Always A Great Day On The Bay

At work

Griff Bell, Owner, South River Boat Rentals, Edgewater

July 19, 2009|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Sun

AGE: 34

SALARY: $150,000

YEARS ON THE JOB: 15

How he got started: : While still in high school, Griff Bell took a summer job working for a sailboat rental company near Annapolis. He grew up along the South River, boating with his family, and it was the perfect job as well as one he could keep once he began attending college at Frostburg State University. In his sophomore year, he had an opportunity to buy the business, which at the time had four sailboats. He ran the business during his summers off from school.

After he graduated with a bachelor's degree in business, he continued to run the company but also worked as a real estate agent for three years until the boat business began making a profit. It has since grown to a fleet of 22 sailboats and powerboats. Five years ago he added another business, a charter management company called Chesapeake Yacht Charters.

Typical day: : Located in the Gingerville Yachting Center on the South River, the boat rental company offers half-day, full-day and multi-day rentals. The boats must stay in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and must be docked or anchored before dark. Chesapeake Yacht Charters offers large yachts that can stay out overnight and are typically rented for a week at a time.

Bell runs the daily operation of the business, which has five full-time employees and 20 captains working on an as-needed basis, from mid-March to mid-November.

He arrives at 8:30 a.m. On weekends during peak season, he says he'll often see 200 people in one day. When boats return at 6 p.m., they need to be cleaned and readied for rentals the next morning.

The business is open seven days a week, and it's not uncommon for Bell to put in long hours and work throughout the weekend.

"You have to love it," he said.

The boats range in size from a 21-foot powerboat to a 37-foot sailboat and can accommodate up to 12 people.

Bell is often in the office checking customers in and out, answering phone inquiries and e-mails, taking reservations and marketing the business. He stays active in the Annapolis boating industry, participating on several boards, including serving as president of the Marine Charter Industry Association.

During the winter months, he takes time off but still markets the company and prepares for the coming season.

Customers: : Bell said he enjoys 70 percent repeat business and customers run the gamut. He sees many ex-boat owners who enjoy being able to spend time boating instead of on maintenance. "I see a lot more people who don't want the headache of owning a boat," Bell said.

Experience: : For an additional fee, captains are available. To take a boat out without a captain, a customer must submit prior boating experience and go through a checkout process with a captain. If that captain doesn't feel the boater is qualified, the boat isn't released.

Most common mistake: : Running aground. Two chase boats are available for people who need help, and Bell is on call 24 hours a day.

"Every year when I think I've seen it all, I see something new."

The good: : He gets to work around boats and the water, two things he loves. But he said he also likes seeing people relax and enjoy themselves on the water.

The bad: : "Extremely long hours and pretty high stress," Bell said. "There are a lot of boats out there, and you're responsible for their well-being."

Philosophy on the job: : "Safety first, great customer service and a fun time," Bell said. "It's always a great day on the Chesapeake Bay."

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