My father taught me that the key to succeeding in business is making customers happy and building professional relationships that stand the test of time. 

In my more than 40 years in running a family business I have witnessed this philosophy play out successfully repeatedly, and I have stressed the importance of this concept with my family members, employees, and crew. 

Maintaining good relationships goes beyond just keeping customers happy, it extends to vendors and suppliers, local, state, and federal government entities, and many others. This is a balancing act which is getting increasingly complicated with changing technology and evolving regulation.

While it is one thing for me to have a commitment to customer service and developing good relationships with my many publics, I must emphasize that this is a two-way street and sometimes these others do not demonstrate the same attitude toward me. 

As a lifelong mariner who has operated Coast Guard inspected passenger vessels for many years, I have logged hundreds of vessel inspections by an ever-changing assortment of Coast Guard inspectors. Most of these Coast Guard inspectors have been knowledgeable and professional.  From time-to-time I have interacted with an inspector who has been uninformed, arrogant, and has extremely poor customer service skills. Unfortunately, this person can cast a dark shadow upon all of the others who are doing a good job. No matter who your inspector is, good or bad, it is important to find common ground and understanding. 

The Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) has long recognized the importance of involving Coast Guard personnel in its meetings, conventions, and events as a way of building relationships and greater understanding. During the recent PVA Annual Convention at MariTrends 2024 in Portland, Ore., I was impressed with the number of Coast Guard attendees from Adm. Wayne Arguin, and a variety from Coast Guard headquarters in Washington D.C. to those from local and regional offices. These individuals made presentations, attended sessions, interacted with passenger vessel operators and vendors, and were generally immersed in all the convention had to offer. 

The communication established there was very valuable. 

Experience tells me to work to find common ground with your Coast Guard inspectors and to build professional relationships that promote mutual understanding and goodwill. You will find this approach will deliver lasting dividends. 

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or [email protected].

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