In 1998, Bill McGill, MarineMax’s executive chairman of the board, brought forth a vision to bring together leading boat dealers across the country. McGill created what is now the publicly traded company with over 100 locations worldwide, including 78 retail dealership locations, which includes 34 marinas or storage operations.
But it isn’t enough for MarineMax to simply sell boats. Its mission isn’t to make a sale and get you off the lot, but rather to create a community for boaters where education comes first—whether you buy a boat from MarineMax or not.
“You don’t take your boat from MarineMax until you’ve had a full orientation on your boat, on the water,” says Abbey Heimensen, vice president of marketing for MarineMax. “What we focus on is that once you leave our property, you know how to use your boat.”
Heimensen says this is especially important for first-time boat buyers. “Our captain orientations and owner orientations are the biggest piece of education that we can ever talk about. We want our customers to walk out with their brand-new boat, be able to be on the water that weekend, and feel confident that they know how to use their boat.” This comes down to even the smallest aspects of boating, like battery switches and shifting gears. “That is our first and foremost reason why we’re so emphatic about training, because if you have one bad experience on the water, it can ruin the whole thing for you.” This is where Keith Lake, delivery captain for the location in Clearwater, Florida, comes in. “Anybody that buys a boat from us, I will train them on their boats. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 30-foot Boston Whaler or a 54-foot Galeon,” Lake says. Lake goes over everything with the new boat owner, from safety gear and the engine to practicing docking and loading the boat on the trailer You’ll find a Capt. Lake counterpart at all MarineMax locations, so no boater is left be- hind. MarineMax emphasizes setting up new buyers for success.
More still, all MarineMax U.S. locations offer Women on Water ® and some locations also offer Kids in Boating and Intro to Boating classess. Some states require a certification before taking to the open water, in which case MarineMax will prepare and connect you with the US Coast Guard or Coast Guard Auxiliary to achieve the certification needed. But most important in education for Marine- Max is inclusivity—acknowledging and encompassing that boating is for everyone. The captain title is long past being resigned to the male demographic.
Heimensen explains that McGill, back in the ’90s, saw a gap in boater education, where women were either secondary to their male-captain coun- terparts or simply without the knowledge and tools needed to confidently boat on their own. The Women on Water ® class is a staple across U.S. MarineMax locations, but it all started as McGill’s brainchild at Gulfwind Marine in Clearwater, Florida. Heimensen recalls: “Bill said, ‘Hey, everybody in the family, first of all, needs to know how to drive the boat, and it needs to be safe. But then second of all, everybody needs to be boaters.’ “It’s inclusivity, honestly. We want everyone to feel safe, comfortable and confident on the water,” she says. “We want to empower women.” The female-exclusive class allows women to get behind the helm in a fun, active and supportive environment. “Times have changed, obviously, and people have evolved, but so many things end up be- ing male-dominated. And that is something we wanted to evolve away from to show young women and women of all demographics and all ages that it’s not for the man to drive the boat; it’s not for the man to sail—it builds confidence.” “Nowadays, you see more and more women on the water,” Lake says.
The captain explains that learning from a parent, friend or spouse can sometimes result in tension, and the Women on Water ® class provides an environment where students can feel comfortable learning from an expert and away from their boat, which can relieve anxieties about damages. “I think it’s just a comfort level. The classes that I teach, there’s no yelling here,” he says. “It’s just peace of mind.” Women on Water ® classes are held at all of the U.S. locations. Education starts out in the classroom, reviewing basic safety, rules of the road, markers, anchoring and line handling. Then they head to the water for hands-on train- ing, where students each take to the helm, prac- tice tight-quarter turns, and learn about docking.
Those interested in classes can register online or on location. Classes are completely free and open to the public, regardless of whether you’ve purchased a boat through MarineMax. Lake says, but it’s also important to show people how fun it can be to get on the water when you’re confident, even for weekend getaways. Heimensen echoes Lake’s sentiment: “We want to make sure that when you’re on your boat, you’re having the best time. But you [must] feel comfortable and educated about everything that’s on the boat, or it’s not going to be any fun.”
“It’s just a philosophy that MarineMax was built on,” Lake explains. “You’ve got to teach people and train people so that they’re comfortable.” Boaters can also check out MarineMax’s YouTube channel, where Lake frequently shares educational information and tips on safety, anchoring and much more.
In an effort to further the conversation on boater education, MarineMax has partnered with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and boat manufacturer Boston Whaler. This partnership trifecta, formed over a year ago, allows each organization the opportunity to use each other’s platforms to spread awareness and educate boaters. “We are so honored to be part of this. First of all, it’s Guy Harvey, so how cool is that, right?” Heimensen says enthusiastically.
“We’re able to share our message to customers and introduce their audience to MarineMax. But then we also are able to support the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and all of the educational programs they do. We just really respect what they do and how they use their voice to make a change.”
Heimensen emphasizes the importance of the three companies—MarineMax, GHOF and Boston Whaler—sharing the same values when it comes to boater safety. At the core of the matter, “a safe boater is a happy boater.”
“We have an excellent partnership with our friends at Boston Whaler. They make a fan- tastic quality boat—the unsinkable legend,” Heimensen says. “So we thought, why wouldn’t this be the perfect mix of boater education?” The partnership opens many doors, whether that be MarineMax using Boston Whaler boats for classes or the three sharing a platform at boat shows, having Guy Harvey himself there to speak on education and conservation.
“We are so proud to ensure that future generations have a place to boat,” Heimensen says. Visit MarineMax.com to view class schedules near you.