Carlton Phillips is the owner of Prince William Marina, located on the Occoquan River in Woodbridge, VA. We recently caught up with Carlton to chat about how he got his start in the marine industry, and lessons he’s learned along the way.
How did you get your start in boating?
I’m 76 years old, so I have a long history. I was born in Gloucester on the York River and later moved to Arlington; I grew up oystering and clamming.
How long have you worked in the marine industry?
I worked as an auto mechanic for two dealers for 10 years and then opened up my high performance and Corvette race car shop. I also was a drag racer for 20 years part time and owned IHRA (International Hot Rod Association) with seven partners, and then 40 years ago I bought a boat. I found a marina on the Occoquan and ended up buying half of the marina with a guy from high school. At that point I sold my auto repair shop and moved to the marina. And it took off like a rocket ship.
Over 20 years I’ve added slips and bought more property. The marina started out with 35 or 40 slips and now we have over 300 wet slips, floating docks, and 250 boatel spots. We have 50 employees; my wife, my son, and my grandson work here as well as my general manager, who started here 31 years ago as a part’s person.
Most rewarding thing about your career?
I get to make a living with friends. I don’t have employees or customers; I have family and friends. Being around the water changes people; it makes you better.
Tell us about the type of boating you do.
I’m strictly a powerboater. There’s not much sailing around here because of the low bridges. I have a 13-foot Boston Whaler and mostly do day trips to dinner or tiki bars. I used to take longer trips, but now that my business partner retired, it’s kind of important that I’m here.
Best part about life on the Chesapeake?
I love what I do; I really do. It’s a good life. My wife is here every day and my son and grandson. I live on the Occoquan River, and I’ve boated to Florida and back, to/from Annapolis, Tangier Island. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Potomac, and I’ve boated to Virginia Beach, which makes for a really nice four- to five-day trip. My favorite spot is Colonial Beach—it’s a nice little getaway town. I’m not an old guy down there; I’m a youngster.
Any non-boating passions?
I have a couple of old cars, a ’57 Corvette that I bought in 1968 when my son was four years old. The other is a ’64 Corvette, all original. I used to race cars professionally for about 40 years; I was heavily involved when I had my auto repair shop. And I enjoy physically working at the marina, fixing docks, etc.
What kind of programs does your marina participate in/host?
We host 30 different events a year, from slipholder parties with food and prizes, to open houses and boat shows. We participate in five boat shows and host two open houses. We also host a poker run, cruises to places like Point Lookout, a raftup, a night on the hook… We have a boat lighting event around the first of December with $8000 worth of prizes, a firework show in remembrance of 9/11, and a Halloween party. I’m most proud of a Wounded Warriors Program called Patriot Cruise and Salute that we host in May for Wounded Warriors and their family. We take them out for a boat ride and have a big party with a band, goodie bags, and each person gets a commemorative coin.
Do you belong to any maritime or community organizations?
I belong to the Virginia Marine Trades Association and the second oldest yacht club in the world: Old Dominion Boat Club in Alexandria, VA. We also support Virginia Airborne Search and Rescue.
How about goals moving forward?
I hope to have a few more birthdays! Hard work will take care of it. I’m fortunate that I have my health. A lot of my friends can’t do it anymore or have moved away or passed away, but life goes on.
Anything else you would like to share with PropTalk readers?
I give my cell phone number to every one of my customers, and I answer 24/7. In the marine industry you don’t sell a damn thing anyone needs; you sell what they want, and you have got to be available. That’s one of the reasons behind our success.
For more information, visit Prince William Marina.