Best Sport Fishing Boats

We talked to 30 custom sport fishing boat manufacturers to help you choose your next masterpiece.
Top Sport Fishing Boats
30 top boatbuilders Ray Matthews

Who doesn’t like to look at sleek, gorgeous sport fishing boats? Even those who’ll never have the means to purchase one or ever feel the need to venture offshore in pursuit of blue-water species love to stop and ogle the big pretty sport-fisher at the end of the dock. Gleaming bright work, rich teak and lines that seem to stretch on for days captivate anyone with a touch of saltwater in their veins.

But sport fishing boats haven’t always looked the way they do today. In the not-so-distant past (our sport is barely more than 70 years old), sport-fishers were more or less working boats, and they looked like it. The need to go farther and faster in pursuit of bigger fish or more productive waters slowly pushed builders to the edge of the technological capabilities of the time. Any changes that came about were rooted in competition — one guy wanted to go farther faster and catch more fish than the other guy.

While that may sound simple, it takes a special character to start experimenting with a sport fishing yacht that might cost several times one’s annual salary, with no real way of knowing if something is going to work until it splashes in the water. Of course, sport fishing boat manufacturers now can use computer-aided design software to make models and run simulations that take a lot of the guesswork out of the process, but boatbuilding is still a fine art, which makes each and every builder an artist.


So here’s a glimpse into what makes 30 of the top boatbuilding artists in our industry tick and how they go about creating one masterpiece after another.

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Albemarle Sportfishing Boats Edenton, North Carolina
Courtesy Albemarle Sportfishing Boats

The entire coastline of North Carolina enjoys a long fishing tradition, so it’s no wonder that the state has spawned an enormous number of boatbuilders. Albemarle Sportfishing Boats started building boats in 1978 after Scott Harrell, a Ford tractor dealer, started vacationing and fishing in Hatteras Village, North Carolina. He eventually started selling boats as well, but even so, he wasn’t satisfied with what was available on the market at that time. The rough waters tore apart most of the trailer boats that Harrell sold and fished on, so he decided that he wanted to build a boat that would take a beating and still provide a dry, comfortable ride.

Burch Perry, Albemarle’s general manager and Harrell’s grandson, says that while the company may have left trailer boats behind, they still build boats that are meant to last.


“We are on our 35th year, and we are still a pretty traditional builder when it comes to the construction techniques we use on our boats,” Perry says. “The materials have got a lot better and much stronger. We still build our boats to fish comfortably and to last a long time. In fact, a lot of times we find ourselves trying to sell a new Albemarle to someone and competing with one of our boats that we built years ago.”

Although Albemarle builds boats from 24 to 41 feet, in recent years the company has focused on boats in the upper end of its range — vessels from 36 to 41 feet. “Even though the outboards have gotten bigger and more economical, we felt it would be better for us to build more of our larger boats,” Perry says. “We like the diesel inboard power because we believe it provides the best fishing platform since you don’t have to fish around an outboard. We think the pod drives are really cool, but they are bit cost prohibitive in our size range. We will build you a boat with pods if you prefer them, but we think that we will continue to see a big demand for shaft-driven inboards.”

New owner Scott McLaughlin purchased the company from Brunswick several years ago after admiring the brand for years. “He definitely wants to continue the brand’s legacy and see it carry on,” Perry says. “And his ownership allows us to do just that.”

Top Sport Fishing Boats
American Custom Yachts Stuart, Florida
Courtesy American Custom Yachts

Since 1992, when Dominick LaCombe teamed up with the Chouest family to create American Custom Yachts Inc., the company has focused on building boats that can really scoot. The first ACY that Marlin reviewed back in 1994 topped out at 50 mph — incredibly fast by even today’s standards. Today, the company is still going strong, building super-fast boats built to match the specific needs of each customer.

“It’s extremely important to get to know your customers and find out exactly how they plan on using their boats,” LaCombe says. “It’s good to know how they are going to be traveling and what kind of accommodations will be needed for crew and guests. Some customers might come in here and say that they want a 60-footer that they can travel the world in. I might have to tell them that if they made the boat a bit bigger, that they would have better range, more overall efficiency and room to carry spare parts. With our extensive fishing experience, we can give an owner a list of pros and cons concerning all aspects of the boat, and between us, we can usually come up with the best scenario that matches how they want to use it,” LaCombe says. “Every bit of input we can get from the mates, captains, etc., helps us match up the right boat to fit the owner’s needs.”

LaCombe says his customers usually have a pretty extensive knowledge of boatbuilding, so it makes his job a little easier. “You get to really know these people after seeing them around at the boat shows and tournaments. We never build the same boat twice, so we listen to our customers’ ideas and incorporate them whenever possible. From the first time I meet a potential customer, sometimes a year goes by before we sit down and sign a contract. And it should take that long. The customer should check out everybody and look at all the options out there. I prefer a well-educated customer.”

Top Sport Fishing Boats
BB Boats Inc. Manteo, North Carolina
Courtesy BB Boats Inc.

Most of the boats featured in these pages, while exceptional sport-fishers, were never built to be full-time, working charter boats. Private owners who travel extensively to fish in remote areas have a totally different set of needs than the average charter-boat captain who’s more concerned about staying efficient and being able to fish hard in any kind of weather. Capt. Buddy “BC” Cannady, one of the B’s in BB Boats Inc. (the other being Billy Maxwell) has built more than 132 boats, and some of them have been chartering for a long time. Tuna Duck, Cannady’s oldest boat and one that has been chartering for 35 years, does 150 trips a year or more with Capt. Dan Rokes at the helm. Another BB boat Trophy Hunter was in second place at the Pirates Cove Big Game Tournament at the time this article was being written.

Maxwell met Cannady during the winter in 1989, when Maxwell was repairing a torn-up boat. “After I finished the boat, he asked me to come to work for him during the winter of 1990 because I had worked so hard on that first boat,” Maxwell says. “We became partners in 1999 and built my brother-in-law David Graham the Easy Rider.”

While Cannady has 36 boats at more than 50 feet under his belt, 23 of those were built under the BB partnership with Maxwell.

“The cool thing about working with Buddy is that it’s always been a wintertime project, providing four or five months of work for the working captains and mates that have to quit fishing,” Maxwell says. “Everybody who works in our shop is either a captain, mate or involved in the commercial fishing industry. All of our guys know how to fish and where to put things. They are all experienced watermen … Buddy is a legend. It’s been a pleasure to work with him.”

And both men take pride in the fact that they work on the boats as well. “We have our hands on everything — and that’s the way we like it,” Maxwell says. “Our first priorities are economy, safety and ease of use. We want you to be able to make it back safely, hose the boat off and go again the next day.” As an added bonus, a BB can hit 30 knots while burning just 60 gph — you can’t beat that.

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Bertram Yacht Merritt Island, Florida
Courtesy Bertram Yacht

Bertram Yacht got its start in 1960, when Richard Bertram began racing and winning on an experimental hull called Moppie. That hull went on to anchor one of the most successful sport-fishing models of all time, the legendary 31 Bertram. The company went on to build just fewer than 13,000 boats in its 53-year history, expanding the line and making more history with iconic fishing hulls like the 54 and 60 Bertram.

