need an engineering degree to become a boat designer, according to Dave Gerr, director of the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, in Mystic, Conn. In fact, you don’t need a degree of any sort. But if you want to formally learn how to design boats, the institute offers a four-year, 3,300-hour distance learning program ($2,575 annual tuition).
Codega has been on his own since 1993, after working with colleague and mentor Donald Blount. Codega was the only “associate” in Donald L. Blount and Associates in 1991, when Blount founded the company. Together, they designed the 220-foot Destriero, which went on to set the trans-Atlantic speed record (48 hours, 34 minutes at an average speed of 50 mph).
“Don took me under his wing and showed me the correct papers to read and the right people to talk to,” says Codega, who lives on a Chesapeake Bay tributary in Smithfield, Va.
The best part about being a designer is taking the first ride on a boat you’ve just created, says Codega. “You go from a blank computer screen to sitting on a boat 12 months later,” he says. “I remember every one of them.” And Codega has designed about 35 different boats.
While certainly rewarding, designing boats has its challenges. Educating builders about the trade-offs of boat design is one of them. “You can’t have everything in one boat,” says Codega. “If you push a boat too far in one direction, it hurts it in another area. I try to give them enough education in naval architecture so they can understand the pros and cons of certain decisions.”
He says running his own business also has its ups and downs. “Sometimes builders are beating down my door for my services, and other times I have too much time on my hands,” says Codega, who also is the sailing coach at the local high school. His two children — James, 16, and Linda, 17 — are the stars of the team.
Designing powerboats and teaching sailing — not a bad life.
Charterboart Captain: ‘best job in the world’
By Chris Landry / Senior Reporter
A barroom conversation in 1964 at Long Island’s Poop Deck in Freeport, N.Y., changed Allan “Skip” Bradeen’s life forever.
After serving four years in the Air Force, Bradeen worked as a deck hand on a fishing boat out of Freeport for the summer. “I just bought a new Chevy Impala,” says Bradeen, who is 65. “I was going to drive to Fort Lauderdale and take a two-week vacation. After that, I was headed back up to meat cutter’s school to become a butcher.”
Salary range: $15,000 to $100,000-plus, depending on size of boat, number of passengers accommodated, and type of trips offered
At the bar, a friend mentioned that he was Florida-bound, too. His destination was the Keys. Bradeen, who had never even heard of the island chain, gave his buddy a ride to Islamorada and “hung around for a couple days to check it out,” he says.
A couple of days turned into 44 years. The 22-year-old Bradeen quickly landed a job as a mate on a fishing boat in Islamorada, and two years later he bought his first charterboat, a wooden 28-foot Harkers Island sportfisherman.
Bradeen has owned two other wooden boats since, carving out an impressive career as one of the most well-known and successful captains in the Keys. His current vessel, Blue Chip Too, is a 52-foot Carolina sportfisherman built by Ray Lemay in 1972 and powered by twin 140-hp diesels. “She cruises at 10 knots, and that’s plenty fast,” he says.
Bradeen has strung together an eyebrow-raising list of clientele, including President George H.W. Bush, actor Paul Newman, singer Jimmy Buffett, and baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. (Skip loves the national pastime and has managed a Little League team for 27 years.)
Bradeen’s boats have set several fishing records over the years — for example, the largest amberjack (on 50-pound-test line), which still stands. The skipper rattles off the particulars without pause: “March 16, 1994; 128 pounds; caught by Joe Gazia from Danbury, Conn.” Other memorable days include the outing when the boat landed 11 sailfish: “Nov. 21, 1969; Barney and Marion O’Neill of Hollywood, Fla.”
“I have the best job in the world,” says Bradeen, whose father also was nicknamed Skip because he was a charter “skipper” himself on Long Island. “I love to meet people and talk, and I love the excitement of not knowing what we’ll catch each time we go out.”
