A company that offers pedal boat rides in the Washington, D.C. area has set a new course for Richmond.
Sea Suite Cruises launched a new outpost based at Rocketts Landing on Memorial Day.
Founders Jack Maher and Jack Walten said the move came after a handful of VCU graduates who had tried the company’s cruises in D.C. approached the owners with the idea of extending the practice to the James River.
With a bring-your-own-beverage policy onboard and options to organize party events on the 20-person vessels, Maher says bookings for the summer have been filling up fast in Richmond.
“I expected Richmond to be a great market,” Maher said. “But I definitely didn’t expect for it to take off this quickly.”
To establish themselves in Richmond, Maher and Walten decided on Rocketts Landing, appreciating how near it is to the city’s downtown. A northbound boat launch gives passengers a picturesque view of the city skyline, balanced out by natural surroundings on the route back.
They began the process in the fall and spent several months collaborating with Rocketts Landing developer WVS Cos. Beyond leasing a space at the marina, Maher said expanding into a new city also required boat and drinking permits. Maher would not say how much the company spent to launch in Richmond.
“Financial pressures this time around weren’t as extreme, as we knew what we were getting ourselves into,” Maher said, referencing the founding of the company.
In 2018, Sea Suite Cruises began as a semi-gamble, an idea the two founders came up with during a night out. Inspired by land-based trolleys, Maher and Walten wanted to bring an aquatic version to the Potomac River. What resulted was their first boat purchase from the Oregon-based manufacturer Sculpin Marine and a cross country road trip to retrieve the vessel.
The initial funding came from a capital raise through friends and family and the emptying of both Maher and Walten’s bank accounts. Originally operating as a side gig, the pandemic kept the business inoperable from April to June of 2020 and gave the founders grounds for concern.
“We were 25, 26 at that time, so it’s not that we had huge bank accounts to fall back on,” Maher said: “It was just kind of scraping by.”
However, the pandemic eventually helped boost the popularity of pedal boating, a sport that was outdoors and could be organized around private groups, without the fear of transmission.
Sea Suite Cruises more formally came to fruition in D.C. in 2021. The company employs 30 people in the D.C. area, while 10 people work at the Richmond branch, including a captain, deck hand and management.
Sea Suite now owns five boats, with one sailing the James River. Dependent on what’s added to the boat, Maher estimates the average cost of one of the vessels at $160,000. Included in the company’s D.C. fleet is a relatively new investment, the tiki club cruise, which builds more upon a party-themed experience.
Still, most of the revenue comes from its pedal boat offerings. In Richmond, up to 20 customers pay for a 90-minute ride — $45 on weekdays and $55 on weekends — and spend the time pedaling while drinking.
Sea Suite continues to operate well into October, beginning its season in April. When it comes to long-term goals for the company, Maher declined to comment on details. But he cited interest in different boat types, experiences and markets with an eagerness to explore the uncharted seas ahead.