20 Oct Michael Keyworth to be Honored with First Rising Tide Award

When Michael Keyworth is awarded with RIMTA’s first Rising Tide Award at the Annual Meeting & Celebration on November 2, he will be recognized for making a lifetime of positive contributions to the Rhode Island mkeyworthmarine trades. His list of accomplishments is long: from being a key player in establishing Rhode Island’s sales-and-use tax policy on recreational boats to serving as a valued member at Brewer Yacht Yards for 30 years, working creatively to devise more efficient worker training, and  standing as a champion for better managing our marine environment. But when you talk with Michael Keyworth, it’s clear that his string of achievements boils down to something very simple: all these years working around boats, he has simply been doing what he loves.

He started in the industry as a young man. At age 14, Michael was working at a boat yard on the Chesapeake—painting skipjack bottoms, building a railway and, as he remembers, learning about the hard work involved in running a marina. He made a shift in his early career to education, working as a chief consultant to the largest private organization in the U.S. working on the treatment of the intellectually disabled.

Then, something unexpected happened.

“I was asked by a friend to help him sail a 58-foot boat down to the Caribbean,” so he arranged time away from his consultant’s position figuring this would be a one-off adventure. But in St. Thomas, he met an owner who needed a captain and cook for his 40-footer and thought Michael would be the perfect candidate. “So I called my wife, and she said, ‘I can be ready in two weeks!’“  Michael and Nancy originally planned to take a year off to sail, but that year grew into ten years on boats.

They next worked on a new build for an owner planning to circumnavigate, but when the owner changed his plans, “Nancy asked me to find a boat that was sailing around the world,” says Michael. That led them to legendary yachtsman Marvin Green. They worked on his Swan 65 and stayed on as Green graduated to the 81-foot Nirvana and raced during the heyday of the Maxi boat circuit, setting records in major events such as the Newport-to-Bermuda and Fastnet races. “It was a pretty incredible time,” Michael remembers. “San Francisco, Norway, Italy: you name it, we sailed there.”

When Michael and Nancy moved ashore to start a family, they first landed at the Brewer Yacht Yard in Westbrook (Conn.). After two years, they moved to Rhode Island and Michael has been with Brewer Cove Haven Marina for 28 years, most recently as general manager and vice president.

When he came to Rhode Island, Michael became quickly involved with RIMTA, and he remembers that the organization was focused primarily on dealers and managing the Providence Boat Show. He worked as a board member as RIMTA broadened its purpose and focus, and subsequently served as RIMTA president and chairman of the Legislative Committee.

In 1991, when the U.S. Congress enacted a luxury tax that would result in a 10% surcharge on boats valued over $100,000, Rhode Island boat builders needed a stronger voice.  Michael and his colleague Ken Kubic worked with a lobbyist to educate Rhode Island legislators about the value of the marine trades to the state, and both men were instrumental in getting Rhode Island’s sales-and-use tax policy on recreational boats into place.

Michael worked closely with the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) to help create a more efficient system for certifying technicians, boat builders and surveyors, called Fast Trac. He has also been deeply involved in environmental efforts relating to the industry—most recently working with Sea Grant on a modelling program that will help marinas and other coastal businesses adapt their facilities for potential sea-level rise.

When asked what advice he would give to young people entering the marine trades, Michael immediately points to the industry’s diversity: “There are so many different opportunities; this industry gives you the chance to learn your entire life—although you’ll never be able to learn it all.”

When he retires from Brewer Cove Haven Marina this winter, Michael Keyworth will enjoy time with his family—including his wife Nancy and his three sons, all of whom are avid sailors—and a chance to go  cruising on their Swan 44.

Although he has had a hard-charging career effecting lots of positive change for the industry, retirement will give Michael Keyworth the time and space to see where the winds will take him. He and Nancy have a gameplan for their first year of cruising—including some time in the Caribbean, followed by  passages to Bermuda, on to the Azores, and ultimately to northern Europe. “We’ll do that for a year,” he says, “and then decide what to do next.”