It’s often the case that good business opportunities follow the least-glamorous products – and so it was with Ocean Link and marine toilets.
The company’s husband-and-wife founders, Terri and Andy Cortvriend, met in the much more glamorous world of tropical yacht charters, where they worked on vessels traveling from Florida to the Caribbean.
But eventually their travels took them north to Rhode Island, where they worked for Little Harbor Yacht Brokers in Portsmouth, and eventually settled down.
Looking to start their own business, the couple realized they needed a specialty within the marine trades and a specific product to feature at boat shows.
Although Rhode Island has never been short of boat-building and marine businesses, in the 1980s few companies had decided to focus on the emerging area of marine plumbing and toilets, which gave Ocean Link an opportunity.
“We realized we were getting more calls for toilets than anything else,” Terri Cortvriend said. “No one was really doing toilets at the time.”
By 1990, Ocean Link had found its niche and, fortuitously, it was one about to grow through the next decade as new clean-water regulations hit the boating industry and elevated the importance of marine plumbing.
Traditionally, even as sanitation rules on land became more stringent, recreational boaters had relative freedom to discharge waste in coastal waters.
But starting with the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 and increasing throughout the next two decades, rules prohibiting sewage discharges tightened. In 1998 Rhode Island made it illegal to release sewage in the ocean within three miles of shore.
Ocean Link expanded from toilets into holding tanks, as they became mandatory for vessels with sanitation systems.
“We were in the right place at the right time,” Cortvriend said.
In addition to changing boaters’ habits, the new rules added new importance to vessel plumbing systems, especially the holding tanks that keep sewage out of the water until a boat gets to a pumping station.
Cortvriend said in the early days, even well-appointed vessels that had holding tanks often wouldn’t use them because the systems were difficult to operate, would often back up or smell.