Christine Smith: I co-own and operate a small tour boat company. My job is divided into office, crewing underway, and maintenance. Office duties include marketing, advertising, website development, social media, public relations, sales, and customer service. During trips I am the chef, naturalist and deckhand. I set the menu, provision, and cook for six guests and three crew. As the naturalist I take people on hikes and kayak paddles and share my knowledge and passion for our marine environment. I also drive the boat, handle lines, complete engine room/systems checks, and assist with setting the anchor and facilitating our kayaking activities. The off-season is all about preservation and maintenance and whatever needs to be done to keep the boat safe and beautiful.
KC: What made you want to start working on boats?
Christine: After college, I worked for several mom-and-pop businesses and knew that ultimately I wanted to own my own business and wear many hats. I loved being able to do everything from taking orders to coordinating complex schedules. Eventually I discovered that working on a boat could fulfill my need to do many different things. I started Northwest Navigation 16 years ago with my husband Jeffrey. Our first task was to rebuild the David B, a 65-foot wooden boat built in 1929 with an antique diesel. After eight years of rebuilding, we began learning how to market our business. Marketing involves a lot of creativity, persistence and keeping eyes and ears open for opportunities. It’s difficult to start a tour boat business without deep pockets, but a fun aspect of my job is networking and talking to people about what we do. The reward for effectively marketing our tours is getting to crew our trips.
KC: What do you like most about running your company?
Christine: I love everything about my job, except lifting heavy part, especially engine parts. I write content for the website and design ads. I ended up writing a well-received book about what it was like to rebuild the boat and take it to Alaska for the first time. Because of the book I’ve been invited to give talks about what I do and the places I go. This sharing of stories about the boat and our first trip is a fun part of my work.
While underway, my galley is open, with guests and crew in the shared space where I cook. Some chefs might find this environment distracting, but I love it. The galley is a place of warmth and sharing, where I learn about the lives of our guests, share recipes or listen to heartfelt tales about themselves, their grandmothers or other family members. Times like these have sparked meaningful lifelong friendships with my guests. During the off-season, the priorities are brightwork and paint. I enjoy sanding, prepping, varnishing layer after layer, and watching the shine build. It takes patience and allows for quiet reflection. Boat maintenance gives me a feeling of accomplishment. There’s nothing better than hearing, “You have a beautiful boat.”
KC: What is your work schedule like? What do you do with your down time?
Christine: That’s a hard one because my work and my life are so intertwined. Sometimes I feel like I work all the time, and other times I feel like I play all the time. When I do take time away from my business, I go for long trail runs in the Chuckanut mountains, work in my garden, knit hats and socks, try new recipes, surf the Internet for interesting things about my favorite plants and animals, or ski.
KC: What advice would you give to someone just entering the tour boat industry?
Christine: Start by finding a job on a boat that’s run by people who share your interests. There you’ll meet people who can give advice on how to further your career, which boats to work on, and training options. My first boat job was on a whale watch boat. It was seasonal and didn’t pay much, but it gave me the opportunity to learn more about orcas and what it was like to work on a boat. It was also a family owned business and I got to see what challenges the owners faced while running a tour boat. At the end of that summer, I knew that I wanted to keep on with boats, and those experiences helped lead me to where I am now. That was 16 years ago. I’m still learning and still loving my choice to base my life’s work aboard boats.
Link to the Motor Vessel David B website:
Link to Christine’s book about her boat: