We talk to Lexi Ossinger, the President of battery-powered air conditioning specialist BoatRX, about his growing marine business and the importance of the METSTRADE Young Professionals Club.
What attracted you to working in the leisure marine industry?
The marine industry has this ability to bring people together and that’s what drew me to it. There's something about a boat when you're out on the water. You connect with nature and the people around you. It’s a time when you can stop worrying about what's going on in the real world.
I first found boating when working for a US tech start-up in Boston. I needed a cheap place to live and heard people were staying on boats in the harbour relatively inexpensively. I bought a 1975 Pearson 30 yacht, sight unseen. I had no intentions of sailing it but got a friend to look at my new purchase and start the engine. He told me: "You have a good sailboat here with brand new sails and it would be great to learn on. Would you like to take it out?" That offer opened my eyes to boating for pleasure and I’ve been sailing ever since.
Living on the Pearson for three and a half years also provided a path into the marine industry when I met a fellow live-aboard on his Tayana 42, in Boston. That was Phil Gutowski, the founder at BoatRx and my current business partner since 2020.
Tell us about your business?
BoatRx first existed as a general marine systems company. Phil started the business on his own around six years ago to service everything from toilets to refrigerators and electronics. I joined in 2020 and since then the business has focused as a specialist distributor and installer of battery-powered air conditioning systems. We now have four staff, with two more joining by June of this year.
We combine high energy efficiency equipment, like air conditioning, with smart ways to store power, like lithium batteries. We also think very carefully about how that power is being generated, from solar, wind, or high output alternators. The efficiency equation only works when you attack it from all sides. If tackled the right way, it does enable air conditioning without the need for a generator, which is still a relatively recent development. It avoids noise and emissions, makes the system much more plug and play to use and enables smaller boats with outboard power to fit air conditioning. We can even size the battery bank appropriately to run all night long, if required.
COVID-19 was a challenge to developing our business. Shipyards and dealers were absorbed by high demand and lack of boat supply and had little time to consider systems changes. Now that initial wave of demand has subsided, they're more open to talk about doing things differently. BoatRx has installed 18 battery-powered air conditioning systems with another six on the schedule and more to follow.
What interesting trends are you seeing in the leisure marine industry?
The big trends are electrification and reducing emissions.
There is money flowing into the industry from big players, like General Motors’ $150m investment in electric boat company Pure Watercraft. Electrically propelled boats that require air conditioning will need the most efficient units possible, to avoid significant cuts to range. That's a huge change to requirements that we would like to piggyback on.
Superyachts and bigger boats that need to remain with internal combustion power will increasingly come under scrutiny for not being green enough. We see the opportunity to reduce a lot of their shoreside electric bills by 50 per cent and cut down on fuel burn and emissions by down-sizing generators. There will be increasing reluctance from owners to spew diesel and gas fumes.
The goal is to use the least amount of power and store that power using new battery technologies. Right now, we are using lithium-ion, but other more sustainable options will emerge, like sodium-ion. I don't know where battery tech is going to go exactly, but we're going to keep our eye on it.
In terms of power generation, there are viable developments in wind, solar and smart high output alternators, like the 2018 DAME winner Integrel, for which we are an agent. Hydrogen is also getting a lot of attention and investment, so that's something we'll monitor as well.
What is the importance of METSTRADE to your business?
Last year was my first opportunity to visit METSTRADE after entering the marine sector. My primary purpose for attending was to find out about the latest and greatest products in our marketplace and it was a huge benefit to do so.
Europe is perceptively ahead of the United States in terms of being green and efficient. A lot of businesses that we're sourcing parts from are all based in Europe. We are reliant on seeking out these companies, forging relationships, bringing their products to the United States and then incorporating them into one larger system.
How do you plan a typical METSTRADE visit?
Last year was difficult to organise because of COVID. My trip was on one moment, then off the next, and so on. One of the manufacturers we work with fortunately stepped in and offered accommodation. That made the commitment easier, and I was able to fly into Amsterdam direct from Boston.
METSTRADE was the biggest show I have ever attended. I know from experience that events you have not visited before can be intimidating and overwhelming, so I did some pre-planning to get comfortable with the layout. That meant I could concentrate on starting useful conversations with companies of interest when I arrived.
Which METSTRADE areas and activities do you most look forward to?
The Young Professionals Club (YPC) with its lounge. It is a game changer to have a place where you can sit down, enjoy free refreshments, take a load off your feet, and meet other people who are also working to establish themselves.
I wish the United States had support systems like these for young professionals. It might help the skills shortage there and encourage more people to join and stay in the industry. I’d love to be a part of that if it could happen at home.
It’s challenging to cold pitch every single time you go to a booth on a first visit. No one knows you and you're trying to make good contacts, let them know who you are and what you're doing. Young Professionals Club is a place to have a reset and provides a way of swapping ideas and learning new things from those who are on a similar journey to your own.
Read more from Humans of METSTRADE- Alexandra Foineau Oakley (Lumishore)
- Jean-Michel Gaigné (InXs Marinas)
- David Barrow (Barrow International / Windship Technologies)