“We build saltwater sport-fishing boats,” President Alton Herndon says. “And that means we focus on the fishability, ride, speed and comfort on every boat that leaves this facility. Our customers go to sea often enough that they are sometimes going to get caught in rough sea conditions; we build boats that will bring them home.”

Bertram Yacht recently relocated from the Miami area north to Merritt Island, Florida. “It’s been a very good move for us,” Herndon says. “We had outgrown the Miami facility in terms of the size of the boats we could build and launch there. We had to lift our 80-footers over the buildings on a crane to launch them into the canal, so it just didn’t make any sense to stay down there.”

Bertram also benefited from the huge number of skilled boat builders in the Merritt Island area, and Herndon says that they have on file more than 2,000 applications without advertising. “We’ve got a wonderful team here, and the folks we’ve hired were selected from this large group of applicants. It’s really a wonderful area.”

But that’s not to say that everyone is new. Herndon says that quite a few employees made the move to Merritt Island and that the total Bertram team averages 15 years of experience per employee in the boatbuilding business.“They know their jobs, and they know them well, and the quality of the product reflects that. I’m very proud of our team,” he says.

“The other side of being a successful boatbuilder is to take care of your customer after the sale. And that’s actually the most enjoyable part — spending time on the water with them and getting to the know them. We design and build our boats for their intended use, so who better to learn from than our customer?”

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Bayliss Boatworks Wanchese, North Carolina
Courtesy Bayliss Boatworks

John Bayliss made a pretty big splash in the sport-fishing world in 2002 when he opened up his shop in Wanchese, North Carolina. Like so many builders before him, Bayliss started his career as a fisherman before moving on to boatbuilding. One of his early side trips, a stint as the factory captain at Hatteras Yachts, opened his eyes to a whole different world of boatbuilding and gave him a bunch of good ideas that he would one day incorporate into his own line of gorgeous sport-fishers.

“Boatbuilding is a lot like an arms race,” Bayliss says. “You build a boat with all these good ideas in it, and someone sees those features and says those are great, but how about this, this and this? So then you incorporate those ideas, and it just keeps growing from there. The owners who are really into fishing, like we are, come up with excellent ideas. So it’s a never-ending cycle to make the next boat better than the last one.”

Bayliss says that a passion for the sport and building boats is one of the main reasons behind his success.

“My employees are as passionate about fishing and boatbuilding as I am,” he says. “They might be out with their wife at dinner, but you can be sure that they are thinking about a fix for a little problem on the boat they are working on. Our guys take that level of commitment and creativity to the next level. Creativity fosters more creativity. If the people you surround yourself with share the same passion, then you are going to be successful — and that goes for fishing, football, just about anything,” he says.

“We are extremely committed and will stop at nothing to make sure that we will build the very best sport-fishing boat that we can build. I’m very competitive with myself, and my people are right there with me. If we make a mistake or see something that we need to make better, then we will make it right. We are way more particular than even our owners,” Bayliss says. “Boatbuilding is, in a lot of ways, just like fishing -— you’re not going to make a ton of money doing it, but it sure is a pretty dang cool way to make a living. Between fishing and boatbuilding, I don’t feel like I’ve ever really had real job yet.”

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Briggs Boatworks Inc. Wanchese, North Carolina
Courtesy Briggs Boatworks Inc.

Like most boatbuilders in North Carolina, Capt. Sunny Briggs got his start working during the winter months in the yard for some of the area’s legendary boatmen, such as Capt. Omie Tillet and Capt. Sheldon Midgett. In fact, Capt. Buddy Davis and Briggs worked side-by-side under Midgett until Briggs broke off to start his own shop in his backyard in 1982.

“We all started out the same way, charter fishing during the spring and summer and then boatbuilding in the winter,” Briggs says. “I was mate for 13 years before I started running boats. That was my whole life … I didn’t do anything else but go to school and fish.

“Most of my customers come to me with a size of boat that they are already interested in, so I’ll sit down with them and draw something up to see what we can put into a boat that size,” he says. “We’ll calculate the range and speed and go from there. Many people think that they can get away with a more reasonable price by building a 50 versus a 60, but that’s not really the case. Those two boats have the same equipment, pretty much the same horsepower, with a bit more fuel and water on the 60. We haven’t added much that would make the price go up. The most reasonably priced part of the boat is the hull. So if you can add a couple of the feet to the hull to get a better running surface and riding surface and pick up a bit more room on the inside, then you are far ahead of the game.”

Briggs says that his 61 or 62 is his favorite size. It doesn’t have excessive power, provides a nice space for entertaining, a big cockpit, and he can still achieve a great look that is appealing to the customer. In his opinion, the 61-footer even rides better than smaller sizes, such as a 57 or 58.

“I look back to the Johnny Harm days, and all the really good guys had a wooden boat and diesel engines. And when the Cummins diesel first came out, you’d seldom saw any of the greats going around in anything other than a wooden hull — it’s just a better ride,” Briggs says.

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Cabo Yachts New Bern, North Carolina
Courtesy Cabo Yachts

In 1988, Henry Morschladt and Michael Howarth sold their iconic sailboat company, Pacific Seacraft, deciding to build what they thought would be the premier sport-fishing yacht on the market. In 1991, Cabo launched its Ed Monk-designed 35-foot flybridge model. Immediately, the marketplace saw a new standard, and the bar was set high. Offshore anglers couldn’t believe that sailors had designed the boat. Several of what would become Cabo’s signature features caught their eyes, including oversize custom hinges, molded-in bait tanks with the first windows to turn the lighted livewell into an aquarium, fully gel-coated bilges and spacious interiors. In addition, the wiring and plumbing runs were true works of art.

In August 2013, Versa Capitol Management, a private equity investment firm with $1.3 billion of assets, purchased Hatteras and Cabo Yachts. Cabo/Hatteras president and CEO John Ward, a 24-year marine executive whose experience includes Boston Whaler and Mercury Marine, will continue to lead the Hatteras/Cabo team.

“Three things define Cabo,” Ward says. “Fishability, the highest quality components like hinges and hardware, and wiring and plumbing that have no peers.”

Other changes have come along as well. A redesigned hull now runs smoother and drier. Overall, Cabo’s sea-keeping ability is vastly improved compared to the first hull. Fortunately, the public took notice of these small, well-built sport-fishers, and they’ve become extremely popular throughout the Gulf states and abroad. “This is a tough segment, suffering huge declines with the advent of big outboards,” Ward says. “Fortunately, the Cabo brand still has an incredible following all over the world and is going strong.”

Morschladt and Howarth pioneered many of today’s styling and construction advances, Ward says. “We’re still waiting to define any new direction our new owners feel necessary.”

Like Pacific Seacraft before it, Cabo’s customer service philosophy has always had the goal of “out-servicing” its competition, no matter what it takes. With Cabo, warranty claims became painless. And it shows in every customer loyalty brand survey.

