A boating life

When Dawn Johnson first started tinkering with engines as a kid, there weren’t any female marine mechanics.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that Johnson, who became a marine mechanic in 1979, has achieved many industry “firsts” for women. Or that she recently won the 2004 Darlene Briggs Woman of the Year Award.
Johnson has come a long way. She grew up on a houseboat, and out of frustration with its engine failures, developed a fascination for outboards.
She taught herself to fix engines, and becoming a marine mechanic after high school was a natural progression. From there, she worked her way around several dealerships, learning the ins and outs of the business, eventually working for an accessories distributor before being recruited by Outboard Marine Corp.
When OMC went bankrupt, Johnson’s abilities made her one of a handful of OMC employees that Bombardier retained for its outboard business.
Today, she’s manager of dealer support and warranty for BRP U.S. Inc. Eight of her colleagues wrote a letter supporting Johnson’s nomination for the Briggs award, highlighting her passion for the industry, displayed recently when she dropped everything to help a dealer.
It was a Sunday when she got the call. A new product, which was scheduled for sea-trials the following day, needed a replacement part. The distribution warehouses were closed, so Dawn stopped what she was doing and drove 50 miles to the assembly plant.
The plant, too, was shut down and in the dark, so she disassembled an engine by flashlight while the delivery driver waited. He was low on fuel and had to travel 65 miles to the airport, so Dawn drove with him to the gas station, paid for his fuel and ensured the part made the plane for Monday delivery.
“This action,” her coworkers wrote, “is typical of her every day dedication to the marine industry and customer satisfaction.”
As a life-long boater, Johnson doesn’t think she’ll ever leave the boating business.
“I might even be running an old marina with a bunch of houseboats,” she says. “Whatever I do, I have to be near the water.” — Liz Walz

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