How to Start a Marine Construction Company

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Marine construction companies operate barge-mounted work equipment.
Marine construction companies operate barge-mounted work equipment. (Image: dredging the harbour image by Tom Curtis from Fotolia.com)

Marine construction work includes diverse residential and commercial projects. Crews commonly build small docks and boathouses at private homes, construct small and large marina facilities and install breakwaters and jetties in areas prone to wave action. Marine construction companies also dredge channels to keep them open for navigation. Depending on the company’s equipment and capabilities, some marine construction contractors also build commercial piers and ferry terminals throughout their region. Some projects combine more than one type of marine construction.

Things You'll Need

  • Business license
  • Sales tax license (if applicable)
  • Dockage space for equipment
  • Land storage space for equipment
  • Marine construction permits (local and state)
  • Marine construction permits (Army Corps of Engineers)
  • Marine construction equipment orders

Establish your marine construction company business with the aid of a Certified Public Accountant familiar with marine service businesses. Consult a commercial insurance agent with similar expertise, plus strong liability background. Obtain a business license at your city or county clerk’s office. Contact your state Department of Revenue to determine if you are required to pay sales tax on your marine construction services.

Select your operations and office locations. Your company’s marine construction equipment, including barges and pile-driving machinery, requires easily accessible dockage near the entrance channel. Ensure that you have adjacent, secure outdoor storage space for construction equipment, pilings and dock components. Locate your office at the marina if possible, although a nearby location is also feasible.

Analyze your regional marine construction market. Residential marine construction work is influenced by home owners’ discretionary income, plus local regulations and covenants that govern in-water structures. Municipal marine construction projects may be subject to funding constraints. Commercial marine construction can be tied to companies’ financial health. Consider these factors as you examine your regional market for marine construction opportunities. Finally, learn about waterfront residential communities with planned dock facilities.

Obtain state and local marine construction permits before you begin a marine construction project. For example, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources notes that counties, cities and water management authorities commonly issue marine construction permits. The United States Army Corps of Engineers also issues marine construction work permits. Some permits cover nationwide work, while others relate to local projects with specific parameters. The Corps provides comprehensive guidelines to help marine construction companies navigate the permitting process.

Hire qualified marine construction professionals. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that marine construction projects, such as bulkheads and water-based building foundations, often begin with pile-driving operations. Pile driving is often barge based, and utilizes the services of construction workers who are experts at moving the equipment and pilings into desired positions. Look for experienced construction workers who are comfortable working on the water, are safety conscious and have a good attention to detail.

Purchase your marine construction equipment. For a dredging operation, for example, purchase a barge-mounted crane with equipment that can lift heavy dredge spill material onto a second barge. For a dock-building project, buy a barge fitted with pile-driving equipment and supplies, along with a small tender to hold workers who need to move around the site. Obtain new or used equipment from a specialty marine equipment supplier or from a commercial marine industry marketplace.

Market your services throughout your region. Approach your market on three fronts. Contact master planners for upscale residential waterfront communities, and express your desire to contract for the waterfront construction work. Examine local government plans for development or expansion of waterfront attractions and marinas. Finally, contact the United States Army Corps of Engineers to bid on marine construction projects. Bids are coordinated through the Corps' district office within your jurisdiction.

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