That’s the allure of a career as a charterboat skipper. But Bradeen says it would be tougher today to establish an independent business like his in the Keys because of the competition. “Most young guys are captains of corporate-owned boats,” he says. “The dream I realized cannot be done today. My advice is to get an education.”
It may be tough in the Keys, but not in other places, according to Bobbi M. Walker, executive director of the National Association of Charterboat Operators. “The Keys are not illustrative of the rest of the country, says Walker. “Most captains own their own boats. It actually would not cost that much to set up an inshore small-boat business where the captain launched his boat for every trip at a public facility — basically, just the cost of the boat and a few licenses.”
Bradeen loves his wooden vessel, and enjoys the constant maintenance to keep her running. “If I’m not fishing, I am working on the boat,” says Bradeen, whose wife of 30 years, Lisa, runs the bookkeeping side of the business. “There’s nothing like the ride of a wooden boat.”
Delivery captain: keeping tight schedules
By Douglas A. Campbell / Senior Writer
Delivery captain Bob Pierce, after more than 25 years on the job, still says “I love being paid to be out on the water.” But he admits that things have changed over the decades. “Used to be you could work a delivery for a beer and a handshake,” says the Arnold, Md., resident. “Now I have a six-page contract.”
Salary range: $250 to $500 per day
A recreational sailor and ocean racer, Pierce, now 64, worked in computers but had delivered boats back to Annapolis, Md., after racing them to Bermuda. He says he decided in 1982 that, because there are 10,000 sailboats in Annapolis, he could find work on the water near home.
Today, deliveries are but part of Pierce’s business, which includes managing boats and keeping them “turnkey” for their owners. He could live on deliveries alone, he says, but the business is “location and weather dependent, and one would have little or no social or home life.” For smaller boats — power to 45 feet and sail to 40 feet — Pierce charges $300 to $350 a day plus expenses, which include food, fuel, crew and transportation to and from the boat. For power- and sailboats bigger than 45 and 40 feet, respectively, he charges up to $500 a day.
Pierce has a 100-ton Coast Guard master’s license and a thick resume that justify his fees. The license is not legally mandatory, he says, but boat insurers require it on deliveries. He says the life of a delivery captain may sound romantic, but in a seminar he gives to prospective captains each year — “mostly retirees who think they’ll do it,” he says — “I shoot that whole myth down. It [making deliveries] carries an enormous amount of responsibility.”
There is no formal training for delivery captains. Pierce suggests getting a license and then finding a job on a water taxi to log a lot of hours on the water. He and other experienced delivery captains suggest crewing on deliveries, a type of apprenticeship that teaches the quirks of the business.
“The big thing is scheduling,” says Pierce. “We [he and the boat owner] talk about it, get a timetable. I send them a contract. If they agree, then I have them contact the insurance company to name me the insured. We take a weather window, and we go.
I charge extra if the owner or owner’s friends go along,” Pierce adds. “I really don’t like delivering with owners.”
Pierce’s contract provides for expenses — rental cars, tolls — traveling to and from the boat. And that travel time is “billable time, as well,” he says.
To find work, you have to ask around, says Pierce. Yacht clubs can be a good source of leads. Over the years, he says, he has developed a network of brokers who direct their customers to him. He now has the luxury to be picky.
When Pierce takes a job, he says, “I do all the conditional work upfront. They advance a credit card or cash [to cover] problems” on the delivery. As a result, he says, he “rarely” encounters problems with boat owners.
Harbor pilot: precision is a prerequisite
By Jim Flannery / Senior Writer
Andy Edelstein makes his living guiding some of the world’s largest ships into and out of Port Everglades in the heart of Florida pleasure boat country. Port pilots have brought the 1,132-foot Queen Mary II and the 1,092-foot aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan down the 2-mile, 400-foot-wide channel from the sea buoy into Fort Lauderdale’s commercial port.
