A new facility featuring fresh and saltwater boats has opened on the Belfast waterfront, supporting recreational boating and adding to the mix of marine businesses on Front Street.

Hamlin’s Marine, in the former French & Webb building at 7 Front St., is the company’s third location in Maine, with marinas in Hampden and Waterville as well.

Co-owner Katie Higgins said the family-owned business was started by her parents in 1984 in Waterville, where it was originally called Hamlin’s Sports World. Her husband, Dan Higgins, entered the business shortly after they married in 2004, she said, when her father told her he was going to hire a new salesman named Dan.

Dan said his father-in-law, Dave Hamlin, had wanted to expand the business and was looking for an opportunity to build a new facility. In 2006 the couple came across Turtle Head Marina in Hampden, which was for sale, and saw it was exactly what Hamlin was looking for, and according to Dan, for a lot less money than building.

The couple went into a partnership with Hamlin to purchase the marina and added a showroom, service, parts and a storage section to the facility. They christened it Hamlin’s Marina. “It was a marina and it also had a boatyard with access to the Penobscot River,” he said.

“Katie and I ran the Hampden facility while Dave and his wife, Chris, ran the original marine business in Waterville,” Dan said. The Hampden marina grew and the couple was later able to purchase the Waterville facility from the Hamlins when they retired in 2016.

In April 2020, Dan said, Paul Naron, owner of the former French & Webb property and accompanying dock, contacted him and asked if they would be interested in an operation providing sales, storage and service.

“As we talked we had a mutual interest in the growing recreational boating industry and realized the overall shortage of oceanfront slips,” he said. “There is less supply than there are docks.”

The partnership with Naron is beneficial to the marina, he said, with Hamlin’s providing service and storage to boats using the slips developed by Naron at the dock.

The primary function of the Belfast location, Dan said, is to provide a larger showroom. It is the largest of their three facilities and allows them to showcase their saltwater boats that are, by nature, larger. “It allows us to do what we do best, create a boat show environment at a time when all shows have been canceled,” he said.

“We aren’t currently offering service on-site, but can arrange with the Waterville or Hampden facilities and can also arrange parts pickup,” he noted.

An interesting trend has developed, Dan said, with the pandemic driving up demand in the boating industry. “Demand is outstripping supply,” he said. What is even more exciting, he said, is that a lot of customers are new and just getting into boating. “The COVID pandemic is creating a response we’ve never seen before.”

Their business is usually seasonal, he said, but this past year, sales have continued through February. March is typically the kickoff season for new boat buyers.

“So Paul called, and we were scared to death at first,” Dan said. "Initially we thought COVID would kill our business, but demand started to grow. People are shopping and realizing there are not that many options out there."

As far as selection at Hamlin’s goes, they have new boat lines for fresh and saltwater that will offer something for everyone. Their biggest seller, Dan said, is the Bennington pontoon boats. They also carry Alumacraft, Weldcraft and G3 aluminum boats. Fiberglass options include Scout, Carolina Skiff and Sea Chaser boats.

Hamlin's is also the largest dealer of Yamaha outboard engines in the Northeast. “They are efficient, quiet and reliable,” Dan said. To support the fishing community, Hamlin’s offers many electronic accessories.

"We have anything from a 12-foot rowboat to a 35-foot cruising boat and everything in between."

Hamlin’s also owns Puffin Boats, a line of fiberglass dinghies produced at the Hampden facility. “We sell a lot through Hamilton Marine and Kittery Trading Post,” Katie said. “They are also shipped throughout the country and sales have accelerated pretty quickly. Our online ordering has gained a lot of ground in the past year.”

Katie and Dan said they have been boating to Belfast “forever” and have watched as the city has grown. “We have strong roots in Belfast,” Dan said, usually coming to play rather than work.

“I don’t think we would get the same allure from the Waterville or Hampden facility,” Dan said. “It is a 40-minute drive from our home in Hampden, but Belfast has its own culture, and the sense of community is very strong.

“This was the first place we came by boat,” he said, and even though there was a pandemic afoot, Belfast seemed alive.

Steve Ryan, Belfast Chamber of Commerce executive director, said in a press release announcing the Hamlin's grand opening, “The arrival of Hamlin’s Marine on the Belfast Waterfront is very exciting because it represents the continued growth of a heritage industry for Belfast — boats and boating.

"This growing economic cluster includes Front Street Shipyard, Belmont Boatworks, French and Webb and many other collaborating businesses that bring customers to our area and serve us locals as well.

"Maine’s coastline is a fantastic resource, and if we can use it to support marine businesses, we can maintain a diversified economy and be a stronger economic community because of that.”

Hamlin’s Marine will kick off the boating season March 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a freshwater boat sale and showroom grand opening, including a ribbon-cutting at 5 p.m. The sale will continue each day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sunday, March 14, when it wraps up at 4 p.m.

A two-day Candock floating dock sale is scheduled March 26 and 27 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Think maintenance-free plastic floating blocks held together with mounting screws. Also, a saltwater boat sale will take place April 8-11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with larger boats being featured in the showroom.

“We are very excited,” Dan said. “Paul and I are working together to put on the first-ever in-water boat show,” which would coincide with the Belfast Boat Show July 9, 10 and 11.

Belfast is the perfect place to host such an outdoor event with the many opportunities to see boats from the city docks and on Front Street, he said.

For now, Dan and Katie want people to know they are open, by appointment or just by walking into their showroom — and that their boats are on display.

For additional information, visit hamlinsmarina.com or contact Kim Relick at Krelick@relick.net 930-3780.