Getting Back to It - Part 1
By: Paul Fenn
Take a drive through any New England boat yard in say February, and you’ll quickly discover there’s not a whole lot going on, outside anyway. But swing through that same yard come April, and it will be a beehive of activity with everyone and their brother working hard to get their boat back in the water by Memorial Day. This year however, due to Covid-19, things are going a little differently.
Enjoy part one of this three part series featuring boat yard and marina owners from Anacortes, WA, Sackets Harbor, NY and Waukegan, IL as they prepare for the summer boating season of 2020.
Larsen Marine - Part 1:
Located on Waukegan Harbor, midway between Milwaukee and Chicago, Jeanneau dealer, Larsen Marine, is currently celebrating their 87th year of serving Lake Michigan boaters. “It is a Larsen tradition that began back in 1933 by my grandfather” says Doug Larsen. “Back then, Larsen Marine was just a small boat yard consisting of one building and a marine railway for launching boats. Today, we are still a family operated business but we’ve grown a bit over the years with our yard now consisting of 16 buildings, a crane, a boom crane, three travel lifts, 2 travel lift wells, and several hydraulic forklift trucks along with a complete paint shop, mechanical shop, and carpentry shop on a modern 20 acre boat yard and marina facility. We offer boat sales, service work, a 900 boat storage facility, and 70 slips.”
I recently caught up with Doug to find out how operating Larsen Marine in this crazy new world of ours is going and how it’s different than in years past. Here’s what he had to say:
Larsen Marine, Winter 1941
PF: I know Spring is always a busy time of the year for you Doug, but specifically, what kinds of things would you normally be working on at this time of the year?
DL: Normally this time of year we would be wrapping up the eight thousand hours of work scheduled throughout the winter; painting, spray painting, re-powers, and all kinds of custom work. Starting April 1st, we would have held our annual open house/ customer appreciation day along with our seminar series of events in the showroom designed to educate our guests and give them free hotdogs and chips while building lasting friendships.
We would be working on all our service packages: Gold, Silver and Bronze packages, all designed to help our customers get ready for the summer. We offer boat detailing, waxing, bottom painting and do critical inspections. We would normally be launching boats 6 days a week, along with our In and Out service, launching boats out of our dry storage racks. April is one of the best seasons for Salmon fishing, and no one wants to miss out on this!
PF: And how about this year, how are things different?
DL: Due to COVID-19 guidelines, we are limiting access to our facilities and changing the way we “do business.” We have had to split our service team in two. Team A works part of the week and team B the other days. We have staggered start times and staggered lunch times. As an extra precaution for the Covid-19 virus, we have hired outside help for cleaning our facilities along with our general in-house cleaning crew. And for the time being, customers have been asked to limit the time they can work on their boats to regular business hours.
PF: States such as NY, NJ, and CT have all given the green light for boat yards and marinas to open, albeit under strict rules of social distancing. Where is Illinois and Wisconsin on this?
DL: Illinois is vague on defining essential businesses and does not specifically state anything regarding boat yards and marinas. Waukegan Harbor opened on March 2nd this year before the Illinois “Stay at Home” order went into effect and the public launch ramps are currently open. However, the Chicago harbors have not yet opened and most of our storage customers do their boating in one of the nine Chicago harbors so until these harbors reopen, they will need to stay up our way.
PF: What’s the general sentiment of your customers? Are they adopting an attitude of “I don’t think I’ll bother putting my boat in the water this year” or are they more gung-ho than ever to get out and go boating?
DL: We believe boating is an activity families can do while practicing safe distancing, remain safe, and not be in crowds. Although we have various sentiments of our customer base, most are anxious to get their boats launched, they want to go sailing and boating. A few have inquired about summer storage options, but we believe the sooner we can get our customers launched the better. If the states of Illinois and Wisconsin’s marinas open soon, we think new and used boat sales will steadily improve. Because other outdoor activities such as ball games, soccer games, summer camps, music concerts, and summer festivals will not be available, families will want to occupy their time out on the water. We hope we’re right!