Salary range: $150,000 to $400,000
Guiding a ship into port starts at the Pilot House on the 15th Street canal, where Edelstein boards a 41-foot pilot boat. The boat ferries him two miles past the sea buoy, where he rendezvous with the ship and joins in a dangerous dance with the 70,000-ton behemoth. As the ship turns its lee side to the pilot boat, the crew drops a Jacob’s ladder over the side, and the pilot boat sidles up to the ship. Meanwhile, Edelstein waits for a moment when boat and ship hang suspended together on a wave so he can grab the ladder and climb up the ship’s side.
Night or day, in rough conditions or calm — Edelstein has climbed the rope ladder in 14-foot seas — every piloting job starts or ends with this absurdly dangerous choreography of climbing up the ship or down to the pilot boat. “It’s part of the job,” says Edelstein, but only one part.
Edelstein, 50, considers his harbor pilot’s job the pinnacle of a 28-year seagoing career. A 1980 graduate of the State University of New York Maritime College, he spent 15 years in the Merchant Marine, working his way up to captain of a 950-foot Panamax tanker that hauled oil from Alaska to mainland U.S. ports. “In my seagoing career, I’ve been all over the world,” he says.
A licensed state pilot since 1995, Edelstein says piloting ships into port brings into play his years of training and experience. He doesn’t take the ship’s wheel, nor does he assume its command, but he knows every inch of the channel and how to maneuver within it, so he cons the ship. He directs the helmsman.
“There’s a lot of stress,” Edelstein says. “Our pencils have no erasers. You can’t do it again if you screw up. It’s pretty exacting work.”
The Reagan’s flight deck is 252 feet wide, the channel 400 feet wide. That doesn’t leave a lot of room on either side, and when there’s a steady stream of traffic it can be tense if small craft don’t keep to the edge of the channel.
Edelstein works two weeks on, two weeks off, 52 weeks a year, Christmas and other holidays included. “Commerce never stops,” he says. When he’s “on,” he is on 24-hour call with as little as an hour’s notice, so he has to stay close to home, keep well-rested and abstain from even a single cocktail. Nine of 18 pilots are always on call for an average 35 ship movements a day, nearly 13,000 a year. It’s a demanding schedule, but Edelstein, who is married and has two children, says it is preferable to spending three months at a time at sea.
State commissions license harbor pilots as jobs open, based on qualifications and scoring on a competitive examination. Edelstein spent three years studying for it. Once hired, pilots are trained through a rigorous apprenticeship and become members of a port-specific association that operates as a private business.
Harbormaster: at the helm of a high-wire act
By David W. Shaw
Some might say Tim Mills works in a circus. As harbormaster for the City of Newport, R.I., he is adept at juggling, in the figurative sense, and at the height of the boating season the harbor resembles a three-ring stage where something is always going on.
Salary range: $38,000 to $65,000 (less in smaller harbors)
No doubt about it. Newport is a busy place, and Mills’ job is to “keep order in what looks like chaos,” he says. It’s not easy, and it takes lots of hands. Mills, 44, supervises a staff of 16 working in the Harbor Division of the city’s Department of Economic Development, which has three patrol boats and one workboat tasked to manage the harbor’s resources, enforce state boating regulations and city ordinances, adhere to security protocols for visiting cruise ships, and assist mariners in trouble.
“Helping fellow mariners is what makes the job special,” Mills says. “That’s a big reason why I got into it. In a way, we’re like the Coast Guard but in a much smaller capacity.”
Mills grew up in Newport, and from an early age he knew he wanted to work on the water. He majored in marine affairs at the University of Rhode Island, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. He went on to build docks, crew on a research vessel, run a mooring business, and fish for lobsters before he landed a job working for his predecessor as an assistant. Mills took over the harbormaster position in 2001.
Since then he’s taken numerous specialized courses. He attended the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., to ensure compliance with the Maritime Safety Act, and he attended the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, Mass., to obtain certification as a facilities security officer; each foray was necessary because of the cruise ship presence in the harbor. He also took a marine patrol officer course at Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown (Va.), where he learned proper boarding procedures and how to train personnel.
