Industry mourns journalist Chris Kelly

Capt. Christopher Kelly, an award-winning multimedia producer and publisher, magazine editor and co-founder of BoatTest.com, died July 5
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Capt. Christopher Kelly, an award-winning multimedia producer and publisher, magazine editor and co-founder of BoatTest.com, died July 5 of lung cancer in Norwalk, Conn. He was 57.

Born May 1, 1959, to Michael and Barbara Kelly, he spent most of his childhood in Rye, N.Y., where his passion for boating was nurtured at the Durland Scout Center. He left Rye to attend Allegheny College, earning a bachelor’s degree. As an undergrad, he also studied marine biology at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s West Indies Lab for Underwater Research in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Soon after, he founded his first company, American Marine Training, which offered courses for recreational boaters pursuing a Coast Guard captain’s license. He sold the business in 1990 to join the editorial staff of Power & Motoryacht magazine, where he became executive editor.

“Chris and I worked together at PMY back in the ’90s,” says PMY editor-at-large Richard Thiel. “He was my executive editor, but really he was the guy who made sure everyone was enjoying themselves. He was our unofficial morale officer, and everybody loved him for it. It also happened that he knew an awful lot about boats and electronics. When he moved on, he left a hole we never quite managed to fill.”

He left magazine publishing in 1999 to create BoatTest.com, one of the first video-based boating websites. His work at BoatTest earned him an Innovation Award from the National Marine Manufacturers Association in 2005.

In the years afterward, his knowledge of the digital space landed him positions at major publishing companies, including Bonnier and Active Interest Media, where he served as vice president/digital for AIM’s Marine Group.

“Chris was a great guy and a great boatman,” says Bill Sisson, editor-in-chief of Soundings Trade Only, an AIM publication. “He was as adept at the helm as he was with a video camera. He was a kind, talented man who made a lot of friends in the industry. We’ll miss him.”

“A real loss for the marine industry,” says Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Sabre Yachts and Back Cove Yachts. “Chris was a leader and an innovator, always looking for the next medium to get the word out about new designs and new concepts. In this case the tragedy runs even deeper in my heart, as his dear wife, Jeanne, is also a close friend and another member of the marine press corps. A very sad day for all of us.”

At the time of his death, Kelly was the founder and managing director of VehiclesTest.com, a video-based site for car shoppers. In his spare time he taught seamanship in Norwalk.

Glenn Hughes, industry relations vice president for the American Sportfishing Association, called the news of Kelly’s death “terribly sad.”

“He started and ran BoatTest.com and sold to Jeff Hammond but still worked with him for several years before we hired him at Bonnier to run our digital program, and eventually UsedBoats.com,” Hughes recalls.

Kelly’s wife, Jeanne Craig, was working as an editor at MotorBoating magazine, another Bonnier publication, Hughes says. After that, Kelly departed to go out on his own, eventually founding VehiclesTest.com.

Kelly was “always a creative guy and looking for a new angle on how to leverage the Web,” Hughes says. “I learned a lot from him and will miss him.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue.

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