Industry voices: Be the one to make change happen

By Roxanne Rockvam

First of all, congratulations to this year’s Women Making Waves award winners! As the current Darlene Briggs Marine Woman of the Year, saying I’ve grown up in the boating industry is an understatement. 

Our family owns a marina on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. The Ship’s Store was in the lower level of our house and as a 7-year-old I went on payroll and landed my first job maintaining our “pop” machines.

Since that time, I worked as a part-time employee after school and during summers, and even working when no one else was available. I distinctly recall one emergency situation with an oncoming blizzard when I was a teen and helping my boss (Dad) get boats out of the water in the late fall. In that moment, I quickly learned how to block boats in the yards.

These moments helped build my problem-solving skills at a very young age. I remember helping pull a fishing boat up a hill, around a tree and back into the water on the other side of the dock because the ice shifted. We needed to get the fishing boat to open water to help break up the ice and protect the dock. I think that was the day I realized in boating there is as Yoda said, “No try. Only do.”

I’ve worked full-time since 1999, learning how our marina operates and eventually advancing to my current position as general manager.

Handling hostile customers are now my part of job duties as GM — including the guy that called me a “C” (not the way to win me over in case you were wondering). That instance led me to add a “Politeness Clause” in our contracts. My job as a GM gives me the authority to make changes like this. You may contact me if you’d like me to share the clause in full, but the theme of the clause is that customers are expected to maintain professional interactions and if they are hostile, lewd, harassing- etc., the contract is terminated.

No one should ever experience swearing, rude, hostile customers. I instruct my crew to hang up if they are on the phone with someone like that. Don’t accept it. Remember, it’s easier to replace a customer than it is an employee. 

I am convinced this is where women in our industry can make their mark. I watch my male colleagues put up with the bad behavior of customers and I wonder why. It is time to “level up” and set customer expectations during the pre-selling phase of their journey. We are here to serve our customers, but we are not servants. 

In the 1980s, I had the eye-opening encounter of visiting a repair shop with nude posters on the wall.

Women can also make their mark in questioning the current “accepted” norms. We can make change, after all, gone are the days of nude photos at workplaces. 

Here are three currently accepted norms that make zero sense to me:

1. Why is it “OK” to make fun of people launching boats at a ramp? Sites devoted to “boating fails” are mean. Our industry is trying to welcome new boaters and yet we are celebrating failures by laughing or sharing these posts online. Start promoting that it’s not funny and instead help your fellow boaters.

2. Why do we sell signs such as “B.O.A.T. Bust Out Another Thousand?” If we are selling repair work, isn’t it dumb to also sell a sign like this? Think it through, what was okay in the 1970s is not necessarily okay today.

3. When you wonder why you are having trouble recruiting women boaters or employees to your facility, look around.  Do you have a sign that says “Wenches” on the bathroom?  Do the names of the boats at your dock include the “Boobie Bouncer” or “Master Baiter?”  This is a fantastic industry to be a part of, one where big change can be made by one person. 

I started my own website, Pontoon Girl for women in boating. You can be the change. Women like those found within this year’s Women Making Waves are leaders in our industry and have made significant contributions we can learn from. Share their stories with your crew, neighbors, kids, and grandchildren.

Often the only way people begin a career in the boating industry is when someone welcomes them.

Roxanne Rockvam is the general manager of Rockvam Boat Yards, a certified marina manager (CMM) and the 2021 recipient of the Darlene Briggs Marine Woman of the Year Award.

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