By Tom Serio
Charles Walker has been working the marina scene across Fort Lauderdale for over 20 years. From dock attendant at Pier Sixty-Six, beginning in 1995, to dockmaster for the three marinas in Fort Lauderdale owned by LXR Marinas – Bahia Mar, Pier Sixty-Six and Hilton Marina – since 2006, to director of marina operations at the Tate Capital-owned Bahia Mar Yachting Center, Walker has seen a lot.
Walker thinks he has somewhat figured out the hospitality side of the marina business. The way to keep captains and owners as pleased as possible: “Never say no.”
He says he has more than 10,000 phone numbers of captains and crew in his phone, as well as the phone numbers of the dockmasters at the regional marinas. “I’m available 24/ 7, and it makes a huge difference,” he said.
Walker grew up with family boats and has his own 36-foot center console now. He has run yachts as a freelance captain on his 100-ton ticket. But his focus remains on the business and hospitality sides of marina operations.
“The industry is growing,” Walker said, and this is a good time to get the younger generation into the business.
Tate Capital, along with three partners, purchased Bahia Mar Yachting Center in 2014 from LXR Marinas. Walker said Bahia Mar is a niche marina, thanks to the amenities on the property and the local draw.
“We have a beach right across the street, newly renovated hotel and great location to restaurants,” he said, and the facility also has a completely restored pool deck and gym.
Add to that the prospect of business development, with the aim to keep the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show based at Bahia Mar.
“There is a commitment to keep the show right here through 2070,” Walker said, and plans are being finalized to redevelop the Bahia Mar hotel and marina property.
Having started young in the business, Walker said, “It’s really the only thing I know.” And through the years he has learned a few lessons.
“It’s hard to make everyone happy,” he said, but he has made connections in the industry and is proud to say many are friends who will help out in a pinch.
“If I’m full, I don’t mind helping a yacht get a spot at another marina. I know they’ll be back,” Walker said. “They may need to go to a yard for repairs or refit, but will come back here to layover.”
This way, he doesn’t have to apologize that he can’t fulfill their request. “The only thing you have is your name in this business,” he said.
With a can-do attitude, Walker conquers his personal life like he does his work life. Two young sons keep him busy with sports. They cruise the country in their RV and on their boat, and he recently retired from drag racing after 20 years.
If he weren’t a dockmaster, Walker said, he would still be in the industry. “I’d be a business owner, maybe a brokerage or marina management, or even a yacht builder.” Something land-based, he said.
Walker is focused on two issues:
First, keeping the yachts in town.
“Go to Palm Beach or Rybo and the rates are lower.”
And second, networking with peers.
“Without the relationships we have created, Florida would suffer. We have a great family of dockmasters.”
Capt. Tom Serio is a freelance captain, writer and photographer. Comments are welcome below.