Being the harbormaster in a harbor like Newport requires specialized training, Mills says, as well as an ability to manage people and interface well with local, state and federal government agencies. There’s also a “never-ending stack of paperwork” that crosses his desk, which he never really appreciated until he got the top job. “As an assistant, you could do the work without the paperwork. You’d just go out and help the boater,” he says. “It was great.”
Paperwork aside, Mills says his is a “dream job,” and he counts himself lucky to have it. Only 13 towns in Rhode Island employ harbormasters, and they tend to stay in the job for a long time.
“If I were to advise someone who wanted to do this, I’d say get your foot in the door as a harbormaster assistant. There is turnover because the job is usually seasonal and not highly paid,” he says, adding that aspiring harbormasters should try to get as much education as possible, such as a captain’s license from the Coast Guard because it requires time on the water. Maritime academies do, too, and that’s important, Mills says.
“Long-term boating experience is essential,” he says. “You have to know the terminology, how to make an approach to another vessel, how to talk with experienced mariners. It all goes to your credibility.”
Marina manager: a mix of creativity and savvy
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.”
Marine forecaster: keep an eye over the horizon
By Jim Flannery / Senior Writer
Ken Campbell always wanted to be a weather forecaster, and he has always enjoyed the adrenalin rush of sports competition. One of the biggest thrills of his career was calling the weather for Peter Gilmour during the 2002-03 Louis Vuitton Cup, the run-up to the America’s Cup, off Auckland, New Zealand.
Salary range: $30,000 to start with a Bachelor of Science, $60,000 to $100,000 with graduate degree
“I really like the starts of America’s Cup races,” says Campbell, 53, a partner in Commander’s Weather, a marine forecasting service in Nashua, N.H.
Using computer analyses of wind and other data gathered by an onshore weather station and five weather boats, Campbell updated wind forecasts for Gilmour as the races unfolded. More than a forecaster, he also advised the skipper of OneWorld Challenge on how to come off the start line and how long to hold a tack. Working from a weather boat, he assessed course conditions and helped make decisions. “It’s very stressful, but also a lot of fun,” he says.
Campbell, an alumnus of the pioneering private forecasting firm Weather Services Corp., and seven other meteorologists customize forecasts for racers and cruisers, yacht clubs and race committees. Their clients are a who’s-who of yachting: solo sailor and around-the-world record-holder Ellen MacArthur; the late Steve Fossett, who broke the trans-Atlantic sailing record in 2001 on PlayStation; and ocean racer Assa Abloy, runner-up in the 2002 Volvo Ocean Race. This summer, Campbell will be at the Olympics in Qingdao, China, calling the weather for the British Olympic sailing team.
But his clients aren’t all high-profile. Family cruisers also use his services. He tells them when it’s a good time for casting off, gives them a five- to eight-day forecast, offers routing suggestions, and updates forecasts as storms threaten.
Campbell and his meteorologists normally forecast from their Nashua offices, where they tap into data from satellites, national weather services and weather stations worldwide. He tries to keep staff on a 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, but on one recent day he went into the office at 11 p.m. to author three forecasts by midnight and another four by 7 a.m. for clients racing in Europe that day.
Campbell, who holds a master’s degree in meteorology from Florida State University, says the road to where he is now was a long and bumpy one. The academic training is very math-intensive, very theoretical and very tough. Of the 75 or so students who started with him as undergraduate meteorology majors, 20 graduated in their discipline. “There’s pretty heavy attrition,” he says.
He entered the workforce in 1979 at an annual salary of $10,600, and 18 years later he was earning annual pay of $24,000. Today, as a partner in his own business, he makes more than $100,000, but Campbell says that’s unusual. There aren’t that many openings in the field, and most private marine forecasters like himself are self-employed as singletons. He receives 150 resumes a year, most from applicants who can’t find work.
