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, Kelly 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 of Science 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.
The company became the third-largest captain's course exam prep class in the country.
He sold the business in 1990 to join the editorial staff of Power & Motoryacht magazine, where he became executive editor. His love for and knowledge of seamanship enabled him to write and produce stories that helped turn the magazine into a major player in its category.
“Chris and I worked together at PMY back in the 90s,” PMY editor-at-large Richard Thiel told Trade Only Today. “He was my executive editor but really he was they 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.com earned him the Innovation Award from the National Marine Manufacturer's Association in 2005 for outstanding contribution to the boating industry.
In the years following, his knowledge of the digital space landed him positions at major publishing companies, including Bonnier and Active Interest Media, serving as vice president/digital for AIM’s Marine Group.
"A real loss for the marine industry," said Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Sabre 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, he was 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.”
“I worked with Chris twice, first while at PMY back in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Hughes told Trade Only Today. “He was the electronics editor and even captained my boat from Long Island’s south shore up through Hell’s Gate to its home in Norwalk, Conn., back in 1990.
“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 recalled.
Kelly’s wife, Jeanne Craig, was working as an editor at MotorBoating magazine, another Bonnier publication, Hughes said.
After that, Kelly departed to go out on his own, eventually founding VehiclesTest.com.
When he lived in Heathrow, Fla., the two would run into each other at the kids’ soccer fields, Hughes said.
Kelly was “always a creative guy and looking for a new angle on how to leverage the Web,” Hughes said. “I learned a lot from him and will miss him.”
Kelly, whose hobbies included scuba diving and flying private planes, relished the opportunity to see and explore new places, according to his obituary. He navigated waters around the world while traveling for business and pleasure.
He was also active in his hometown of Rowayton, Conn. He was a Webelos leader for the local Boy Scouts and coached Rowayton Little League.
He had said that one of his most cherished accomplishments was the privilege to coach the Rowayton Majors Softball Team, which won the Fall Ball Year End Tournament in 2015.
Kelly is survived by Craig, his wife of 18 years, and their children, Kyle and Lauren Kelly, all of Rowayton.
A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at St. John Church in Darien, Conn.