How to Start a Marine Construction Business

A marine construction business focuses on creating structures which will remain submerged, partially submerged, or adjacent to water.

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Learn how to start your own Marine Construction Business and whether it is the right fit for you.


Start a Marine Construction Business by following these 10 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your Marine Construction Business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

STEP 1: Plan your business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a Marine Construction Business?

Marine construction requires much of the same startup costs of traditional construction but has more specific needs because of the nature of the construction. Costs typically consists of the following:

  • Business LLC and Contractor licensing are usually first. You’ll need a certified marine contractor’s license and will likely have to attend some training courses to receive certification for performing this type of work. Waterways can be environmentally sensitive and have more rules and precautions than inland construction. Check locally to see about other specific licensing and paperwork filings.
  • Heavy machinery operation certification and licensing. More than likely, you’ll need to know how to operate heavy machinery for this career. Proper certification ensures you operate safely and follow OSHA standards.
  • Building equipment, tools, and vehicles. You may be building retention walls or buttresses at a shoreline, but you may also be setting pilings and building a dock. Building in water requires you to have a floating surface to work from, such as a small barge. You will also likely need to purchase a boat.
  • A warehouse or building for meeting with clients and storing tools, equipment, and materials.
  • Salaries for your crew and office staff. You may start relatively small, but you’ll need some team members from the very start.

Marketing and advertising. It’s last on this list but will be one of your first big investments. People need to know about your business. Plan on marketing heavily in the first few months, even years, to garner customer attention and jobs.

What are the ongoing expenses for a Marine Construction Business?

Most ongoing expenses will be the rent or mortgage on your shop and warehouse, employee salaries, business insurance, equipment maintenance, and marine contractor licensing. Additionally, you’ll need a budget for advertising and maintaining communication services, like cell phones and the internet. Most building supplies will be ordered as jobs are scheduled, but you may keep some stock of nails, bolts, and fasteners, or other items you regularly use for jobs.

Who is the target market?

Your target market is businesses and homeowners on or near water. Whether fresh, salt, or brackish, you’ll want to focus on showing how you can keep the elements from destroying customer structures and property.

How does a Marine Construction Business make money?

A marine construction business makes money through the sale and completion of customer jobs.

How much can you charge customers?

A marine construction company performs a specific set of tasks. Rates will vary based on your location and cliente, and your rates can be priced higher for custom projects. Large, niche projects will cost more in time and resources than standard projects like dock construction and installation. 

How much profit can a Marine Construction Business make?

Marine construction businesses do have considerable overhead for maintenance of tools and machines, as well as fluctuating materials costs. But, the potential to make substantial profits definitely exists. A successful, established company can see profits anywhere from $300,000 to a million annually.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Offer maintenance plans for your customers. A regularly scheduled maintenance plan can detect damaged hardware and replace these pieces for a fraction of the cost of replacing an entire dock section. Plus, properly maintained marine builds will better withstand storms.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. Read our detailed guide on how to name your business. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your Marine Construction Business is sued.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

You can start an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.

Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.

Small Business Taxes

Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).

You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:

There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
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Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

Open net-30 accounts

When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.

Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.

Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.

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Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

STEP 7: Get business insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Learn more about General Liability Insurance.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.

How to promote & market a Marine Construction Business

One positive aspect of this business is that many customers will seek you out. Customers who have built near water understand that it is a constant battle to avoid water damage and erosion. Customers who plan to expand into water also understand the risks. Your job, then, is to show how your techniques and materials are of superior quality and design. Customers want a marine contractor who has been successful in the past and has a solid track record.

When you do market and promote, your target audience will be fairly easy to identify. Focus on advertising to areas that promote activities which involve water, such as boating. Building and repairing docks can be a lucrative business of its own.

How to keep customers coming back

Customers love consistency. As you work towards finishing a build, ask the client if you can share photos and videos of the progress and end results. Consider offering a rebate for the use of promotional media. And, offer to perform regular inspections to check the integrity of your work.

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Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.

STEP 9: Create your business website

After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.

While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.

Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:

  • All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
  • Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
  • Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.

Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.

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Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.

Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.

STEP 10: Set up your business phone system

Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.

There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.

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Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.

Start A Marine Construction Business In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

Marine construction requires physical labor and builds on the knowledge of traditional commercial or residential construction. A person with a construction background or extensive construction knowledge would prove a good fit.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

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What happens during a typical day at a Marine Construction Business?

Marine construction businesses focus on estimating and building out customer jobs. Much of your daily activities will focus on these aspects:

  • Meeting with clients and estimating their required work. You will often be traveling to a customer’s location to see what their property will require, both materially and financially.
  • Ordering materials and scheduling job site deliveries. Once you and the customers agree on what you’re building, you’ll most likely want the materials delivered directly to the jobsite.
  • Monitoring crew/job progress. A marine construction build can be affected by natural conditions, sometimes out of your control, such as tides or storms. Informing your customers of varying timelines is critical for customer satisfaction.

Managing paperwork, marketing and advertising, and communicating with material supply vendors are also necessary tasks needed for maintaining a balanced budget and promoting company growth.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful Marine Construction Business?

Marine construction is a specialized field of construction because of the constant forces of nature acting on the structures you build. Water, oxidation, rust, and shifting sands all contribute to the difficulties in building a longstanding structure in or near water. Key skills include:

  • Prior experience in construction, especially in foundational planning. This knowledge will help greatly in priming your understanding and implementation of the techniques and materials necessary for success in this line of construction.
  • Experience driving and operating heavy machinery, such as cranes, backhoes, excavators, tractors, and boats with barges will also be necessary. If you don’t have experience in these areas, you’ll probably want to take some training courses.
  • Customer service and communication is important. Customers want to ask questions. You need to be able to explain, often in layman’s terms, what will happen and how long it will take. Following up with customers is also necessary for company growth.
  • Experience and education in business management is also important for structuring and implementing your business model.

What is the growth potential for a Marine Construction Business?

Marine construction businesses can be profitable and grow in size and scope, depending on your location and competition. Areas with rivers, lakes, bays, and oceans nearby may be great for you to create a lucrative career. You’ll also need to see what kind of competition is present, and make sure you’ll have enough clients asking for your services. Your business can encompass residential and commercial marine construction or just focus on a specific customer base.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Learn from other business owners

Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a Marine Construction Business?

Market and promote near the places you’ll be doing most of your work. You’ll need customers to know you’re available right away. If you are performing commercial applications, ask your clients to share their experience with their industry groups. Word-of-mouth recommendations go a long way towards jump starting a career.

Use the internet to share pictures and videos of your work. Social media and a company website are relatively inexpensive methods for broadcasting your business.

How and when to build a team

Marine construction is hard work. It is also precise work with big machines. You’ll need a qualified construction crew of three to four people to get started. As you grow, you can create multiple teams. You’ll also need an office staff to take care of the financials, paperwork, and day-to-day office activities, such as ordering supplies for customer jobs.

Next Steps

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