Meet MTTI Marine Service Technician Instructor, Don Kohlman
Don taught the Marine Tech program for 10 years at MTTI—from 2005-2015. After taking a couple of years to establish his new business, Oceanus Marine Group in East Greenwich, RI, he returned to teach again during 2017. In May 2019, his son, Keith, graduated from the program; he’s been working at a marina in South County, RI. Don also employs MTTI graduates at his business.
Don offers students the perspective of 32 years in the industry.
“After completing a year’s training in diesel mechanics during 1986, my first job was working on boats instead of trucks and rigs. I learned from three mechanics—one was really good in outboards, another in stern drives and the third in shaft work. Since 1987 I have worked as a Marine Technician and a Marine Service Manager, including owning my own business.“
He brings the mechanics together with the business side of the boating industry.
“Knowing what customers want, and how to deal with the people and the process protects you from liability in the repair industry; it also prepares you to give the kind of customer service that builds a business. Whether working for ourselves or for an employer, we’re charging money to work on boats. It’s important to know how to fix things properly the first time, in a timely manner—without having the boat coming back with complaints from the owner.”
MTTI’s program is designed to build a solid mechanical foundation—step by step.
“If you’ve been tinkering with cars or working on boats on your own, we’ll help you fine tune and adapt your skills for the marine industry. If you’ve never worked on boats, you can be successful if you are motivated to learn, willing to work hard and to get your hands dirty. Class members may start at different places, but by the program’s end, all arrive at the same place.”
The program takes you through the seasonal cycles in preparation for working at marinas.
“At the end of the boating season, marinas decommission boats—getting them ready to be ‘put to bed’. Boats are made safe and secure so they don’t suffer damage during the winter. In spring, marinas commission boats--taking them from the winterized state and getting everything up and running. All systems are made fully operational, including the engine, fresh water system, A/C and the waste system.”
“We teach a systematic approach on how to troubleshoot problems.”
“It’s easier when you understand how things work. We talk about boats and engines every day—all day long. Everyone gets the lingo—the nautical terms and even boating slang. Theory, plus daily hands-on practice in the shop, builds your competence, so you can confidently enter the workforce. It all comes together at the end—especially when, during internship, you gain experience at an actual worksite. Internship can also give you a foot in the door at potential employment sites.”
“We’re excited this year to be adding new software related to Yamaha.”
“We’ve also added additional outboard motors to use with the software, so you can see how the computer diagnoses outboard issues. To make sense of what the computer is telling you, first you need to know how an engine runs—and how to make it run. We continuously build up your knowledge and understanding of engines throughout the program.”
“Marine is a fun industry to work in.”
“You meet new people every year—and get to be outside during the summer. Working on boats, you are doing something you enjoy. It is always rewarding to be doing something you know how to do well. The money is good, too—and it pays the bills. With experience, as you do the work faster and with less come-backs, you’ll increase your value to employers. Good marinas will provide opportunities for you to earn additional certifications by attending manufacturer’s trainings— and you’ll earn increases in pay.”
“I enjoy teaching people how to diagnose and repair boats.”
“There has always been a shortage of well-trained marine techs in the industry. I like to see people learn the trade; I feel gratified that I can train people who want to be in this industry. Seeing graduates grow good careers, and helping build the boating industry workforce, gives me a sense of accomplishment.”
“Working on boats is challenging—in a good way.”
“If you like problem solving and making things work, you’ll enjoy the challenge of fixing broken boats. When you fix something that others weren’t able to repair, it’s a really good feeling.”
"Don is a really good instructor. He doesn’t talk ‘at’ you; he helps you understand the information—not just learn it on paper. Don showed us how to do something, and then we would physically get to do it. It’s not even a question of whether you should enroll in MTTI’s program—just do it. Seven months could change your life forever!"
Cody Field, 2019 Graduate
Mechanical Department Technician at Safe Harbor New England Boatworks
Top Left: Don in MTTI’s shop with students
Top Right: Don and his son, at Keith’s graduation from the program, courtesy of John Wawrzonek
Bottom: Don with 2018 MTTI graduate and Oceanus Marine Group employee, Andrew Damm