Marine Trades Anchor Washington State Economy

With 3,200 miles of coastline, 7,800 lakes, and miles and miles of rivers and streams, Washington state is the ideal location for a prosperous and growing marine trades industry.

Kevin Litwin
On Monday, December 9, 2013 - 13:47

Washington has the ideal environment for a thriving marine trades industry, with a rich ship-building heritage, appropriate for a state with 3,200 miles of coastline, 50,000 miles of rivers and streams, 7,800 lakes, thousands of boat owners and hundreds of commercial fleets.

Recreational watercraft in the state number 280,000, which doesn't include thousands of commercial and government vessels, making it practically a state on water. One in five state residents owns a boat, recreational boating is a $4 billion industry and more than 28,000 workers in the state are employed in marine-related careers. More than 300 seafood companies operate in Washington state, many of which have large fishing fleets.

"Our boat-building culture is world famous," says Peter Schrappen, director of government affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

Schrappen says the state is the one-stop shop for all things that cater to marine trades. Washington manufacturers build a variety of boats - there are more yacht-building yards in Washington than any region of the world outside of Europe.

More than 80 percent of the luxury super yachts produced in the U.S. are built in Washington, as are smaller boats and fishing vessels, tugs, ferries and work boats. These manufacturers are also on the leading edge of technology, utilizing lightweight, but strong, composite materials in their boat structures.

Washington: A Shipbuilding Leader

One of the world's major super-yacht builders is Christensen Yachts, based in Vancouver, Wash. The company builds yachts from 120 to 164 feet in length, selling from $17 million to $36 million. Christensen sells nearly a third of all of the super yachts built in America. The shipyard, which employs about 295 workers, includes more than 180,000 square feet of climate-controlled manufacturing space and a 7-acre marina.

"Washington is exactly where we want to be," says Joe Foggia, chief executive officer of Christensen. "The state has a tremendous quality of life and our industry is well supported by local governments."

Rozema Boat Works is a third-generation producer of customized marine vessels, including fishing boats and work boats such as tug boats and oil recovery vessels.

"Our craftsmen make a good boat that lasts," says Dirk Rozema, general manager at the Mount Vernon-based company.

Rozema's customers are principally located along the West Coast, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

Platypus Marine, based in Port Angeles, is one of the most diverse shipyards in the Pacific Northwest and West Coast. Platypus, which has a 4-acre marina and 70,000 square feet of covered work space, is principally known as a ship refurbisher.

The yard works on large yachts, sailing vessels and commercial ships of all types. It is a major contractor for repairing U.S. Coast Guard vessels.

"We think there is an outstanding outlook for the marine trades industry in Washington," says Marty Marchant, director of sales and marketing for Platypus, which employs as many as 80 workers.

Marine Trade Industry Gets Skilled Workers

These and other boat builders rely on a steady stream of technically skilled workers, coming from the state's outstanding educational institutions.

One of the most prominent is the Northwest Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing and Technology, located on the campus of Skagit Valley College in Anacortes. The center's mission is to create a highly skilled and readily available workforce that is critical to the success of the marine trades industry.

The center offers educational opportunities in a host of marine trades, including marine electronics, composite manufacturing and diesel and gasoline engine mechanics. The center also provides certification programs in a number of marine disciplines.

More students are recognizing that a technical trade is a great opportunity for a solid and lucrative career, says Ann Avary, director of the center, who notes that placement percentages for those graduating from the center are high.

"The economy is rebounding and people are getting back on the water," Avary says.  "This is creating a greater demand for technicians in all facets of the industry."


Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.