Over the course of three years since 2020, master mariner Brad Boutilier used his nautical experience to turn East River Shipyard into Atlantic Canada’s largest full-service marine facility, as well as recently expanding into niche pleasure boat services with Gold River Marina.
Previous to 2020, Boutilier had spent much of his life at sea, starting as a cadet at Secunda Marine Services in 2000 and working his way up to master mariner during his time with TMSI Limited in 2018. After 18 years working at sea, he changed gears in order to be close to his wife and kids.
“About three years ago, in January 2020, we branched out and acquired East River Shipyard and sort of used a mix of my commercial background and my pleasure boating background and we sort of did a turnaround of that facility,” said Boutilier.
“I’ve always been interested in marinas and boatyards, and the timing was right for that facility — it was a good facility, and it had good infrastructure. For personal reasons, going to sea as a captain can be difficult, and I had an opportunity to try something closer to home.”
East River Shipyard is located between Halifax and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Upon Boutilier’s acquisition of the yard, it already featured a 70-tonne travel lift, large storage buildings and service shops. From there, he continued to expand the scope of the yard to better serve both the commercial and recreational markets. They now boast a staff of over 20 service technicians as well as increased capacity.
“We continued to put more heated storage buildings up and large service shops to service the fishing industry and the larger yachts and transit yachts,” said Boutilier.
“Prior to us getting our operation rolling, a lot of this stuff had to go outside of Nova Scotia or to other places in Nova Scotia and down to New England to be serviced, particularly the yachts for storage. We jumped in and saw pretty aggressive growth.”
East River Shipyard now holds the honour of being the largest capacity boatyard of its kind in Atlantic Canada and it is still expanding.
A new dock and a 150-ton travel lift should be in place at East River by July 2023. Despite the aggressive growth of his own business, Boutilier was pleased to see that businesses like his continued to grow around him and he wanted to be a part of the growth in that sector. When the main operator of Gold River Marina on Mahone Bay, N.S. wanted to retire, Boutilier jumped in to offer his support.
“I felt that if I didn’t step in and help support that, that may have gone to the wayside. It’s a niche business to have the knowledge and skillsets to manage and understand the business and how to run a boatyard, and we felt that we could help add value to that facility,” said Boutilier.
Boutilier partnered with Gold River’s Pennsylvania-based director Topher Wurts, who acquired the marina in 2003. Boutilier says that with Wurts and his staff, along with the marina’s loyal clientele and himself to offer advice, the business will continue to see success into the future.
“They’ve got a great management team there of an office manager and a yard manager — Darrin and Linda. And they’ve got a clientele that has been there for a long time,” said Boutilier. “We were that perfect piece to go in and be a managing partner to ensure it continues as it has been and continue to support the industry.”
Gold River Marina offers 53 slips and can hold in excess of 400 yachts in dry storage, as well as nearly 14,000 square feet of buildings for maintenance, construction and storage purposes. According to Boutilier, the marina offers a niche experience for yacht owners.
“They’re more of a boutique, classic boat, do-it-yourself kind of yard,” said Boutilier. “My partner, Topher Wurts, is a classic boat enthusiast. Him and his family have summered in Chester from the States for a couple of generations and they own some wonderful classic boats. They love supporting those folks.”
The yard also houses a satellite facility of Tern Boatworks, which specialize in the construction and restoration of wooden boats alongside fibreglass upgrades as well as interior design and construction.
“Between them and a lot of do-it-yourself clients, they’re a great niche community of boaters with a protected marina,” said Boutilier. “It’s almost a park-like setting. It’s very particular. The services are somewhat limited, but it’s a great niche facility and there’s a lot to offer for that market.”
The growth Boutilier has seen in his business is not just centred around his business ventures. According to him, as his business has grown, so do other businesses in the region.
“My term is everybody does better together. I see other yards as competition in some light, but I see us all growing together,” said Boutilier. “The more that we can promote the tourism, the boating and the industry, the better things are for everybody. I’m looking forward to seeing more international boats cruising on our waters. We’re definitely a go-to destination, and that’s becoming realized. So, I’m looking forward with others to work on growing the industry.”