The Foundation of Your Operational System: Safety, Courtesy, Efficiency and Experience

Which is worse? A passenger on a boat that lights a cigarette at the gas dock or a pontoon rental to a bachelorette party?

Now that I’ve gotten your attention: I’ve had a front row seat to the marina industry since day six, my first boat ride originating at our family marina. My first job was filling our pop machines at age seven. Yep, we say “pop.” I try to cover my Minnesooootan accent, but it regularly shows up, don’t cha know.

But the one thing that makes it go away quickly is the turn and run: that moment when you’re casually chatting with a customer, and seemingly “not doing anything” until something else you’re actually watching, needs you, now.
I’m remembering now that time I was watching a bachelorette party arrive back at the dock. The group had been out on the water for about seven hours.

It was a perfect July day in Minnesota, blue skies, high in the 80’s, light breeze and whelp, one of the gals on the front deck of the pontoon, squatted on the edge of the boat, all her glory showing, just to donate some water to the lake. New rule: despite the acrobatic prowess of Queen P or any customer, everyone uses a toilet.

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I didn’t think we needed a rule, but based on our four pillar system, the squat and go, destroys the foundation pillar of our operational system.
We adopted the four pillar system after I attended the Disney Institute. It’s a simple tool to use with your employees to allow quick decision making based on your fundamental principles.You narrow down your managerial style to four simple words.

Our four rules: Safety, Courtesy, Efficiency and Experience.

With detail and attention to safety, courtesy and efficiency, Rockvam Boatyards creates memorable experiences.

Regardless of what we do, safety is number one. It doesn’t matter what is happening if you have an unsafe situation it must be corrected, immediately. Therefore, it does not matter what you must do to make the situation safe; your courtesy, efficiency and experience pillars are suspended until safety is restored. Here is an easiest example: if you need to swear at the man holding the cigarette on the dock, or you need to untie the boat and push it away, the other three pillars are nonexistent. You must get safety under control, now. If an explosion occurs, you have much larger problems.

But, once safety is restored then courtesy immediately returns. Courtesy is an interesting phenomenon. With so many “Horrible Wives of Loserville” TV shows out there, people have a lost sense of humanity. Face it, many customers are downright mean. Through the ability to lead and teach your crew to lead with courtesy, you will see the pay-off happens naturally. We use a radio communication system and when our crew requests something, they are trained to include a polite please and thank you, from day one.

The fun of courtesy is it overflows to efficiency. Have you ever watched your staff “go get”? They “go get” the life jacket, then they “go get” the bucket, then they “go get” the clipboard? This wastes time and effort and it can drive you crazy, right? We instill efficiency into our training. Something as simple as having a pre-made kit—if your crew needs a bucket, soap, rag and brush, make a kit. If your crew needs a pen, paper, clipboard, make a kit. I know, in some situations you shouldn’t “need” to, but the day we developed the system to make cleaning kits was the day the “go get” stopped.

And we finally get to the experience. The experience is the total show you create for your guests. What memory are you trying to create? Visit a theme park, it’s the best way to study “the experience.” A quick example of an experience buster would be visiting a theme park for the 1800’s and having an astronaut walk through. It’s a complete disconnect. It would be like having Caribbean music on the speaker and a sofa on the lawn! Complete the theme, get beach chairs!

When we operate from the fourth pillar of experience, it makes tough decisions easier. This season we needed to close our instore restrooms. This is a bad experience. An ‘OK’ experience would include portable toilets. Better is to have flushing portable toilets. And best is to have a toilet trailer. This is expensive, but to do less would contradict our fourth pillar.

Four words: safety, courtesy, efficiency, and experience. This is how we operate each day. Incidents can escalate quickly like the cigarette on the gas dock (safety) or a poorly behaved bachelorette party (experience).
It may simplify your managerial vision for all employees by understanding and evaluating a changing situations on an easy four-word scale.

This is an easy to implement process, feel free to borrow my words, or modify for your objectives, but sit down, and streamline your success into four words today.

Roxanne Rockvam is general manager of Rockvam Boat Yards Inc. in Spring Park, Minnesota. She can be reached by email at or by phone at 952-454-4681.