How to Hire Seasonal Marina Staff

Create the best boater experiences during the busiest seasons with these tips from marina managers on bringing aboard seasonal staff.

The symbiotic relationship between marinas and the seasonal workforce hasn’t changed much over time. Although thanks to the skyrocketing popularity of boating through the recent pandemic years, many marinas are busier than ever and need more seasonal staff.

For a look at seasonal hiring practices and policies, we spoke with marina managers in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest to get their input on seasonal hiring and tips for ensuring that your marina workforce is ship-shape when waves of boaters start to arrive at the docks. 

When to Start Seasonal Hiring for Marinas

The seasonal marina employment term generally aligns with peak boater visits—from May and June to the end of August or September, or when the student job candidates get out of college to when they have to go back. 

Roche Harbor Resort on Washington's San Juan Island

The timing of hiring always depends on your marina’s needs, but consider these best practices from marina managers. 

Katie Carlton-Flierl, marina office manager at Roche Harbor Resort in Roche Harbor, Washington, said they get an early start each year on planning for seasonal hires. “We start planning in February and get most of it done by February and March. We get a lot of interest from students in the schools that are out early, like early May, but they have to leave in August, so I can only hire a certain number of those. Then usually the ones that get out of school in June, they’re a little bit later on applying,” she related. 

Tim Cohan of MacDougalls’ Cape Cod Marine Service in Falmouth, Massachusetts., said they start planning for hiring around the new year by contacting the dock staff who worked at the marina the year before. By February, the MacDougalls’ team knows what positions they’ll need to fill with new hires. 

He added that some dock staff have to return to college in August for athletics or other reasons and by Labor Day, the dock staff has thinned out. For that reason, MacDougalls’ might make an autumn hire from a nearby vocational school or local high school to ensure staff coverage.

Jordan Glidden, general manager of Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle, said they’re always planning for seasonal hiring. When we spoke in early May, he said they had just pinned down their seasonal hiring for spring and summer. “We got our summer staff all dialed in a couple weeks ago. So even though candidates are still in school, we always interview over the phone and now we do Zoom interviews. That’s a big deal, because we can interview them in college and then get a start date. And for them, when they’re back from school, they already have a job lined up and they’re ready to get going.”

Leverage Digital Channels to Spread the Word

Jordan makes an important point—during these pandemic years, especially, most interviews happen remotely, which means that getting the word out about open positions is key. 

The marina managers interviewed for this article said they announce open positions through social media—directly reaching the college cohort.  

On Cape Cod, Tim Cohan of MacDougalls’ said they announce openings through digital channels such as the job site Indeed.com and Facebook and Instagram. 

“We had a number of candidates come through social media, so the Facebook and Instagram postings about the open positions have been super-helpful,” he said. “And working with returning staff in terms of finding friends or siblings is good.” 

Jordan Glidden of Seattle's Elliott Bay Marina

Jordan of Elliott Bay Marina also posts seasonal openings on Indeed, while Katie of Roche Harbor uses Indeed.com and a job site called CoolWorks.com, which features jobs in cool places (as the name implies). 

Each manager said the hourly pay for seasonal marina workers ranges from about $15 to $17 or $18 per hour, but also depends on whether the employee is likely to get tips. Katie Carlton-Flierl said their seasonal office workers, who aren’t tipped, tend to receive a little more than minimum wage and then are offered an end-of-season bonus if they stay through their contract. 

Family Dynamics

A refrain we heard was that family matters—students whose families have a slip or mooring at the marina often become job candidates.

“Probably one of our biggest sources of finding summer help is our boaters who have kids in college that are looking for summer jobs. That’s really the majority of our hires, as long as they are able to commit to a solid schedule and don’t have too much other stuff going on over the summer,” said Katie. “That’s worked great over the years. We’ve found that some boaters love to have their kids work here. The students come back for a couple of seasons before they get to their junior year in college and start getting actual internships or other work.”  

Jordan at Elliott Bay has had the same experience. “For summer help, we get most employees from our boaters, the parents who say ‘Well, you’re working this summer, so you might as well work at the marina.’”

Tim Cohan of MacDougall's Cape Cod Marine Service in Falmouth, Massachusetts

Tim Cohan of MacDougalls’ concurred: “A lot of times, we’ll see someone’s little brother come the next year and the little sister come the year after that, so we sort of stick with the family—which is great, because you know they live in the area and have a boating background and will do a great job just like the older sibling did.” 

Jordan added: “If they have a boating background or boating experience, or their families are boaters, that’s preferred. But there’s no boating experience required for jobs at Elliott Bay. We can pretty much teach them everything they need to know. Generally, if they haven’t been around boats a whole bunch, we’ll take them through and teach them how to tie up a boat when it comes in. Or teach them certain aspects of the marina that they wouldn’t know. We can teach all the knots you need to know. We just want committed employees, reliable college students that show up on time and when they’re scheduled. As long as you’re a reliable, competent person, we’ll hire you.”

Keeping it Local 

Because of the resort or working-waterfront location of many marinas, finding nearby housing can be a problem for potential seasonal employees, as the marina managers related.

“We only have a certain amount of housing available, so obviously with how hard it is to find housing here on the island (where Roche Harbor is located), we try and get as many locals or returning students that are coming back from college for the season. I was given 10 beds for 40 employees total this year, so you have to make work what you have,” said Katie Carlton-Flierl.

MacDougalls’ doesn’t offer housing to employees and they focus on hiring local candidates or those with a place to stay on Cape Cod. (Another reason that the boating-family connection is so providential.) Elliott Bay Marina also doesn’t offer employee housing. 

Marina managers reading this—be sure to mention the housing situation in the job board or social-media posts. 

Creating Culture

A customer-driven business such as a marina earns its reputation in large part from the performance and attitude of its staff—satisfied workers create a positive environment for everyone.

The docks at MacDougalls' Cape Cod Marine Service

That goes for seasonal staff, too, as Jordan at Elliott Bay shared: “We try to make Elliot Bay a fun place to work. We have some marina boats, so we’ll take employees out after work. We do staff events, so we might go to the local pub, which is a mini-golf spot and you don’t have to be over 21 years old; or we’ve gone axe-throwing. Our employees work hard, so we reward them with fun events and free food. College kids love free food—or at least I did when I was that age!” he said.

Jordan also shared that he tries to ensure that the staff has gear appropriate for the job. 

“We work in all-weather climates, so one thing I’ve started to do, if we ask people to be out in the rain, is buy them nice gear. We have North Face jackets for everybody, and some of the college kids who were working over the winter looked at me like, ‘What? This is the nicest jacket I have.’ I operate on the idea, if you look good, you work good. Just make it a fun environment so they look forward to coming to work every day.”

Takeaways 

In sum, these are the important points shared by marina managers on seasonal hiring:

  1. Know when to start hiring based on your marina’s annual needs and season.
  2. Make sure your jobs are posted on social-media sites and digital job boards.
  3. Leverage your marina’s boaters and local connections to attract candidates.
  4. Create a fun work environment and team culture.

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