Ward feels Cabo’s service has never been better. “We treat the two brands the same when it comes to customer service,” he says. “Except in Cabo’s case, I think we are better today, since the boat is now built on the East Coast, and we have our service facility down in Fort Lauderdale, [Florida]. We can react more quickly and efficiently. Plus, when necessary, we’ll get on a plane to fix it.”

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Davis Yachts Egg Harbor City, New Jersey
Courtesy Davis Yachts

Ira Trocki, a cosmetic surgeon with a passion for boating, created a company that builds some of the most iconic sport-fishing brands in the business. One of the iconic names that Trocki still honors with his builds is Buddy Davis, who died at the age of 62 in January 2011.

Like many builders in the Dare County, North Carolina, tradition, Davis Yachts builds custom Carolina boats. These are purpose-built boats with sharp entries and exaggerated bow flares to meet the strong currents of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, and the often rough seas of the Gulf Stream.

“Buddy Davis designed boats to handle huge head seas, to perform in a following sea like it is riding on rails and yet be stable on all points,” Trocki says. “The beautiful bow flare isn’t just for looks. The spray from the knife-sharp bow gets blocked by the flare, so it’s beautiful but functional.

“We build each Buddy Davis by hand,” Trocki says. “But we use all the latest technology. In fact, we are more advanced than many, as we employ a resin-infusion process for each hull.” The gelcoat is sprayed onto the mold, and then multidirectional fiberglass, Divinycell composite foam coring and more fiberglass is laid — dry — into the mold. “We cover the entire mold in a vacuum bag and then draw the resin from one end of the mold to the other. This makes for an exact resin-to-glass ratio while eliminating any and all air pockets. It is the most perfect laminate you can muster. It makes for an extremely light, strong and stiff hull. There’s no wood in a Buddy Davis hull,” Trocki says.

And while it gets a lot of lip service in the industry, at Buddy Davis, customer service truly does take priority. “We go a step above just making it important,” Trocki says. “One of our customers had an engine problem on July Fourth. Of course, the engine company didn’t answer its phones. The customer called us and said that he had eight people coming from afar to spend the holiday and was terribly disappointed he couldn’t use his boat. The president of Buddy Davis, Bob Weidhaas, himself a mechanic by trade, left his family’s events and drove two-and-a-half hours to the customer’s home to personally fix the engine.”

Trocki is also a Buddy Davis owner. “Like other owners, I want to be able to look out at my boat and enjoy it as piece of art … except mine can run 40 knots.”

_— Dean Travis Clarke _

Top Sport Fishing Boats
F&S Boatworks Bear, Delaware
Courtesy F&S Boatworks

In 1987, Jim Floyd and a friend decided to build a strong, seaworthy sport-fishing yacht based on the variable-deadrise running surface of Floyd’s old 23-foot Seacraft. “I grew up fishing on a 23 Seacraft,” Floyd says. “Coincidentally, the patents on its hull design ran out just about the time that I wanted to build my first boat, so I adapted the Seacraft bottom for larger hulls.”

After 10 years of designing and modeling, Floyd built his first yacht in a barn in Delaware. That boat, the 59-foot Fin-Ally, had perhaps the most unique bottom in the genre, complete with longitudinal steps for improved tracking and roll stability. To date, F&S has built more than 20 large sport-fishing yachts for its truly satisfied owners.

“I want to build the strongest boat I possibly can,” Floyd says. “The ride should be the same — the best possible. Our stepped bottom is superior to other designs on every point of performance.” F&S customers become friends because Floyd pays attention and treats them fairly. “I try to build as much boat as I can for the money allotted,” he says.

Floyd has created boats ranging from his smallest — a 36-foot center console with twin outboards — to his largest so far — a 75-foot convertible currently under construction. All F&S boats consist of cold-molded hulls with Corecell topsides.

F&S occasionally pushes the design envelope, taking lines to a more modern place. However, it also builds exquisitely traditional sport-fishermen. Though he has built one 50-footer with IPS pod drives, Floyd says, “We actually tend to stick with the tried and true on at least 50 percent of the technology decisions. Certainly we use advanced technology like honeycomb and composites for construction. But for other systems, like power, electronics and the like, we generally opt for the tried and true that we know will perform well and last.

“We have all raised the standards over the last ten years. I’d be behind the eight ball if I didn’t keep up,” Floyd says. “We step forward and embrace the latest and greatest — but with hesitation. After all, ultimately, we answer to the customer.”

Floyd also has a refreshingly realistic take on customer service. “We have a warranty,” he says. “However, with that said, we have never turned our back on any problem on any boat anywhere in the world. I have three guys who can be on a plane in no time. We are a microscopic-size business on the global scale. We can’t afford a single unhappy owner.

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Gamefisherman Stuart, Florida
Courtesy Gamefisherman

Like a lot of boat companies, Gamefisherman got its start when one man saw a need and decided to fill it. While working for Rybovich, Mike Matlack noticed that a lot of people were interested in buying a smaller-size day boat. “Nobody was building them,” he says. “I felt that there was still a demand for little 37-footers, so I left Rybovich, and the first Gamefisherman, a 40-foot flybridge, rolled out in 1986.”

Eventually, Matlack expanded the line, going both bigger and smaller, but he never got away from his true purpose: building smaller, nimble sport-fishing machines. In 2006, he moved the operation to Stuart, Florida. “We still build the smaller boats,” he says. “Everybody else is building 80-footers. I don’t want to get into that market. That’s what they make Holiday Inns for. Our boats are first and foremost fishing boats. There are guys who will build you a nice fish boat slash condo, but our boats are fishing boats. We are trying to start a mothership operation, since it just makes more sense. If you are traveling, it’s better to have the mothership. An 80-footer can get there, but when the boat gets there and the boat has to go fishing, where are your nonfishing guests going to go? They have to get off. With the mothership, the game boat goes fishing and everyone who wants to stay back can relax on the mothership.”

Matlack uses cold-molded, composite construction in his boats, which allows him to build a different boat for every customer. “If somebody walks in here and wants a 39, 46 or 62, I can build it because I’m not using a mold,” he says.

As far as game boats go, only a handful of boats share Gamefisherman’s reputation for nimbleness. “Our boat’s handle very well,” Matlack says. “That’s one of the things we really work at. They are as fast as we can reasonably make them, and they back up and spin real well. We have large cockpits … I build the boats from the back end forward. Out of the 17 40s that exist, there’s only one here in the States, and the rest are all in the hottest fishing spots: three in Panama, Guatemala, Hawaii, etc. They all end up where the serious fishing guys want to be.”

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Garlington Landeweer Stuart, Florida
Courtesy Garlington Landeweer

Peter Landeweer comes from a large fishing family that started out fishing for giant bluefin tuna up and down the East Coast on a 53 Hatteras. The growing family soon outpaced the Hatteras and decided to design and build its own boat, a 67-footer they named Snow Goose. “Garlington came up for sale in 1993, and that’s how we got into the boat business,” Landeweer says.

