Alison Nolan, is principal and general manager of Boston Harbor Cruises. The family business operates sightseeing and leisure cruises, whale-watching tours, speedboat excursions, commuter ferries, water taxis, and charter boats, and also rents out vessels to private companies. She recently spoke with Globe correspondent Taryn Luna. Here’s what she found out:
1Boston Harbor Cruises was founded in 1926. At age 16, Nolan’s great-grandfather Matthew J. Hughes got a job cleaning, painting, and doing other manual labor at a marina in Charlestown. His payment was occasional access to a boat called the Nelly, which he used to sail passengers around the Charles River. At the time, he was the youngest licensed captain on Boston Harbor.
“His first trip was a 30-minute cruise on the Charles,” Nolan said. “It cost 10 cents. The clientele were not tourists, but people who lived along the river in the big three-story walk-ups with no air conditioning. He got city residents out of the heat.”
2Nolan, 39, has spent most of her adult life working for the company. She’s held jobs such as deckhand, first mate, ticket seller, naturalist, and director of business development.
“I began working here at 12 in the summers. I started working with my dad and picking up trash and keeping the dock clean. I was being paid $2 an hour.”
3 After graduating from Stonehill College in 1997, Nolan decided to go into the family business full time. She became principal and general manager of Boston Harbor Cruises in 2006 and is the fourth generation of her family to run the company.
“Being in a family business, if you’re an ambitious person in particular, is a difficult decision to make. There’s a part of you that is concerned that you took an easy option. For me, I love this business. I love my family. I knew there were things I could contribute to Boston Harbor Cruises that really would be positive for the company.”
4Nolan says Boston Harbor Cruises now has the largest privately owned fleet in the country.
“It’s a sense of pride for our family to take what my great-grandfather started with one vessel to grow to a diverse 44-vessel fleet.”
5Business swelled in the last two years as the economy began to turn around and the company added more routes. Despite some high-profile setbacks — a boat was stranded at sea overnight during a whale-watch tour and got stuck on a sandbar in Lynn Harbor on another occasion — she expects 2014 to be another great year.
“In the last two years, we’ve seen about a 30 percent increase in revenues year over year. We expect this year to also show positive growth and ridership to be just under 3 million passengers.”
6Nolan has an affinity for muscle cars. She owns a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette with a big block 427 engine and a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro RS with a 350 engine. Both are fully restored.
“I like older cars and older houses. It’s fun to be a caretaker of a little piece of Americana. They have a great look and a great sound. And they’re fun to drive.”
7She loves to travel. Nolan has visited Japan, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, England, Ireland, Scotland, and France. She has upcoming trips planned to Fiji and South Africa. As much as she loves boats, she’ll be flying.
“Being in a seasonal business, you don’t really get to enjoy the summer.
I like to travel as much as possible in the offseason.”