For the specialized, volume work that Commander’s does (more than 5,000 clients), Campbell hires only meteorologists with experience. Campbell is not a sailor, but he has learned enough about sailing to give his sailing clients the forecasts and tactical advice they are looking for.
Like the weather, every day at Commander’s is different, and that’s a two-edged sword. Campbell says it makes work interesting — but also stressful.
Marine photographer: an ever-evolving job
By David W. Shaw
The battered Saab labored as Billy Black drove up I-95 May 8, 1983, his camera bags loaded for bear and an Avon inflatable lashed to the roof rack. He was headed to Newport, R.I., to photograph the winner of the first BOC Challenge, Frenchman Philippe Jeantot, steering the 56-foot aluminum cutter Credit Agricole across the finish line the following day after completing a solo circumnavigation in record time.
Salary range: the equivalent of part-time wages to $50,000-plus
The car died in Connecticut. The Avon died, too, deflating like a leaky balloon and dashing his chances of avoiding the herd on the press boat. A member of the American Automobile Association, Black called a tow truck and paid the driver to take him to Newport instead of the nearest service station, per the AAA rulebook.
“It cost me a fortune,” Black says, “but I had to get there.”
Black wasn’t on a lucrative assignment at the time. He’d dabbled in marine photography, in part because he’d grown to love boats while sailing an Ericson 39 with his dad, but he hadn’t chosen it as a career. However, when Black watched Jeantot finish the race, he says he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. “It was a really big turning point for me,” he says.
Black, now 52 and a leading marine photographer, moved to Newport shortly after that, and he hasn’t looked back. Now based in Portsmouth, R.I., he shoots for top boating magazines, major boatbuilders, and giants among marine product manufacturers. It took Black time to break in, yet he says he’d do it all over again. “It’s pretty neat having the ocean as your office,” he says.
Times have changed since Black first started shooting for a New York-based media company that sold advertising space on the sides of buses, and freelancing for big studios in Manhattan doing product shoots for Xerox, Budweiser and other large corporations. You really had to know photographic techniques, he says, like how to set an F-stop.
With the advent of digital photography, anyone with a professional-quality camera can take good pictures, though composing the image remains more the artist’s domain. “Digital has leveled the playing field,” says Black, adding that he’s doing more commercial work because an increasing number of magazine editors are using digital cameras to take their own pictures. Digital technology also has increased the number of people trying their hand at marine photography, and shooting digital means more time at the computer, which Black doesn’t like much.
“It’s a saturated field. There are fewer places to sell to and more people out selling,” Black says. “But I think the prospects are still bright for someone wanting to be a marine photographer.”
Black cautions that it won’t be lucrative. “With enough time at it you can make a living, but it’s not a way to make a fortune. If you want the money, go commercial. You won’t make it on editorial assignments.”
A college education focused on photography is important, in spite of the advantages of digital cameras. Black graduated from Colorado MountainCollege, in Carbondale, Colo., which offered a two-year photography degree. But he says workshops are good alternatives, and working as an assistant to a pro is the best way to go. “You really learn the business when you work with someone who’s earning a living at it,” he says. “There’s no substitute for experience.”
Marine Surveyor: a jack-of-all-trades
By Douglas A. Campbell/ Senior Writer
Going to work at age 14 in his family’s Salem, Mass., boatyard, Capt. Norm LeBlanc recalls seeing every sort of marine tradesman there was. But the members of one profession — marine surveyors — stood out.
Salary range: up to $100,000 a year
“I used to watch all these guys coming in, and I said someday I’m going to be a marine surveyor,” says LeBlanc. What attracted the youth was the license with which surveyors crawled all over and into boats.
But when he talked with the surveyors, “They said you’ve got to wait until you’re old enough to get respect from people,” he says. So he waited until he was 39, and for the last 25 years, he has been one of them.
Now he owns N.L. LeBlanc & Associates, Yacht Surveyors, in Danvers, Mass., and examines 200 boats a year, both sail and power. “A lot of people get into it as a second career,” LeBlanc says. “The mistake that they generally make is lack of experience.”