Richard Garlington started building boats in the mid ’80s, and his boats’ low profiles, clean lines and rounded edges immediately began to turn heads. Landeweer liked the look as much as anyone. “We like the timeless, traditional look -— a boat from 20 years ago doesn’t look old if it has the traditional sport-fish look,” he says. “There’s a certain style that you have to stick with — the S-shear, the split shear — you can’t change it too much. But just like the basic design of the fighting chair, you can make things a bit prettier, but the design doesn’t change much at all. And it really doesn’t need to in my opinion. A lot of people copy the lines of the Garlingtons.”

Landeweer says that the 61 is their most popular model, but that with the new power options now available, the smaller boats like the 44 are starting to make more sense. “You can get 1,400 horsepower out of a 12-cylinder now, which gives you plenty of power in a much smaller and lighter package,” he says. “We started building our 49-footer due to all of the resorts being built everywhere. Why do you need a huge boat when you just leave boat at the end of the day and go stay in an apartment? I’ve built three 80-footers, and most guys still get off the boat.”

Garlington Landeweer utilizes an all-composite, vacuum-bagged, wet-laminate construction. “There’s not a single piece of wood in the construction of the boat,” Landeweer says. “I like the composite. We are not the lightest, but we are stronger. Everybody does it their own way. All of our boats are molded in a female mold.

“We are not the fastest boats either, but we are right up there. We might be the softest-riding. It’s more important to me how she runs in a head sea, since it’s not always calm when you want to go out fishing.”

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Hatteras Yachts New Bern, North Carolina
Courtesy Hatteras Yachts

Willis Slane dreamed about a boat he could use to fish the rough conditions around Hatteras, North Carolina. He heard about a new material called fiberglass and contacted a young West Palm Beach, Florida, naval architect named Jack Hargrave. Together, they designed a 41-foot trunk cabin sport-fisherman with a 14-foot beam, powered by a pair of 275 hp Lincoln V-8s. She boasted a projected top speed of 30 knots. On March 22, 1960, the first Hatteras Yacht, Knit Wits, was christened.

Hatteras went on to greatness and survived a number of different owners, most recently Brunswick Corp. In August 2013, Versa Capitol Management, a private equity investment firm with $1.3 billion of assets, purchased Hatteras and Cabo Yachts.

“Both Hatteras and Cabo are cornerstone American brands in their respective markets, and both have been affected during the extended economic downturn,” Versa Capital CEO Gregory L. Segall says. “We see great opportunity to build value in these businesses, while retaining the expertise in engineering and Eastern Seaboard production that has given Hatteras/Cabo their well-earned reputations.”

Cabo/Hatteras president and CEO John Ward, a 24-year marine executive whose experience includes Boston Whaler and Mercury Marine, will continue to lead the Hatteras/Cabo team.

“Hatteras has always enjoyed a reputation as a capable, seaworthy boat,” Ward says. “One hallmark of the brand is that it never goes too light. All bottoms are solid fiberglass, some resin-infused and others hand-laid.

“I feel Hatteras sits in the middle of the technology boom. Resin infusion is one technology that we use that makes for a better laminate. Other examples include Seakeeper gyros for added stability at slow speeds and digital switching and breakers. I have no doubt that we will be employing more advanced technology in the future, as long as it differentiates us in the marketplace,” Ward says. “We don’t own an engine company, so we are fortunate that we can work with a variety of fabulous and responsive power suppliers. We rarely encounter problems with customer service there.”

Ward offers his formula for good customer relations. “What we need to do is make the process seamless and totally transparent. We need really good relationships with vendors. We need to step up and handle any vendor problems and then duke it out with those vendors ourselves rather than just handing it over to the customer,” he says.

— Dean Travis Clarke

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Henriques Yachts Inc. Bayville, New Jersey
Courtesy Henriques Yachts Inc.

When Jack Henriques immigrated to the United States in his 20s, he carried four generations of Portuguese boatbuilding experience with him. He founded Henriques Yachts Inc. in 1977 and quickly launched its first model, the Maine Coaster, a 35-foot downeast-style boat. Upon his death in 1997, Henriques passed the company on to his two daughters, Natalia and Maria, and his son-in-law Manny Costa.

“We are a small, semicustom boatbuilder that listens closely to our customers so that we can easily meet their needs. If you want a custom tackle center or a special interior feature, we can provide those things. We just launched a 50 footer — our biggest model — and we have a 42 under construction right now, which should be completed this spring,” Natalia Costa says.

“We build traditional sport-fishing boats used to fish the Northeast canyons, so our boats can make long runs and bring you back home. Our first boats were no-frills fishing boats, and although they are still strong and durable, we’ve grown out of the more plain interiors to much more nicely appointed staterooms. We’ve come along way since making the old Maine Coasters,” Natalia says.

Each Henriques is built to order, which opens up room to customize interiors and fishing packages. “If there is anything that can be customized, we will do it. We modify our interiors to fit the owners’ needs,” Manny Costa says.

The biggest distinguishing factor on a Henriques is the large cockpit. “We have the largest cockpits of any boats in our size,” Manny says. “The fishermen we build for require space in the two areas in which they spend the majority of their time. Our cockpits and engine rooms are the roomiest in the industry. Our 50-footer has a 210-square-foot cockpit.” This trend works its way down the line. The 42 Express offers 155 square feet of space in the pit.

As technology and building techniques improved over the years, the company philosophy remained the same. “Henriques has always been about building a safe, structurally sound vessel for the most demanding fishermen and the elements they brave when they tackle the sea,” Manny says. “Luckily, we’ve stayed very busy revamping our 50 and building our new 30 Express. We look forward to putting more sport-fishing boats out on the water.”

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Jarrett Bay Boatworks Beaufort, North Carolina
Courtesy Jarrett Bay Boatworks

After charter fishing for a few years in North Carolina, Randy Ramsey decided that his old boat had had enough and began building himself a new one. “I was building the boat in a old pole barn with incandescent lighting and dirt floors,” Ramsey says. “Before I even finished it, a fellow came along and asked me if I could build him one just like it. I said sure. By 1993, we were on hull number 13 or 14. I had to sell my charter boat and start building boats full time. My life has really been a representation of the American dream. If you have a passion for something, you can still be successful.”

Jarrett Bay makes a true Carolina-style fishing boat, with a beautiful bow flare that appeals to a lot in the sport-fishing crowd. “Most of our buyers are pretty savvy, and we try to sell them much more than just a boat; we want to plant the idea of the great lifestyle that you can enjoy when owning one of our boats. We strive to build something that’s going to work for you,” Ramsey says. “If you don’t like me, then you shouldn’t build a boat here. Relationships are very important in the boatbuilding process, and we need to be friends and family. We want to be able to talk to the people and speak freely so that we build the exact boat that the customer needs.”

Ramsey hasn’t changed the way he builds his boats either. “We want a bulletproof hull, one that is probably a bit heavier than most,” he says. “We glass our hulls both inside and out, which makes the hulls a wooden-cored, fiberglass hull. The houses and interiors get foam coring to keep the weight down. We also like the very conspicuous Carolina look. You can trace our look and lineage back to Omie Tillet. They do have a lot more rake and a little less flare than they did at one time, but we still try to stay true to the Carolina look. We all want our boats to look like they are going 50 mph while they are sitting still … and we try hard to make sure that they do,” he says.

