Thursday, August 7, 2014
Most boaters enjoy spending their time above the hull, but Ross Porter would rather be below it.
Porter owns and operates Marine Busters, LLC, an underwater cleaning and repair service for larger boats based in Murrells Inlet.
For Porter, the idea for his business came as a blend of some of his favorite things.
“My grandpa had a boat, he taught me the ins and outs of working on boats, and as I got older I retained that information. How I got into the diving part was when I lived in Ohio I did rescue diving for the fire department, I did lots of black water search and rescue. I don’t do that part down here anymore,” said the full-time Myrtle Beach Fire Department firefighter, “but I took it into the recreational realm. When I got down here I started recreationally diving off the coast.”
Then three years ago, with support from his wife and a small investment from his parents, Porter fulfilled his dream of becoming a small business owner and created Marine Busters.
“I looked at the area, I enjoy the water, and that’s how I decided to take my knowledge on diving and the maintenance of boats and take it to the next level.”
Bottomside maintenance providers like Porter use hookah diving systems (similar to SCUBA diving, but without a tank) to dive underwater and clean or repair the bottom of large boats that cannot be easily hauled from the water.
His equipment includes the hookah diving system, wetsuit, weight belt to maintain neutral buoyancy, fins, googles, helmet and an illumination set.
Porter said the unusual field was somewhat difficult to break into, and that was one of his main challenges starting the business.
“The industry of dive services including hull cleaning, propeller replacement, it’s very tight-knit, and very hard to come on the scene as a new person. Many divers have been doing this for many years, and when you own a $100,000 yacht, [for a diver] it’s very hard to gain [the boat owner’s] trust.”
To establish that trust, Porter’s come up with a few novel ideas to make himself stand out in the market, including underwater HD video and photography.
“No other diver in the area is doing that right now, and a lot of boat owners don’t care about it when you say ‘Hey, I’m going to film what I’m doing down there,’ until they see the video and then they realize how important it can be.”
The video camera is attached to his helmet; once a job is completed, he sends the client a digital invoice with the video attached.
“It’s very unusual, I’ve never heard of a diver doing that before,” said one of Porter’s clients, Joe Roy, about the video. “But having the video takes any concern out of the picture. It’s just a good business practice.”
The Roys, who were visiting Georgetown on their 56-foot boat when Porter repaired one of the propellers, said the harbormaster recommended him.
Porter’s videos have helped gain the trust of clients as well as marina staff, which has contributed to his business’ success. “I go around once a year and shake hands, try to meet with dock master, that person has a lot of pull when it comes to boaters coming in. He’s the one who’s down there every day and knows who is trustworthy in the business,” he said.
While there’s no certification to perform bottomside maintenance, Porter has a variety of qualifications, including appropriate business licenses, SCUBA certifications, cold water diving equipment and extensive insurance coverage.
He said his passion for the business comes from knowing he’s done his job well.
“I’d say I just really enjoy doing a good job, having that boat owner say ‘Wow, I didn’t know that you were doing all of this under there,’ that makes it worthwhile. Also, there’s something to be said about getting under there, by yourself, it’s a way to get away from everything else,” he said. “In short, what drives me to keep doing it and doing it to a superior level is just when the boat owners say ‘Wow, I can’t believe that is what gets done under there,’ and I did it.”
In three years, the business has grown substantially, he said. His service range is from Little River to Georgetown, but some of his clients are now based in Charleston and he’s considering expanding the range even further.
“Like any small business owner, my next step would be to have enough business to where I can’t handle it all by myself and I’ll need to hire another diver. Long term, one day I’d maybe like to have a very successful business or dive company that I can sit and do more of the administrative work. … But as far as right now, being younger, I really enjoy the actually physical aspect, meeting the clients, and making sure the job gets done.”