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How do I Start a Mobile Marine Business?

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Mobile marine businesses occupy an unconventional niche in the marine repair and maintenance world. Mobile marine contractors travel to marinas or private docks to work on clients’ boats, instead of basing the business in a central location. A mobile marine business operates from a work van that stores parts and equipment for current and upcoming projects. Contractors often perform services that include boat cleaning and maintenance, varnishing and polishing, and varying degrees of mechanical and electrical work.

Structure your mobile marine business. Select a business structure with help from a Certified Public Accountant familiar with marine service businesses. Consult with a commercial insurance agent with similar experience, plus strong liability background. Obtain a business license from your city or county clerk’s office, and inquire about additional required permits. Purchase custom-imprinted work invoices. Contact your state Department of Revenue about potential need for a sales tax license.

Determine your marine services competition. Your mobile marine business has two main competitors, both located in clients’ marinas. Many boat owners ask marina maintenance departments to perform oil changes, varnish work and other boat-related chores. In marinas without boat maintenance operations, boat owners frequently use services provided by independent marine businesses based at the marina. Evaluate the services collectively provided by all area marine contractors.

Select your target market and services. Determine a geographic area you can easily service within a typical work week, including repeat visits for jobs such as varnish work. List the operating marinas within this regional boating market. Obtain each marina’s contractor insurance requirements, and supply marina managers with your certificate of insurance.

Select your services based on your expertise and on unfilled niches in your marine service market. If you’re a bottom blister expert, for example, you’ll likely steer the business in that direction, with optional maintenance and repair work as well.

Purchase and equip your mobile marine vehicle. Search for an enclosed vehicle that you can customize with storage fixtures. Many contractors use work vans or large minivans, with some opting for vehicles with obscured windows that prohibit views of interior contents.

Design storage spaces for your work materials. Create secure metal or wood shelving for varnish cans and solvents. Secure your marine wire spools so they don't cascade through the van when you make sudden stops. Build bins for hardware and fasteners, and clearly label supplies so you can reach them quickly. Finally, work with a sign maker to create colorful van graphics that constantly promote your business.

Buy your supplies and equipment. Stock your work van with supplies for a week’s projects. Carry multiple varnish cans if you specialize in brightwork jobs. You’ll also stock tape, rags, solvent and varied grits of sandpaper. Marine electrical work requires several sizes of spooled wire, connectors and anti-chafe material to be wrapped around the wire. General-purpose equipment includes a well-stocked tool kit and small power tools such as sanders and grinders. Open a business account with a marine supplier for preferred prices.

Hire competent marine maintenance staff. Look for experienced, reliable maintenance personnel familiar with general boat systems and preferably with a specialized skill such as varnishing or finish painting. Some technicians attend vocational schools to gain functional knowledge of boat engines and fuel systems, electrical systems and navigational networks. Other workers develop marine maintenance skills over time. Ensure that each team member is courteous and respectful to customers at all times.

Launch your mobile marine business. Host marine maintenance open houses at boater-friendly locations such as popular marine supply stores or boaters’ pubs. Display your work van, and hand out brochures describing your services and rates. Offer introductory discounts for a limited time period, plus special rates for off-season jobs such as indoor varnish work. Distribute imprinted key floats to encourage boaters to remember your business. Advertise your open houses in local newspapers' boating sections, and distribute fliers to marina offices and yacht clubs.


Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.