“We’ve been around for 27 years now, through a lot of ups and downs, so we know how important it is to service the customer after the sale — we want people to know that we will always be around to help them out,” Ramsey says.

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Jim Smith Boats Inc. Stuart, Florida
Courtesy Jim Smith Boats Inc.

Because of Jim Smith’s penchant for building racing boats in his early days, Jim Smith sport-fishing boats were, for a long time, looked at as primarily go-fast boats. Jim Smith Boats Inc. owner and president John Vance says that in the early days, a lot of folks were skeptical about using some of the brand new construction methods that were coming out at the time.

Always a pioneer, Smith originated cold-molded, lightweight construction while working at Monterey Boats, a big reason why he was able to take lot of unnecessary weight out of a boat. “We build an efficient boat,” Vance says. “I don’t even have to talk about the speed because that’s our reputation. It’s been a bit of plus for us that we’ve always been on the leading edge when it comes to increasing the size of boats as well. In 1981, we were building a 50-footer that many said was too big to fish from. Well, we just launched a 105. During the ’90s, when people were building 65s, we were building a 70. We’ve always been a little bit ahead in the market in the size game. If you are looking at building a big boat, our name kind of pops up.”

As with most builders, Vance is very cognizant of what his owners want and takes great pains to ensure that they get it. “These guys have usually owned a bunch of boats, and they like to take all the ideas that they’ve seen on their boats or their friends’ boats and incorporate them into a final package,” Vance says. “We listen and try to give them what they want. Sometimes we can’t due to engineering or structural concerns, but we sit down with a piece of paper and, with respect for their knowledge, make sure that they get what they came here for. Our reputation was built on speed performance, and that was what distinguished the company for many years. However, we went to using professional naval architects in the ’90s, and what that did was make our boats great sea boats. Now, we focus on ride quality in every aspect of the design and engineering of our boats.”

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Paul Mann Custom Boats Manns Harbor, North Carolina
Courtesy Paul Mann Custom Boats

Like so many of his boatbuilding brethren, Paul Mann made his way in the world as a mate and captain fishing the rough seas out of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina. So he knows what goes into making a good fishing boat.

“I design my own bottoms and understand what differences are needed to accommodate each owner’s individual fishing style,” Mann says. “A client who wants to fish eight hours a day in rough seas but doesn’t want the boat to roll dramatically requires a boat with less deadrise aft, so it’s stable. Conversely, running hard and long in rough water needs a different bottom with more deadrise and convexity for a smoother ride, but it will roll more in a beam sea. Either way, every Paul Mann boat runs perfectly in a following sea with virtually no yaw and very little lag on the back of a big wave. All my running surfaces have some degree of convexity for a better ride and less drag. I design boats that most closely meet an owner’s requirements without going too far in either direction, so they’re happy with the all-around performance.

“I also like to keep the client regularly informed about where the project stands budget-wise to avoid any and all surprises. Ultimately, my goal is to give my client a high-quality boat that does everything required, comes in on budget and on time,” he says.

Just because Mann comes from an old-school line of builders doesn’t mean he’s not quick to take advantage of the modern methods and techniques that will make his boats better. “Today, everyone wants to go faster and spend less,” he says. “With the price of fuel, you have to use advanced composites in your boat to make it lighter. As for the electronic and electrical gadgetry, I find that most times, it’s the owners who push that envelope further. I would prefer to go toward more conservative operating systems. With simple and functional systems, you rarely have issues.”

Mann enjoys great repeat business because he knows that the relationship doesn’t end with the sale. “Customer service is as important as building the boat,” Mann says. “When someone buys a Paul Mann boat, the service comes with it. Our boats often travel far from the Eastern Seaboard and out of the country. Service must follow that. We’ll fly our craftsmen anywhere the work needs to be done. I am always available to my owners and captains via email or phone.”

— Dean Travis Clarke

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Maverick Yachts Los Suenos, Costa Rica
Courtesy Maverick Yachts

For the last 10 years, a small-boat company in Costa Rica has been producing exceptional little fishing boats in the 32- to 46-foot range that have won one tournament after another. (At one point several years ago, there were five Maverick boats in the top five at the Los Suenos Triple Crown. Dragon Fly, a 42 Maverick, won Los Suenos’ first leg and was named overall champion last year, then won the Presidential Challenge in Marina Papagayo, Costa Rica.) The company was started by Richard Lebo and Larry Drivon but was recently purchased from Lebo by Drivon and Gary Mumford, an expat who has been living in Costa Rica for the last 14 years. “Richard decided it was time to retire, and he went back to the States, so Larry and I decided to carry on,” Mumford says. “The company is 10 years old, and we’ve built 10 boats; we are working on 11 and 12 right now.”

Maverick boats not only look like the quintessential little sport-fisher, they perform like it too. “We build a light, super strong boat that’s made to fish every day,” Mumford says. “One of our boats, Spanish Fly, which was built in early 2004, has over 30,000 hours on it. We took a potential customer out on that boat the other day, and he was amazed how tight it still was — no squeaks, nice and quite still. These cold-molded boats will last forever when taken care of properly.”

Maverick is the process of retooling its shop and hired long-time Capt. Parker Bankston as shop foreman to oversee the new changes. Bankston has worked through several builds at the Viking Yachts plant and spent some time at Merritt’s Boat and Engine Works as well, so he’s spent a lot of time in the boatyard and knows how to build sport-fishers right. Bankston also runs the plant’s new computerized numerical control machine and is the head of new product development.

“We triple plank our hulls and stringers using a combination of Okoume plywood and laurel mahogany, but we are now building all our decks and houses with Divinycell core and using Alexseal coatings,” Mumford says. “We are also starting to get some good cooperation with engine manufacturers like Catepillar, Yanmar and Cummins, which are stepping up to the plate.” If you want a super tight fishing boat with a good value for your dollar, you’d be hard-pressed to find one better than a Maverick.

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Merritt’s Boat 
and Engine Works Pompano Beach, Florida
Courtesy Merritt’s Boat and Engine Works

Few builders enjoy the decades-long reputation for excellence that Merritt’s Boat enjoys. The Merritt family moved to Pompano Beach, Florida, from Long Island, New York, in 1947, and opened the boat shop in 1948 in order to take care of the family’s charter boats. Soon, Merritt’s quality workmanship and high-level customer service thrust the company into the forefront of the South Florida boatbuilding boom.

“We are doing real good,” Roy Merritt says. “Business is as good as it’s ever been. We’ve built so many boats over the years that they keep coming back. We are working on hull 101 right now, and we’ve got four 86s and a 72 being built right now.”

Roy Merritt’s time in the business has shown him that you don’t want to mess around with the tried-and-true shape of a sport-fisher. “Most of our customers are second-boat guys, and we are usually going to build them a boat around what we have. If they want something that we aren’t comfortable with, then we won’t do it,” he says.