LeBlanc took the advice of his elders. “I’ve been a sailmaker, rigger, tore apart engines, rebuilt engines, [did] fiberglass work, woodwork,” he says. For electrical and plumbing expertise, he has relied on annual courses from the American Boat and Yacht Council. “Everything changes, so you have to keep up with all the new materials and regulations,” he explains.
LeBlanc is a charter member of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors, one of the major accrediting agencies, and served as president last year. He says while there are no licensing requirements for marine surveyors, a certification is recommended, as is membership in the ABYC.
“A few places around have marine surveying courses,” LeBlanc says. But they are generally for people already working in the marine trades, he says, giving them a “chance to focus on what they’re going to be doing” as surveyors.
The boating business is in a downturn, and work on smaller boats — smaller than 30 feet — has shrunk, LeBlanc says. “But there’s a huge increase in business over 50 feet,” he says, and foreign buyers have been coming in to further drive that market.
During the last big downturn, in the 1980s, surveyors had a lot of work examining repossessed boats for banks, he says. “That hasn’t happened yet.”
The future for surveyors looks bright, according to LeBlanc. “I’ve got four associates that I’ve trained,” he says. “It’s coming along very well. The phone keeps ringing, and we’re busy.”
LeBlanc handles anything in sail and power, though he won’t survey ferro cement boats. “They just don’t stand the test of time,” he says. He charges $18 per foot up to 40 feet and $20 per foot for larger boats. Insurance surveys are $15 per foot, and engine surveys are a flat $100. At these rates, a surveyor can earn a comfortable living, he says.
His advice for those aspiring to become surveyors? “Cover all the areas you possibly can. General work in a good yacht yard is going to cover almost everything,” says LeBlanc. Those jobs exist because “nobody wants to start at the bottom and learn simple things and work their way up.”
After a quarter-century of surveying, LeBlanc says he’s still enjoying the job he dreamed of as a kid. “I love being on the water, working on boats,” he says. “How much more fun can it be?”
Mechanic: solving a boat’s ins and outs
By Chris Landry / Senior Reporter
For Glenn Miller, Mercury’s SmartCraft engine control system was easy enough to install. It’s basically a plug-and-play setup. But Miller, an enthusiastic 21-year-old student at the Marine Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Fla., wanted more. He needed to know how it worked from start to finish.
Salary range: $34,000 (starting) to $100,000
So Miller tapped chief instructor Richard Smith. Miller and Smith spent nearly six hours one night pouring over diagrams and schematics until Miller firmly grasped the computer-controlled system. “Glenn was always willing to learn,” says Smith, an instructor at the institute for nearly five years. “He always wanted to take the extra steps.”
In today’s fast-changing world of marine propulsion, students like Miller are finding out that graduating from mechanics school is only the beginning of a lifelong education. “I’m on the Internet every night trying to keep up with the technology,” says Miller, now 22 and sole proprietor of Miller’s Mobile Marine, in Pasadena, Md. “It’s a lot of work, but challenging and fun.”
Miller began turning wrenches as a young boy. His father, a former helicopter mechanic who served four years in Vietnam, used lawnmowers to school his son in the basics of the internal combustion engine. Miller eventually moved to cars and worked at an auto repair shop from age 16 to 19. He also grew up messing about in boats — his first was a small Boston Whaler with a 5-hp outboard — so when he tired of automobile work, he decided to try his hand at marine engines.
“I’m always on the water,” says Miller, referring to his service calls along the shores of Chesapeake Bay. “It’s a relaxing working atmosphere. You can be alone and work in peace.” In contrast, Miller faced constant distractions while working on cars. Customers tended to hang around and ask too many questions, he says.
Miller graduated from Marine Mechanics Institute in January 2007 and launched his business four months later. “I’ve been really busy since Day One,” he says. “I was concerned about the price of gas, but surprisingly it’s not stopping a lot of people [from boating]. I am busier than last year.”
