Release Marine is a leading-edge business that designs and manufactures big-game fishing accessories as well as yacht-quality tables and furniture in Savannah, Georgia. Heading up the efforts is Sam Peters, the company’s dynamic yet introspective founder and president. Peters shares his passion for fishing, as well as the story behind Release Marine’s tremendous growth and the challenges that lie ahead.
Release Marine leads the industry, but it didn’t happen overnight.
When we first got started, I noticed that the Rybovich chair, which was developed in the 1950s and was the industry benchmark for fighting chairs, hadn’t really changed much at all. So we took one apart and analyzed every aspect and function of the chair, from the seat to the footrest to the rod holders to the stanchion. I charged my design team to make ours not just better but the best. As the Release chair evolved, so did the complementary items like helm chairs, boarding step boxes, rocket launchers and custom marine furniture.
How did you get started?
My family was in the millwork and door manufacturing business in the early 1970s, specializing in historical reproductions and other woodworking projects throughout the Savannah area. But thanks to my grandmother, who got my father and then me involved in fishing, I caught my first sailfish when I was 6 years old. We fished from small boats and eventually found ourselves building what would become the Release 26, a small custom fiberglass fishing boat with a deep-V hull. We built about 20 of them. But what we noticed was a void of offshore fighting chairs and fishing accessories for this size of boat, like Albemarle and Grady‑White, which were growing in popularity on the East Coast. We built our first specialized fighting chair in 1977.
What defines a Release Marine product?
It starts with the materials. When a customer comes to us with an order for a fighting chair, helm chairs or other accessories, our first step is to group all of the wood we need to build the various components into a single unit, so all of the pieces have perfectly matched grain and color. The wood will have similar growth rings so when they're completed, each piece will not only look beautiful but will also take on a durable, flawless finish that will endure in the marine environment. When a customer wants something special, we have 2D and 3D modeling to show him exactly what he is going to get, and we can show him as many different examples as he needs to be satisfied. It's what we do.
How long does it take to build a fighting chair?
From the time we pull the raw wood until the final assembly, it's about 30 days, with about 87 hand-hours on the chair.
Is this a one-person job from start to finish?
No. Our work is highly specialized and defined, with different departments each doing their tasks. We have a staff of 45 people. Some of our craftsmen cut the wood, assemble and build the chair; others do the finish work. Passion is important in our line of work because each piece is unique, and when you have a person who is passionate, they will do the best job every time. Some of the people in our shop have been with us for more than 20 years, and although they may never see a chair they built after it leaves Release Marine, thousands of other people will see it — at a boat show, at a tournament or along the waterfront — and admire it. That makes all of us proud.
Innovation is critical in every business. What's the drill for Release Marine?
My group fishes a lot of tournaments, and it's when we're fishing that a lot of new ideas develop. I like to watch the anglers and crews aboard these boats and observe the way they move around the cockpit. Do they flow back and forth, or do they get in each other's way? It helps us when we are designing new items like rocket launchers. We have over 115 different options for this item alone. When it was first invented, the typical rocket launcher was stubby and only held four rods. Today, they hold a bunch more and include drink holders, a storage drawer and so on. As the boats have become larger, so have the launchers, to spread out the anglers so they are not bumping into each other when working multiple kites in sailfish tournaments. It's innovations like these that help win highly competitive events. To the untrained eye, a rocket launcher looks simple, but it really is anything but.
Then there's the Release Marine Battle Saddle.
Absolutely. It's a game changer. This is our solution for small to midsize boats that can't handle the space requirements for a traditional fighting chair. It has the profile of a rocket launcher with a teak bucket seat and reel harness clips, plus eight rod holders, a bait tray and a quick-change gimbal cup. Innovation can come when you least expect it, but you always have to be prepared. One night, a couple of days before a boat show, I woke up out of a sound sleep with an idea that would eliminate the exposed deck bolts that secure the stanchion base of the fighting chair to the cockpit sole. I called one of my machinists at 6:15 the next morning, and he was able to make the base for me to take to the show. Innovation and passion, that's the story about the people at Release Marine. We are always thinking about the next best thing.
What are some of the challenges on the horizon?
Being able to adapt to change is critical. When we started building chairs, they were finished with a product called Captain's Varnish. It was good but nowhere near what we use today. We had an opportunity to do some interior work on Gulfstream aircraft, and from these jobs we learned about products like composite coatings, specialized sanding paper, and controlling drying conditions to produce superior finishes. One boat owner told me that his vessel was in the yard twice a year to get the brightwork done, but his Release chairs never needed anything. That compliment is a credit to our people.
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What are the most demanding items you build?
Cocktail tables for the salon. It sounds strange, but building a table is actually the second half of the process. First, you have to design it. Many people want a table that doesn't take up much room in the salon but can open wide for a dinner party. It's challenging because it requires a number of moving parts, yet it needs to be stable and multifunctional. And you have to include a certain amount of stowage inside, so it's definitely not like the high-low tables of the past. Perhaps just as intricate but on a totally different scale is a teak helm pod, which is formed with different pieces of teak, each with its own shape, angle, crown and roll, that is cut on our pair of CNC routers. The Battle Saddle is a three-dimensional unit made from six pieces of teak and no visible fasteners.
What's your favorite fishing tournament?
I like them all because each one is unique, with its own flavor and enthusiasm, and we always meet great people and develop terrific relationships. I enjoy fishing the International Masters Angling Tournament because it really evens out the playing field with a strict set of rules that gives a fair shake to each individual. When I am fishing the Masters, I know that once I get a bite, it's up to me as the angler.