“There are a lot of man-hours that go into making things right; the boat had to look special and hold up. The boats we build now, with the new materials and composites, will be around for 100 years,” Roy Merritt says. “We have all these different materials going everywhere: composite hull, outside skins made of Kevlar and e-glass, carbon-fiber decks and carbon-fiber cores — we do everything we can to make them light and make them perform. Our 86 cruises 29 knots and burns 135 gph an hour … that’s the sweet spot for that hull. Other boats that size might burn another 40 or 50 gallons per hour to do the same speed. No matter how much money you have, you don’t want to waste fuel, so we do what we can to make them light. The length of the boats just seems to keep getting bigger. Traveling fishermen like the feel of their own mattress and have their favorite pillow — you don’t have to get another room onshore when you own one of our boats.

“I have a great job; it’s like I have a hobby shop where I can do all these experiments to try to make boats that are bigger, go faster and go farther,” Roy Merritt says.

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Ocean Yachts Egg Harbor City, New Jersey
Courtesy Ocean Yachts

The Leek family built the first Ocean Yacht, a 40-foot flybridge model, in 1977. Since then, they have christened hundreds of boats in the 40- to 70-foot range.

“Ocean Yachts are beautiful boats,” general manager John Leek IV says. “But we mean them to be comparatively more affordable than other brands.” Ocean has always prided itself on having many owner/operators in its stable rather than boats with professional hired captains and mates. “We design our boats so as to make [do-it-yourself] work as easy as possible for those owners who want that,” Leek says.

“We provide a high-quality finished product. We fill a niche where customers feel they’re getting great value for their dollar. Our design team has always had great taste, and our interiors have always spoken to women in a family. First and foremost, the interior design has to be functional. But then the materials must speak to women — they are warm and inviting. Selling a boat to a family is infinitely easier when the wife loves it too,” he says.

“In some instances, advanced technology is just not useful when you try to make an affordable boat,” he says. “Every element you install raises the price. While Ocean is early to embrace new technology, it still has to be sensible for the end user, be affordable and both simple to own and operate. We absolutely lean toward simplicity at Ocean Yachts. With that said, we will certainly customize any boat the way the owner wants it. Gone are the days of straight production. So I guess our philosophy is that we embrace the tried and true and simplicity.”

Obviously, no company that charges hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars for a product can simply kiss the customer goodbye after the sale. But Ocean seems to have struck an even-handed attitude toward customer service.

“Our customer service department isn’t 24 hours a day,” Leek says. “But we know our customers and their spouses — and even their children and dogs — by their first names. They have all our staff’s personal cellphone numbers, and they can call us directly. Our customer service is built on a personal relationship. If the dealer is able to help them, we encourage that. If not, we will respond immediately and resolve any issue.”

— Dean Travis Clarke

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Post Marine Group LLC Chestertown, Maryland
Courtesy Post Marine Group LLC

It’s funny how life can throw a few curveballs at you from time to time. John Patnovic, the new president and owner of Post Yachts, wound up buying the venerable boatbuilding company after a visit to the old Post plant to purchase some of its unused lumber. “The old owner of Post keeps his boat in my marina, so when I heard that they had a bunch of wood lying around, I went over to see if I could pick it up cheap,” Patnovic says. “I ended up buying the whole company –— my wife was thrilled.”

After the purchase, Patnovic moved the operation from New Jersey to Chestertown, Maryland, where he could keep a close eye on things. Now, he’s ready to start building boats. “We are all ready to go,” he says.

“Post has always been a build-to-order company, and we will remain that way,” he says. We can build hulls ranging from 42 to 66 feet, and we should have some coming together shortly. Our bet is that the boating industry is going to be a lot different than it was in past, and we think that a small, nimble custom manufacturer is going to have a place at the table. We can make any changes you want at a reasonable cost and will provide the finished boat at a more than reasonable cost.”

Although Post is an old name, that doesn’t mean it is stuck in the past when it comes to the building process. Post boats feature resin-infused hulls and a deck house with the same bottoms that made Post famous. “They were well-regarded and good sea boats, but the new ones will be a little bit lighter for more speed and bit more range. Everybody wants to go faster these days,” Patnovic says.

Post will continue to service its two primary customers, sport fishermen and cruisers. “We will continue to cater to both parties. If you want a hard-core fishing boat with cockpit freezers and tuna tubes, we can build it. We now have all the boats digitized and put into 3-D CAD programs, which allows us to easily add staterooms or make any changes whatsoever. Give us 24 hours, and we will give you a photograph of your new boat,” Patnovic says. “We have the ability to build a superior, proven boat at a great price. Everyone will have my personal attention because we are not going to be building a whole lot of them at once. We just want a shot at your next boat.”

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Ritchie Howell Wanchese, North Carolina
Courtesy Ritchie Howell

After charter fishing for 16 years in Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, Ritchie Howell started building smaller boats in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Soon, he found himself hook-and-line commercial fishing with none other than Paul Spencer. “We put or money together on the first couple of boats we built … me, Billy Holton, Paul Spencer and Irving Forbes,” Howell says. Spencer eventually persuaded Howell that he had what it took to be a boatbuilder, so Howell started a shop of his own. “I had a lot of help,” Howell says. “I got to learn from a lot of great guys. I wasn’t a smartass to them, and I listened to what they had to say.”

That ability to listen, Howell says, also allows him to make a boat that will satisfy the customer. “The more details a potential owner can provide to me, the better the end result. It’s like Burger King: You can have it your way, but we have to know what they want,” he says.

“I’m confident can give someone the best product for their dollar. We build only yacht-quality boats, and it wasn’t like that when we started out. I’m not in a place where we can go back and build a charter boat, and we are very price competitive for a yacht-quality boat,” Howell says. “The things that set our boats apart are the performance and the ride. On the last five or six boats we’ve built, we’ve been able to build them with a sharp entry and a stabilizer that keeps the boat from rocking. It’s really the best of both worlds.”

Howell still prefers to build plywood and fiberglass hulls. “I really think that this combination makes the strongest hulls,” he says. “Everything else has Corecell core. I don’t just want to rely on foam for the hull. With that said, we are looking to maybe build an all carbon fiber boat. I think the attraction of the carbon fiber is its incredible strength-to-weight ratio. We should be able to build them bigger, with less power to make them even more efficient,” he says.

“Everything’s about speed and performance and fuel burn. Our boats are fast and burn half the fuel at the same speed of a production boat.”

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Roscioli International Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Courtesy Roscioli International

Bob Roscioli began his 51 years in the boating industry by pumping gas as a dock boy at Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After several stints in various boatyards as a painter and prep man, Roscioli struck out on his own and started his own paint business. Roscioli built up the business and soon became known as one of the best brush painters around. “I went on to build some of the prettiest sport-fishers in the world, but I’m still known as painter,” Roscioli says.

Roscioli got into the boatbuilding business proper when he purchased the big boat division of Donzi in 1987 after seeing the 65 Donzi that Jack Staple and Dick Kent had built for themselves. “That big fiberglass boat with those big 1692 engines in it was an animal,” he says. “But they didn’t really know how to market it, so I decided to buy them out and give it go.” The rest is go-fast boating history.

Always a pioneer in going bigger and faster, Roscioli says he still feels that the most important thing to consider when heading into a boat is building a good relationship with the customer. “The first thing I want to find out is to see if there is a synergy between the buyer and our company,” he says. “We love building boats, and we want to have fun doing it. We want to make sure that the client who buys our boats feels like they are part of our family. The boats actually speak for themselves when it comes time to make the sale. I encourage our clients to ride on our boat and then ride on the others they are considering — our boat sells itself.” Besides their remarkable efficiency and speed, Roscioli boats are known for their exquisite fit and finish that extends to every part of the boat, including the engine room. “When we started building boats, going down into the engine room was a bit taboo … but I wanted to make an engine room that the ladies wouldn’t mind going into,” he says. “I saw a pair of show engines at the Detroit booth at one of the boat shows that sported a $20,000 metallic green paint job, so we were the first boats to have stand-up engines rooms and engines painted with urethane.”

Roscioli just introduced a new design called the Evolution, which will come in sizes ranging from 82 to 92 feet. “This boat is like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” Roscioli says. “This one is going to be for the brave people.”

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Michael Rybovich and 
Sons Boat Works Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Courtesy Michael Rybovich and Sons Boat Works

Michael Rybovich and Sons Boat Works is the fulfillment of Michael Rybovich’s long-time dream. “We have a new family-run boatyard,” Rybovich says. “From the time we sold our yard in the ’70s, up until two and a half years ago, it was dream of mine to put the Rybovich family back into a boatyard. After a few twists and turns over the past several years, we finally got where we wanted to be.” Rybovich opened up a full-service and new construction yard in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, about 10 miles north of the old Rybovich facility.

It didn’t take long for the Rybovich name and reputation would work its magic. “We have two boats under construction right now and two more under letters of intent,” Rybovich says. “We are building custom, cold-molded sport-fishers just as we always have. We are a one-off builder that builds directly to the needs of each individual customer.”

Although Rybovich is an old name in boatbuilding, its newest build is a unique departure from the norm. “Our first hull out of this shop is a very interesting project — a 64-foot walkaround. We built two walkarounds in the ’80s and found them to be extremely practical, especially for sail fishing in the Palm Beach area. We have taken that concept to a three-stateroom, three-and-a-half bath sport-fisherman. It’s a really exciting project,” Rybovich says.

The company also has an 86-footer under construction. “It’s a more conventional flybridge sport-fish with as much power as we can put into it,” Rybovich says. “That boat is being built for one of our customers that has one of our boats right now. That kind of return business contributes greatly to the success of our yard. It’s a special thing when guys come back to you because they were happy with the first project and relationship that you have built together.”

Rybovich strives to build boats that perform at a superior level in all sea conditions, and the quality of the workmanship has to be top notch. “We like to think that our fit and finish is second to none. It’s one thing to develop a reputation for quality, but it’s another thing all together to be able to maintain that level of quality. We can do that, and that’s essentially why we are still here,” he says.

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Scarborough Boatworks Wanchese, North Carolina
Courtesy Scarborough Boatworks

Born in the small fishing village of Wanchese, North Carolina, Ricky Scarborough Sr. did what seemed natural: commercial fishing, hunting and building boats. Boats and boating were not just a hobby but a way of life. Determining what made a boat sit the way it does in the water, ride the way it should and look the way it should all but consumed him.

In 1977, Scarborough, in need of a worthy vessel to commercial fish in but without the funds to purchase one, built his own in the downstairs portion of his home. When he began, a fellow fisherman approached Scarborough and asked to purchase the boat, but Scarborough needed it for the summer season. He agreed to sell it come fall and then began another. That was the start of more than 32 years and 80 custom projects from 25 to 85 feet, with the majority between 50 and 75. No one in North Carolina — and few anywhere else — have built more custom projects over the same time period.

In 1993, Ricky Scarborough Jr. came to work for his father after receiving a business degree from East Carolina University, and he has been building boats ever since. Ricky Jr. believes in taking the Scarborough boat to a new level while keeping the legacy and quality of what puts Scarborough boats in a league of their own. “Our boats have more traditional Carolina lines, and we can look back at 30 years of experience to help keep us on the right path. We’ve been in the same spot for over 30 years with a really low overhead. That allows us to provide a good value per dollar without sacrificing quality,” Ricky Jr. says.

“A custom boat build is as much about the relationship with customer as it as about the end product. I try hard to make the building process as easy and as pleasant as possible,” Ricky Jr. says. “With the flexibility provided by the cold-molding process, the customer can really get involved in every aspect of the build, and it wasn’t always that way. If you like the boats that we’ve put out, if you like they way they look, if you like the way they ride and you like working with us, then we are going to make a great boat together. I never take it for granted that there might not be another customer coming along, so we try to make our customers very happy.”

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Spencer Yachts Wanchese, North Carolina
Courtesy Spencer Yachts

Few builders enjoy the reputation that Paul Spencer has earned over his long career, both as a charter captain and premier boatbuilder. Spencer got into the business like many of his North Carolina contemporaries — by building a boat of his own to go charter fishing. He’d grown up looking at the boats built by Buddy Davis, Omie Tillet and the rest, and since his father-in-law at the time was Sheldon Midgett, it was just a natural evolution for him to try his hand on his own boat. That first boat performed so well that he immediately began getting orders for more.

But even though Spencer comes from a strong North Carolina background, his boats are a bit of a departure from the style. “We have a little bit of a different look,” Spencer says. “Our boats tend to be a bit leaner and longer than most. This creates the look that we like and also helps them perform really well. I got to visit a lot of the shops up here as I was coming up, so I got to see what they were doing. I also liked some of the things I saw coming out of Florida, so I started mingling the ideas a little bit. Taking a bit of the bow flare out, lowering the bow, making my own style.” The marriage between the two styles proved to be an unmitigated success, and Spencer is now working on hull number 95.

“It’s really important that when we start a build that we sit down with the client to find out just what they plan on doing with the boat,” Spencer says. “I might ask them what kind of accommodations they may need and where they plan on taking the boat to fish. If they need four staterooms and three heads, then that means it’s going to be a pretty long boat for me … a 66- to 69-footer. The challenge is building a boat that will go as fast as the client wants to go and still have enough space for all the fuel they need to have a good range. Over the years, we’ve found ways to use every bit of space, including building integrated fuel tanks instead of metal ones.

“The second challenge is to get all the equipment on the boat that the client wants and still stick to your budget. They all start out with a budget, but when they see some of the stuff out there that they can get, they can get excited and want it all. Since the build represents this person’s dream boat, we try to make sure they get what they want,” Spencer says.

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Tribute Performance Boats Jupiter, Florida
Courtesy Tribute Performance Boats

Tribute Performance Boats’ lineage starts with Rich Scheffer Sr., who was the foreman at Jim Smith until Smith passed away. Scheffer started Tribute in Smith’s memory 21 years ago. The quest for performance, one of the key ingredients in a Tribute, started in those early days when rocket ships were offered by only a few builders in South Florida. “Only a few guys were able to build a 40-plus knot sport-fish in those days without the benefit of advanced composites and today’s bigger horsepower engines,” Scheffer says. “Not only were these early Tributes fast, but they also caught fish and traveled the globe extensively when only a few boats were doing it. For example, in 1997 the Manleys caught one of the first-ever fantasy slams on the 58 Tribute Escapade in Venezuela, catching a blue, white, swordfish, sailfish and spearfish.