A 1999 Ford F350 diesel pickup truck serves as his shop. About 20 percent of his business comes from diesel-boat owners, including commercial crabbers. In fact, it was Miller’s early success with diesels that led him to enroll in the institute. He competed in a SkillsUSA competition for diesel engines on the state level, placing third in his junior year of vocational high school. In his senior year, he earned first prize and a scholarship from the Universal Technical Institute. Miller discovered he could use his scholarship money to attend the Marine Mechanics Institute, a division of UTI.
The institute’s Marine Technology Training Program consists of 60 weeks of training — five hours a day, five days a week, says Richard Thomas, the institute’s assistant education director. Tuition is around $23,000, he says. “Right now we have a 91 percent job placement rate, and demand is increasing,” Thomas says.
After only about 15 months in the business, Miller has his eye on an established marine propulsion repair shop in Pasadena. He’d like to buy the business from the owner, who plans to retire soon. It’s an attractive venture because the business is well-established and carries certification for such brands as Mercury/MerCruiser, Volvo Penta and Evinrude. With that certification comes the opportunity to buy all the tools and diagnostic equipment necessary to work on these sophisticated engines. Miller says you must be a dealer to purchase the equipment, which can cost thousands of dollars.
Soundings technical consultant Erik Klockars, himself an independent marine technician, can attest to the high cost of tools. It costs roughly $2,500 to become a dealer and about $10,000 for Mercury’s diagnostic equipment kit, which includes a computer and software, he says.
“It’s expensive as hell to run your own business, so you have to love it,” says Klockars.
Miller will have no problem with that.
Rescue swimmer: going the distance
By Douglas A. Campbell / Senior Writer
The qualities that make a good rescue swimmer are not always obvious.
Salary: Starting salary for E-4 rank is $1,758 per month and for E-9 is $4,254. The amount is increased by time in service, flight pay, special duty assignment pay, and housing, food and uniform allowances.
“I always played sports,” says Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician Second Class Michael Ackermann. But, he admits, “I wasn’t much of a swimmer.”
And yet in February 2007 Ackermann was the key figure in two dramatic rescue operations in the Atlantic during which he saved three men and two women in violent storms with enormous seas that had disabled their sailboats.
Stationed then at Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., he was on the crew of a helicopter that responded to a report of a capsized catamaran 200 miles north of Bermuda. On the scene, he “got smacked around” by 45-foot waves as he dangled on the chopper’s cable, then swam up the faces of similar waves to rescue two survivors. The following May, Ackermann performed an encore in 40-foot seas, rescuing a 70-year-old couple and their 45-year-old daughter from their sailboat off North Carolina.
“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen,” said Lt. Daniel Molthan, the chopper pilot, after that rescue. “It took him a couple of seconds to swim that 40 to 50 feet. He grabbed the back of the boat and just pulled himself up into it … almost like Spiderman.”
Ackermann’s path to rescue swimmer was spawned by an unpleasant vision in his final months of college. “I figured I was going to be sitting in an office the rest of my life, and I was too young to do that,” he says. “I wanted to find something adventurous to do and use my youth.”
Now 30, Ackermann has been a rescue swimmer for three years. He plans to remain in the Coast Guard until he is 44. “I’ll always be swimming. A big part of the job is staying in shape,” he says. “I know some swimmers in their 40s who are in better physical [condition] than I am.”
Ackermann pursued his job the only way you can: by enlisting in the Coast Guard. However, there was no guarantee he would become a rescue swimmer. When he reached the rank of E-3, he was eligible to apply for the duty.
“First of all, you put your name on a waiting list,” he says. The wait is about a year. “Then you get stationed at an air station, where they prepare you for school. The [commanding officer] signs a letter, which is an endorsement” that you have passed the minimum requirements. Among those benchmarks are swimming 500 yards in less than 10 minutes, swimming underwater for 25 yards, doing 80 pushups, and running 1.5 miles in 11 minutes, he says.
