For one New York media pro, a nice living and an enviable life on the water
On a brilliant May morning when it was first starting to feel like summer, Bjoern Kils took his Willard Marine Sea Force 7-meter Standard out on the Hudson. “Turning out of here is strategic,” he said, slowly maneuvering the former military boat from the marina where he docks in Jersey City. “We can be in the East River in 10 minutes. We can be on the Atlantic in about 20.”
Kils juiced the throttle to 25 knots—enough to take the hat off your head—carefully cutting the wake of a passing ferry. A few minutes later we were on the other side. “This is sort of my base in Manhattan,” he said, idling in the harbor of Pier 25, just north of the World Financial Center. “I usually pick up CNN here. Lots of photographers.”
Kils is the captain of New York Media Boat, which is exactly what it sounds like: A boat that schleps reporters, photojournalists and cameramen up and down the local waterways. At $250 an hour (the rate goes up after dark), it’s a novel service for a metropolis with limited aquatic transportation. Kils, a stocky 34-year-old with dirty-blonde hair and a distinct German accent, subsidizes the operation with thrice-daily “Adventure Sightseeing Tours” for $80 a head.
Business has been good lately. Kils said that in recent weeks, Golf Channel put cameras on deck to capture footage of Rudy Giuliani aboard the Liberty National Golf Club shuttle boat; “Celebrity Apprentice” commissioned Kils to trail a Circle Line ship that the reality show was filming on; and a correspondent for the Norweigan newspaper Adresseavisen retained Kils’ services for an assignment covering several countrymen who were embarking on a trans-Atlantic voyage with their own vessel, a 37-foot Baltic Cruiser called the Vaerbitt.
Kils has helped the MSG channel film New York Ranger Henrik Lundqvist sailing the Hudson on a 43-foot yacht. He’s taken commercial assignments for a Maserati-sponsored racing yacht and the fashion house Hugo Boss. He’s been the go-to guy for international press covering annual sailboat races. He’s hosted reporters from The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg for a press event touting a solar-powered ship; shuttled CNN to the site of the great JFK jet-ski security breach of 2012; and taken the “Chasing New Jersey” team on a tour of the Garden State’s ravaged coastline in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. “The boat really is ideal for photography,” he said.
I didn’t have any luck speaking with journalists who’ve boarded. (CNN wouldn’t let the relevant producer get on the phone; “Chasing New Jersey’s” news director said he’d get back to me but never returned my calls; and so on.) But for what it’s worth, the sightseeing tours get rave reviews online. “I cannot recommend this trip highly enough,” one recent satisfied customer wrote on TripAdvisor, where Kils has a five-star rating. “Bjoern’s knowledge of the area, coupled with the fantastic photo opportunities, made this the highlight of our stay.”
Kils grew up in Flensburg, Germany, a nautical town on the border of Denmark where his parents, a teacher and a marine biologist, taught him how to sail at the age of six. He moved to New Jersey in 1994 after Rutgers recruited his father to work at the university’s marine station near Atlantic City. He studied journalism and marine science, landing a job with News 12 New Jersey straight out of school. He later ran the video department for MedPage Today, a medical news service where he met his girlfriend, Kristina Fiore. (Kils ferries Fiore to her office in Lower Manhattan.)
In 2010, Kils, who is a photographer and videographer, started New York Media Boat on the side, using a 4-meter Avon Searider his family had brought over from Germany. In 2012 he bought the Sea Force, a former Navy boat that came off a guided missile destroyer in the Pacific, and decided to make a go of it full-time. The boat is fully equipped with radios, radar, an AIS System, the works. At 6,000 pounds, he said, it can withstand 50-foot seas and 70 knots of wind, with room for 18 passengers (although his Coast Guard captain’s license limits him to six paying passengers at a time.) “This is probably one of the most seaworthy boats in the harbor,” he said, tapping on the air chamber as we cruised past Midtown.
An hour later, Kils was back at the beachy two-bedroom he shares with Fiore at Port Liberte, a private community in southeast Jersey City on the edge of Upper New York Bay. There was an antique whale harpoon in one corner and a rustic dining table made of recycled shipping pallets. Kils was sitting there musing on his plans for New York Media Boat’s future. He’s looking into getting another boat and hiring a second captain to handle the tours so he can focus on expanding the media side of the business. If a ferry had crashed at that very moment, he could have been out on the water in about 15 minutes.
Indeed, there were two ferries floating by in the distance, visible through the living room and kitchen windows, which were all open, letting in a lazy bay breeze. It was Monday, and Kils had taken the day off because, well, he can. When I suggested it seems like he’s living the dream, Kils’ face lit up. “This is pretty fantastic,” he said.
This article appeared in the June edition of Capital magazine.