A local family has created a fun business out of seacoast paddle boarding and kayaking.
An intoxicating blend of sea roses and ocean salt perfume the air, complementing the breathtaking views of Marblehead’s rocky coast. Nestled just yards from this picturesque Atlantic access, Little Harbor Boathouse feels like an inevitable waterfront business. It’s hard to imagine that before 2009, Little Harbor Boathouse was nothing but a dingy, abandoned office building. Maryellen Auger, who lives across the street, had been launching her kayak out from the beach when she came across the vacant storeroom. After investigating, she learned that the space hadn’t been used in years. “I’m like, bingo! I’d like to store my boat here,” Auger recalls. “And if I want to store my boat here, maybe others would too.” Thus, from Auger’s visionary and keen eye, a small business success story was born.
At first, Auger used the space as a community boat storage. She partnered with Echo Rowing, selling their open water rowing shells and giving boating lessons to children and adults. Echo helped her to revamp the storeroom, building boat racks and a ramp for easy water access. She worked with Echo for six years, but as her rent increased, she needed to grow her business to stay afloat.
Luckily, kayaking and standup paddle boarding had begun to grow in popularity in New England. Starting out with just a handful of plastic kayaks, Auger rented out these boats through word of mouth, assisted by her middle school-age daughters Noa and Tobey. Over the next few years, Auger’s business continued to grow, with a staff of six to help with rowing and kayak rentals. Little Harbor Boathouse picked up speed when Auger traveled to Salt Lake City to test out the Hobie. This unique kayak is pedal-powered, allowing its users to move faster in the water—and get a leg workout in the process. Auger has been a Hobie dealer for the last six years, selling 80 units in her biggest season. Her passion and impeccable marketing skills has made starting and running her own business smooth sailing throughout the years. “It has just unfolded in the most magical and graceful way!” Auger says proudly.
Noa and Tobey Auger grew up working alongside their mother and have learned invaluable lessons from their experience. They both started off as junior counselors, with Noa eventually specializing in staff management and scheduling, and Tobey working in administration—taking phone calls, organizing the fleet of boats, and handling transactions with customers. While neither of them plan on staying in the family business, they are both incredibly grateful for the professional and personal skills they have gained from their years at LHB. As recent college graduates, Noa and Tobey will put these life lessons to good use while navigating their adult careers.
Given Noa and Tobey’s fondness for their childhood at the boathouse, it is no wonder that the kids’ summer program is so successful. The weeklong program offers a morning and afternoon session, but some children enjoy their experience so much that they stay for both sessions and continue to come back throughout the summer. The program, which is open to children ages 8 to 14, boasts a five-to-one camper to counselor ratio. Auger credits her experienced staff to the success of the program—many of them have been with LHB for over six years! They tailor each week based on the kids’ interests and personalities to create a boating experience that is safe, educational, and fun.
Little Harbor Boathouse also offers plenty of adult services, like kayak rentals, Hobie rentals, standup paddle boarding, guided tours, and large group rentals—the company can have up to 60 people out on the water! A new program being offered is Paddle & Picnic, where customers can enjoy a two-hour kayak or paddle board adventure and stop at a nearby island to pick up a delicious lobster roll picnic. Arguably the best feature of LHB is Schooner— Auger’s three-year-old Golden Retriever. Between Little Harbor Boathouse’s stellar location, range of aquatic activities, and furry mascot, it’s no wonder why their customers keep coming back for more.
Little Harbor Boathouse is not only located in a uniquely protected harbor with safe ocean access, but it is an inexpensive way for all to enjoy the beauty of New England’s coast. LHB has customers from all over the world—from Massachusetts natives to as far as India and Bulgaria. What started off as a deserted storehouse has turned into a successful and beloved women-owned business. Maryellen Auger’s desire for sharing her love of the ocean has established Little Harbor Boathouse as a true hidden gem.