Next, Ackermann says, there is a 17-week training school, followed by a month at emergency medical technician school. Finally, there is a qualification period at an air station, learning about the aircraft and studying a search-and-rescue syllabus. After a year and a half, you are ready to stand duty.
The working week is daily from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., Ackermann says. He swims or runs from 8 to 10 in the morning. Then he maintains survival equipment for 90 minutes, followed by more of the same after lunch. Once a week, he participates in practice flights during which the crew engages in mock search-and-rescue cases that involve the rescue swimmer entering the water. “About once a week, we stand duty” in a 24-hour shift, Ackermann says.
Ackermann says the job has provided the adventure he was seeking. “As I’m learning more and more and I’m getting better and better at what I do, I’m feeling more comfortable, and I’m liking it even more,” he says.
Yacht broker: selling takes time, contacts
By Douglas A. Campbell / Senior Writer
You like boats, and you had some success selling real estate during the last boom. Now that the housing market has cooled, maybe you should try selling yachts.
Salary: 2 percent commission on each sale
Maybe not, says Lou Piergross, a New Jersey yacht broker and boat salesman who got into the business in 1986. Still selling powerboats but now also sales manager at South Jersey Yacht Sales in Cape May, N.J., Piergross bases his caution on his own experience and that of others who have tried his trade.
“It doesn’t work” for real estate or car salesmen to switch to selling boats because, Piergross says, they don’t have the contacts. “I’ve worked with a customer two to three years before I’ve sold them anything,” he says.
Piergross, 54, is a New Jersey native and has been a boater and a fisherman all his life. He says he went through college on a baseball scholarship and earned a business management degree. “A friend of mine had a Viking. I went to a few rendezvous and got to know some [Viking] owners,” he says.
Those contacts led to a job offer when Piergross graduated college in 1982, as a sales representative at Viking Yachts in New Gretna, N.J. He stayed there three years, learning about the marine industry and making contacts among suppliers that sold Viking components.
When he left Viking, he worked for a short period at Topaz Yachts in Maryland and then took a job in Florida selling yachts and delivering them. In 1986, the owner of South Jersey Yacht Sales contacted him and offered him a job selling a line of high-end new boats. Piergross says he took the job, knowing that the brokerage end of the boating business was the “most lucrative.” There have been no surprises, he says. The money that he wanted was there, and he already had the contacts that would lead to sales.
By being “upfront with your customer and honest,” he says he’s built a solid customer base. “I’ve got people I’ve sold multiple boats to and people I’ve sold one boat” who have referred friends to him.
The downside is the time that the job demands. “I’ve put a lot of time in, lot of weekends and holidays,” he says. That takes a toll on family time. “The most difficult times actually are right now. I have a couple of daughters [ages 10 and 15] that are growing up.” He says trying to spend time with his girls and doing his job right is the “biggest challenge.”
Not only does he spend time in the office, but the job requires he attend boat shows, visit the boatbuilding facilities, and stop by fishing tournaments in the evening, when the boats return to the docks.
Piergross notes that every deal for a new boat actually involves the sale of two or three boats. The buyer has a boat to trade and that must be sold. The person who buys the used boat probably has a smaller boat to trade, as well. The profit — and the commission — only comes when all the boats have been moved, he says.
In the current market, Piergross says the challenge is to sell smaller boats. As sales manager, he has a profit-sharing incentive, but he still sells boats. The yachts he handles sell for between $80,000 and $5 million, he says.
A salesman earns a commission, usually 2 percent of the sale price of the boat, Piergross says. In the Northeast, good salesmen earn between $75,000 and $250,000 a year, he says. In Florida, where the boating season is year-round and there is more competition among brokerages, incomes range from $100,000 to $350,000, according to Piergross. “If you’re in the South and you’re not making $100,000, you’d better find something else to do,” he says.
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue.