New era for jet boat makers
KeelowCraft, a Gore-based company with a well-established international reputation, achieved a milestone with the completion of its 200th recreational jet boat in October.
For more than 25 years, KeelowCraft has been manufacturing recreational, racing and commercial jet boats, as well as custom-built jet boats for adventure tourism operators in New Zealand and throughout the world.
The company was bought on April 1 this year by Gore couple Paul and Sarah Cross from long-term owners Dwayne and Gillian Terry.
It seems there was an element of predestination in the transaction. Previously a self-employed motorcycle mechanic, Paul has been jet-boating for more than 25 years.
His marathon racing success includes earning first place in the 2013 World Jet Boat Marathon CX Class.
“I’ve been racing for the last four years, so I got to know Dwayne through the racing side of things. I actually worked here at KeelowCraft back in 2008 before venturing out with my own business,” Paul says.
While the Crosses didn’t hesitate to accept the Terrys’ offer to buy the business, its success and reputation was crucial in their decision.
“I’m passionate about jet-boating and we knew the product. We’ve owned a couple of KeelowCraft ourselves, so we grabbed it with both hands. I’ve seen a lot of jet boats over the years and it was the quality of the build that also attracted us. The boat builders pride themselves on the quality of the finish.”
Paul has had to adjust from working as a sole owner-operator to running and managing a highly successful business which employs seven staff and liaises with international clients.
It has been a huge learning curve but well managed, with Dwayne overseeing the transition for about four months.
It has also been a tremendous asset to have highly skilled staff and good systems in place, such as lean manufacturing processes.
Paul was surprised to learn how many boats manufactured by KeelowCraft are sold to international clients.
“I wasn’t aware of how much was going offshore; the commercial and the domestic market offshore is quite incredible.”
KeelowCraft’s strong links with internationally known New Zealand operators such as Shotover Jet and Dart River Safaris – it replaces and maintains their fleets – have created considerable credibility.
A 6.2-metre, 13-seater tourist boat was recently completed for Shotover Jet. Two more will be built for it next year.
Coupled with the reach of KeelowCraft’s website to potential clients anywhere in the world, relationships like these have been instrumental in developing the business globally.
Coincidentally, the 200th recreational jet boat built by KeelowCraft, a Riverwild 480, was manufactured for an Australian businessman, a first time jet-boater living in Thailand.
Because of problems with the quality of petrol in Thailand, in a first for KeelowCraft the boat was fitted with a diesel marine unit, a 270-horsepower Hyundai SeaSall turbocharged V6.
Paul was impressed with its performance and power-to-weight ratio, similar to the popular 330hp Chevrolet petrol-powered V8 motor, but the diesel motor consumed only about 13 litres an hour compared with 25 litres an hour for the Chevrolet.
For first-time jet-boaters, KeelowCraft offers orientation and basic training to make sure they can competently handle and operate a purchase that can open up a whole new world of recreation.
Paul even travelled to Thailand recently to settle the Riverwild 480’s new owner into his KeelowCraft, and to ensure everything was running smoothly.