Rhode Island’s Marine Industry Gears Up For A Busy Season

May 9, 2017

In a couple of weeks, every marina in Newport will be nearly fully booked as sailing and motor yachts make their way up to the Northeast. 

They will come to not only enjoy New England’s ideal cruising grounds, protected harbors and quality restaurants but also to utilize the quality marine services that Rhode Island has to offer. Many of which rival those in other major seaports around the world. After a busy season last summer, this year is expected to be even busier with the America’s Cup taking place just over 700 miles away in Bermuda.


On any weekday, you can find yacht owners, captains and shipyard employees walking to and from the worksheds at Newport Shipyard that offer carpentry work, painting and general maintenance services. Nearly anything that a boat requires can be found at the shipyard or through sub-contractors that work closely with the business. With a travel lift that can haul boats of up to 200 feet in length and docks that can cater to vessels of up to 300 feet, this shipyard can cover the need of most mega-yachts, which need constant maintenance. Having marinas and boatyards that can offer these services is essential to attracting luxury yachts to the area.

Jim Thompson runs his carpentry, painting and finishing business out of one the Newport Shipyard sheds. He and his employees provide services to boats that need furniture, varnishing and teak deck work among other things. It’s still early in the season, but Thompson and his staff already have a heavy workload. 

“This season started off early, it’s mid-April and large yachts are already coming up from the Caribbean,” said Thompson. “So it’s starting off well,” he continued.

Newport is famous for its sailing history, most notably for hosting the America’s Cup from 1930 until 1983. The race is considered to be one of the most prestigious boat racing competitions in the world. This year it will be held in Bermuda, and although the island is more than 700 miles away, on a yacht, this trip can be made in a couple of days—an easy enough journey if timed right. Thompson and others in the industry expect a busier season because of Bermuda’s relative proximity to Newport. “There’s a lot of scheduling going on to utilize Newport as a base both before and after the Cup,” said Thompson.

Like all Rhode Island industries, the marine trades were negatively affected by the 2008 recession, but they have since bounced back. According to Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Statistics, marine trades workers earned an average income of more than $50,000, which is considerably higher than the average private sector pay.

According to Wendy Mackie, CEO of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association the marine trades industry continues to grow, and that means a demand for more workers. 

“The areas that we see a real need for workers or demand in workers is entry level workers,” said Mackie. “So people who haul boats, fix boats, clean boats, put them in the water, take them out of the water, that sort of thing,” she continued. Mackie also said that there is a need for workers skilled in mechanics and electronics.

Over the past couple of years, Rhode Island has recognized the demand for workers in the marine industries and state official have stepped up to help grow the industry by funding programs to train the next generation of marine workers. Eric Goetz is the chief technology office at Goetz Composites in Bristol, and thanks to grant money his company has been able to train and hire new workers.

“We spend a lot of time and effort doing than [training workers] because that allows us to recruit from a wider audience,” Goetz said.

Goetz Composites manufactures mostly yachts and has built ten America’s Cup boats over the years. Goetz says that people in the marine trades are generally very supportive of more businesses opening up. 

“We actually root for people who may seem on the outside to be competitors,” said Goetz.

And a strong marine trades industry has indirect effects on the economy as a whole. Newport, for example, with its capability to host racing events and marine services able to service luxury yachts, it is considered by many to be the sailing Mecca of the Northeast. 

In 2015, Newport was one of the host ports in the Volvo Ocean Race, an intense, round-the-world competition. Newport was the race’s only stop in the North America. According to a study commissioned by Sail Newport, a non-profit that promotes sailing, the event delivered an economic impact of more than $47 million. With the influx of people coming to Newport to watch the arrival and departure of the boats, restaurants, hotels and retail stores saw more business.

And because of Newport’s success as a host port, the Volvo Ocean Race will be making the City By The Sea a pit stop yet again in May 2018. 

“Right now we’re planning out at least a year in advance because we’re thinking about how to shine a light on the marine trade industry here in Rhode Island when the Volvo Ocean race is here in May 2018,” said Mackie.

For now, Newport harbor is peaceful and fairly empty but every day there is another boat in the harbor, and soon it will be bustling with activity, which is good not only for the City By The Sea, but for the entire Ocean State.