Waves of dreams: Sean Barnes reflects on continued success

March 1, 2023

Custom built dock at the Wando Marina in Mt. Pleasant by Docks Unlimited. (Photo courtesy of Docks Unlimited)

By: Matthew Goins

Calm winds. Waves rippling against the boat. A gorgeous sunset. Just another peaceful evening in Isle of Palms.

Being on the water was a paradise for Sean Barns, the only child of a single mother. He and his mother rented in Isle of Palms, where she worked three jobs to ensure he could experience a better life. For Sean, time on the water was a dreamland. A place of refuge. A place where his mind could run wild.

“To go out on the water on a boat or go fishing was a dream come true,” said Barnes. “There’s no place I’d rather be than on the water.”

The water is where Barnes found his peace, passion, and purpose.

A love for boating and a mind full of innovative ideas was the formula for Barnes’ success.  In 1990, Barnes launched Docks Unlimited and hasn’t looked back since.

Docks Unlimited specializes in custom design and construction for water-dependent structures such as marinas, community docks, residential floating docks, fixed piers, bulkheads, walkways, gangways, and footbridges.

As Barnes spent more time on the water building these structures, he knew there was a more efficient method which led him to launch Sea Power Marine Products in 2006.

“I’ve always enjoyed inventing or trying to do something better,” said Barnes. “I’ve been doing this the whole time I’ve been in business.”

Barnes remembers the night the idea sparked his mind and led to the launch of Sea Power.

Alongside engineer Mike Kirby, Barnes designed a boat lift for larger boats. One that can sink for easy access and has a closed system for safety to allow boaters to work on their vessel where it sat.

“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” said Barnes. “I was in my shop at 2 a.m. looking at this big boat lift we were building for high density, and it hit me.”

Since the launch, Barnes and Kirby have developed numerous patents, with much more pending. They have also created new concept designs for the marine industry, such as high-density polyethylene marine products for floating boatlifts, pile attachments, mooring stabilizing systems, and complete dock systems.

“We try to ensure quality,” said Barnes. “Everything we build, whether it’s an aluminum frame floating dock or an entire dock system, is built in our shop so we can oversee the quality that goes into it.”

Despite his continued success, Barnes has yet to forget his roots. He remembers the impact the water and his mother had on his life. Barnes and his team partner with the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology in Florence, South Carolina, to train young people for jobs within the marine industry.

“Our mission is to help teach our next generation a trade,” said Barnes. “We want to teach all trades in the marine industry, with basic economics and basic principles on how to run a company.”

As one who experienced the struggles of growing up without a father, it was the impact of boating and fishing with his cousins at a young age that changed Barnes’ life, which is why he urges boaters and anglers to invest in young people.

“There are a lot of young kids who are very interested in learning how to fish,” said Barnes. “You get them on the water, and it will change their lives.”

Barnes has experienced the impact of South Carolina waters on a professional level and personal level. He believes it’s what keeps bringing people to the state.

“People are not moving here to go snow skiing,” said Barnes. “It’s the water anywhere in South Carolina that brings everybody here.”

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