LeeWay for Change: A marine company scales up during COVID
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
2020 was a memorable year for LeeWay Marine – and not in the way we’ve come to expect. Despite the business challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Halifax-based marine services company successfully entered a new market, and, as a result, had its biggest year yet.
Created in 2015 by former Royal Canadian Navy members, LeeWay Marine got its start as a ship charter business supporting ocean technology development in Nova Scotia with its large research vessel, LeeWay Odyssey. Over time in market, LeeWay recognized additional opportunities for growth.
“In late 2017, we noticed there was a need in the market for faster, more agile and more autonomous vessels to service what was quickly becoming our key target market: hydrographic survey,” says Greg Veinott, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Marketing.
Following this observation, LeeWay Marine expanded its fleet in 2018, acquiring the LeeWay Striker, a smaller, faster vessel that operates more efficiently. They now offer a range of marine services including hydrographic and geophysical survey, ocean technology testing and research, and naval support training, and have another vessel coming into the fleet in the next few weeks to support growing demand.
What is a hydrographic survey?
It is the practice of seabed mapping and survey, measuring the physical features of bodies of water to support a variety of activities, including offshore resource development.
Photo credit: Evermaven/Oceana Canada 2019
While they continuously adapted to position themselves for growth, LeeWay Marine experienced a few disappointments leading up to their banner year.
“We had a bit of a softer year in 2019, which caused us to reflect on the business and make some hard decisions,” says Veinott.
However, he says the reflection the business underwent in the fall of 2019 helped to prepare them for the reality of COVID-19.
“We had already gone through the same process that everybody then was going through in March, trying to figure out where do we find efficiencies in the business. We’d done it, we were ready to go.”
When March 2020 arrived and the world was panicking, the LeeWay Marine team was strategizing. Through ongoing business development initiatives, they landed important contracts with EGS International, a leading survey company working with offshore energy developers in the US.
LeeWay Striker and LeeWay Odyssey went to work on what were supposed to be six and eight week contracts. Very quickly, the contract timelines grew to six and eight months.
Photo credit: Oceana Canada 2019
“2020 was a very successful year for LeeWay Marine as we penetrated a key new market with US offshore wind. Over the past few years, our team has been focused on developing capabilities that provide efficiency to our clients and it was exciting to see that hard work pay off. LeeWay Striker, in particular, has been a key driver of our success and the exceptional design of that vessel has brought tangible value to our export clients. We continue to push our offerings in the US and expect to see that market become an even more sizeable portion of our business this year”
— Jamie Sangster, CEO, LeeWay Marine
“Both assets proved to be pretty efficient on survey, so there was a bunch of work that was scoped out and pushed our way because we were able to get it done more efficiently,” says Veinott.
“In the middle of COVID, having obviously one of the best years we’ve had as a company, was pretty exciting.”
Veinott is quick to reinforce the success was achieved through exporting. “It put us in a market we’d been targeting for a couple years,” he says. “We got our foot in the door. Now the end client knows who we are.”
“As a trusted partner of our organization, LeeWay Marine has pioneered the development and integration of new technologies for geophysical surveys that are safer, more efficient, and technically superior to current methods. LeeWay's acute focus on furthering capabilities and proficiency in the autonomous operations space is of particular interest to EGS.
In 2020 EGS and LeeWay worked together to successfully complete large-scale geophysical surveys for the US offshore wind market. We are now preparing and re-tooling for offshore additional wind farm work in 2021. LeeWay's commitment to technological advancement and increased operational efficiency has helped to create a stronger and more competitive provision of service to our global energy clients.”
— Eric Roach, President, EGS Americas Inc.
Veinott says one aspect that helped LeeWay Marine was participating in Nova Scotia Business Inc.’s programming. “NSBI programming has been key for us,” he says. “We’ve seen really good value in not only the Scale-up Hub, but also in a couple of other programs, like the Export Growth Program.”
"The Scale-up Hub Cambridge Program helped us meet with key groups in the US northeast, including regulatory bodies and other players in the industry. It also allowed us to attend conferences, one being the US Offshore Wind conference where we made important connections.”
While the programs are helpful, Veinott says at the end of the day it’s the people at NSBI that make the difference.
“It’s the person pushing you and prodding you to say, ‘You should go talk to these people because of X,’” he says. “That expertise and nudging is good for companies that may not have gone through that process before.”
The Long Haul
Building on the success of their 2020 season, LeeWay Marine has won two large US-based contracts and is on track for another full season supporting offshore wind development in 2021. Looking ahead, Veinott says he continues to see a lot of opportunity along the US seaboard.
"The export piece is going to continue to be pretty important for us."
Photo credit: Evermaven/Oceana Canada 2019
The LeeWay Marine team is also excited about the new vessel that’s coming on board: a sophisticated SWATH (Small-Waterplane-Area Twin Hull) vessel.
“From a technical perspective, it allows us to move into a position of adapting new technologies for our vessels,” says Veinott.
And adapting continues to be key to LeeWay Marine’s business philosophy.
“As a company we’ve been adaptive, we’re not trying to be reactive to the market. We’re trying to be proactive and position ourselves to take advantage of opportunities, not see them and ask how we can change ourselves to get to it,” Veinott says.
“This is a year for us to set the stage for how we’re going to grow the business over the next five years.”
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