Creating Marinalife and making boating easy has been my passion for more than 20 years. Marinalife has been a huge part of my life, and the incredible road to its success is full of so many stories and wonderful people that it's difficult to encapsulate this journey into a few pages. But to celebrate two decades in print, I'll give it a try.
My husband Doug and I are life-long boaters and when we met, Doug owned and raced sailboats. I suggested we buy a powerboat, and we settled on a 1967 25-foot Owens that we could restore together. We fell in love with repairing old wooden boats, so we moved from the Owens (which won honorable mention at the Antique & Classical Boat Festival in St. Michaels) to a 1968 37-foot Egg Harbor. After a back-breaking year of restoration, the Egg Harbor was ready for its inaugural overnight cruise.
We chose Rock Hall on the Chesapeake Bay as our destination, because it was a straight shot from our home in Baltimore. During this first cruise in 1999, the idea for Marinalife materialized. I searched the Internet for marinas in Rock Hall, MD but came back with zero results. So, I called 411 (directory information) to get a number for a marina in Rock Hall, and after multiple phone calls and messages, we finally had a slip at a marina. Unfortunately, we knew nothing about the destination did it have a swimming pool, a restaurant on-site, any amenities?
During the cruise from Baltimore to Rock Hall, I told our friend Ed Kenny about my frustrations with finding and booking a marina. We wondered about a better way to locate marinas and make reservations. Hotel booking sites kept popping up, and we thought, Why not develop a central web portal for marina information and bookings similar to hotels.com?
After this trip, I joined forces with marketing veteran, Ed Kenny and IT expert, Tod Fishburne and original Board Member Hudson Parr to research whether Marinalife was a viable concept. We conducted a detailed survey and called thousands of marinas on weekends and after work, because we all had full-time jobs.
I hit the jackpot when George Bassett, long-time manager of Nantucket Boat Basin, agreed to spend time with me to critique the Marinalife idea. After receiving successful survey results and support from top-end destination marinas like Nantucket Boat Basin, we took the plunge and founded Marinalife in February 2000. Everything happened quickly after that, and I committed all my energy toward the fledgling company.
Doug and I decided that to understand marinas we should embark on a fact-finding mission. We knew if we took the long journey by boat it might take a year. I was too excited to launch Marinalife, so we jumped in the car and visited almost every marina from Hilton Head, SC, to Key West, FL. This ambitious undertaking taught us a lot about marinas, boaters and hotels on U.S. 1.
We returned to Baltimore, and I immediately began a campaign to finance Marinalife's launch. Our first office was in a dingy basement office building in Silver Spring, MD. When potential investors wanted to visit the office to make sure we were for real, we'd get worried, because we had a slight bug problem and flies often swarmed around visitors' heads. Despite the infestation, we got the funds we needed.
Our goal was to launch Marinalife at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in the fall of 2000. We had our work cut out for us, and our team pulled all-nighters and worked weekends to get ready. Marinalife's original concept, which has not changed in 20 years, is to help boaters connect with the right marina using technology and concierge support. Our original product, the Slip Manager, was a web-based platform that allowed marinas to manage their slip inventory and accept real-time slip bookings.
During our launch at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, boaters understood the concept immediately and loved the idea of using one central web site to find marinas with detailed information and book slips.
On the other hand, marinas were slower to adapt, and some thought we were crazy. At the New York City Boat Show in the early years, our booth was next to Lorna Smith, manager of Treasure Cove Resort Marina in Riverhead, NY. To say that Lorna was skeptical is an understatement, but by day five of the 10-day show she started warming up to our concept. We ended up becoming great friends, and she's been a huge advocate for Marinalife throughout Long Island.
We had other early adopters who were essential to our success like Scott Zeien from Kingman Yacht Center, Mitch Nathanson from Coastal Properties, and Bill Flohr from Harbor East. And many loyal boaters spread the word about us such as Dick Riley, Richard von Lange and others.
Our initial marketing was very grass roots, so we relied on boaters' help. Doug and I also named all our boats Marinalife, so we could cruise the mid-Atlantic with our chocolate lab Cally (and later with our rescue poodle-mix Lucy Goosey), meeting marinas and boaters in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond while telling the Marinalife story. We had crazy adventures on our marketing trips. Once we went to Hyatt River Marsh Marina in Cambridge, MD, to meet the new general manager for the first time. Right after we docked, our dog Cally proceeded to throw up a whole fish at the manager's feet.
We also faced challenges while growing Marinalife. First of all, the boating industry in 2000 was male dominated, and when I attended marina conferences, I was often one of the few women to sit on a panel or present. However, many industry leaders took me under their wing, mentored me and bolstered Marinalife, including Bill Anderson, President of Westrec, and Jim Frye who ran the marina association.Technology also presented an uphill battle. Our web-based product required a reliable connection, and many marinas still used dial-up internet, because that was often the only option in rural areas. Boaters had already adopted the latest technology from mobile phones and navigation systems on their boats, so they were the easy part.
We heard over and over from boaters that Marinalife gave them peace of mind on the water, because we offered reliable information in one location such as marina ratings and reviews from a trusted source. Back in 2000, reaching marinas was challenging, because most were family-owned and not yet consolidated by groups such as Suntex, Oasis and Safe Harbor Marinas.
But we were determined and continued to find ways to add value for the boaters. In 2001, we acquired Nauticard, a Chesapeake Bay-based membership and rewards program. Through this acquisition, Marinalife built a membership and loyalty program called the Cruising Club. Benefits included reservation services (now with hotels, marinas and rental cars), discounts on dockage and fuel, towing through our partner Sea Tow, and other value-added perks.
For the new Marinalife membership program, we needed to publish a directory of partner discounts and savings. The first version was a 6x9 black and white directory with no stories or advertising. After the first issue, a marina called and asked if they could place an ad in the next directory. Surprised, we said Are you sure? From there Marinalife magazine started and quickly expanded to full size with cruising stories, destination articles, marina spotlights and lifestyle content.
We're fortunate to have many long-time contributors such as Jeff Werner, Susan Elnicki Wade and Bob Arrington who tell stories that make Marinalife the successful boating lifestyle publication that it is today. Our hard-working team is the core of Marinalife and the reason we continue to grow. Barb Barrett, Karinne Crossland, Olivia Schleicher, Anna Barthelme, Tom Couteau, Joey Gensor, Julie Dael, Kalie Walter, Yesha Hayes and others worked long hours and weekends at our office on Key Highway handling reservations and hauling cases of magazines to boat shows.
During the years, we expanded the benefits and offerings to boaters and marinas, but our core mission of making boating as stress-free as possible has remained unchanged. Marinalife now connects with more than 500,000 boaters throughout the world via our web site, magazine, social media and partners.
In 2017, I was fortunate to meet Dan Cowens, CEO of Oasis, and we partnered with Snag-A-Slip, a marina reservation system, and immediately saw the synergy in bringing these companies together. In late 2017, Marinalife was acquired by Oasis, which created a corporate umbrella of three entities Oasis Management, Snag-A-Slip and Marinalife. Joining forces has positioned Marinalife for an amazing future, and we are excited about another 20 years!
For our 20th anniversary, I'm feeling nostalgic, so I pulled out some of my favorite covers as well as one of the Chesapeake Bay special edition covers.We hope you enjoy the memories.