“Each Tribute is built with a purpose and posses her own distinct personality since we start with a clean sheet of paper. It all starts with the wish list and a good understanding of how your boat will be used and where it will go,” Scheffer says.

Tribute has indeed produced some boats that vary greatly in personality — from the more contemporary 72-foot Alican to the spaced-age 86 enclosed-bridge Double Down. With many in the fleet measuring more than 70 feet, the larger Tributes are built with the plan to travel extensively, stay on the troll and follow the fish without coming back to home port for major service for years. Superb engineering and longevity is something on which Tribute prides itself, and that becomes pretty apparent when you step into one of its engine rooms.

“We are a family business at Tribute and have grown to be very close to our owners throughout the years — over half of our owners have built two or more boats with us,” says Rich Scheffer Jr., the founder’s son and the man now leading the construction efforts alongside industry veteran Dennis Close. “We even have a few boats running around with nearly 20,000 hours on them. Constant improvement and seeking out new innovative processes is something we pride ourselves on, so our boats will last as long as you will love them.”

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Viking Yachts New Gretna, New Jersey
Courtesy Viking Yachts

The Healey family started building boats in New Gretna, New Jersey, in 1964, when brothers Bill and Bob Healey purchased Peterson-Viking Builders. Forty-nine years later, the company enjoys a stellar reputation as one of the premier production builders in the world. However, just a glance at any Viking on the dock tells you that Viking Yachts is much more than a typical production boat company. In fact, its boats are about as custom as you can get in many respects.

“Basically, the first thing I want to get across to our customers is that we are boatbuilders; I’ve grown up doing only one thing in life. I live it, eat it and sleep it, and so do all of our managers,” executive vice president Pat Healey says. “We all started young as a team, and we apprenticed under some of the great ones like Bruce Wilson. Guys like Lonni Rutt, our [vice president] of engineering; and David Wilson, the man in charge of new product development; Bill Gibbons, our propulsion man; and Ryan Higgins, our company captain, are all very involved in the design and engineering of our boats. It’s all about the people and having the proper team together … most of them are 20-plus-year employees of Viking.”

One thing that’s remarkable about Viking is its incredible consistency. While a lot of builders build one or two very good boats a year, Viking somehow manages to do it 60 or 70 times a year. “Over the last 15 years, we’ve become arguably one of the best … no one is building a boat at our level and with the numbers of boats we are building,” Healey says. “And we ship them all around the world. A good 30 percent of our business comes from our international sales.”

Healey is also grateful to the high quality of customers that choose a Viking. “We’ve got great customers … they are the best of the best. We’ve got customers who purchase one of our boats over and over again, and they are a big part of why we are celebrating our 50th anniversary on April 1, 2014,” he says.

Healey is also proud of the service and dealer network that the company has put together over the years. “Having those key components, with all of dealers like HMY, Galati and Bluewater, are all part of what makes Viking the best of the best,” he says.

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Weaver Boat Works Traceys Landing, Maryland
Courtesy Weaver Boat Works

Jim Weaver never imagined he would end up building boats for a living; however, after years on the water and with his experience in the construction business, he decided to build a boat for himself in 1998. The vessel turned out so well that he got an offer to sell it, which he did. He then built another, and before long, Weaver Boat Works began to take shape.

“Most of the customers who come our way have already made their mind up about buying one of our boats,” Weaver says. “We have a reputation for doing what we say we are going to do, when we are going to do it and for how much. I’m not much of a salesman and don’t try to be. If you build a nice boat for a fair and reasonable price, people are going to want to buy it.”

Weaver makes fast boats, and he attributes a lot of his boats’ speed to the work of his naval architect, Donald Blount. “All of our boats have been fast,” he says. “We’ve never built anything that didn’t run at least 40 knots. When you build a boat that can go fast, that means it has a very efficient hull design. Our 80 hits a top end of 48 knots and cruises at 30 knots while burning 100 gph. At just 1,200 rpm, that boat is up on plane and doing 25.8 knots.”

That efficient hull also comes into play when it’s time to slow down and start trolling. “Our boats have a very clean wake because they are not as heavy. It’s the same when backing up; our boats are more of a sports car than a pickup truck,” Weaver says.

In 2007, Weaver built its first 80-footer and has built six more since then. “You usually sell a boat off another boat,” Weaver says. “They will see it fishing, or get passed by it, and have to have one too. We’ve been very fortunate. Out of the 25 or 26 boats that we’ve built, six of those were repeats. It’s a great feeling when a man buys your boat and 10 years later, comes back and buys another one.”

To meet the strength requirements with those speeds, Weaver uses Kevlar to reinforce the inside and outside of each cold-molded, one-off hull that comes out of his shop. “We build every boat as strong as we can make it,” he says. “They’re really over-designed and intended to take punishment.”

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Willis Marine Inc. Stuart, Florida
Courtesy Willis Marine Inc.

Willis Marine Inc. is one of the few companies that got its start in North Carolina but then relocated Florida. “I started building boats up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in a little town called Frisco,” owner Mark Willis says. “I fished professionally for several years up on the Outer Banks and decided to build myself a little 30-foot charter boat. Well, as soon as it was done, somebody bought it. Then I got real busy building boats. My ex-partner, Buddy Smith, and I started Island Boatworks up there, and after we built a few, I left and came down to start my own shop in Stuart, [Florida].”

Willis brought the lessons he learned in North Carolina to Florida and started building sport-fishers using a variety of different methods. “We specialize in building cold-molded boats out of triple-planked Okoume plywood,” he says. “Today’s plywood is always consistent, and it makes a light, strong hull. But I really don’t have a preference when it comes to building methods. If someone came to me and asked for a plank-over-mahogany hull, I would gladly do it for him, because I know it also makes a great hull. We can also build an all-composite hull if that’s what you want — we are pretty well-versed in all of it.”

No matter what materials or technique you choose, you can rest assured that when choosing a Willis, everything inside will be in the proper place. “We pride ourselves in good planning and strong, dependable systems. Some builders will rush to get a boat sold and will just start shoving stuff into the hull to appease an owner. You have to pay attention to the planning so that you can get to, and repair, anything that goes wrong without having to disassemble the whole boat to do it. It’s just commons sense,” Willis says.

“We are working on hull number 14 right now, and it’s a 77 with a cold-molded hull. All of the topsides are carbon-fiber composite, a little departure from what we have done the past, but this boat should be a very lightweight, high-performance boat,” Willis says. “We went with a much more modern look on our new one; she’s got a lot of sex appeal … a different look for us. We’ve done all of our styling in house, which is a source of pride for us on this one.”

Top Sport Fishing Boats
Winter Custom Yachts Apex, North Carolina
Courtesy Winter Custom Yachts

Winter Custom Yachts specializes in building modern, Carolina-style sport-fishing boats. Capable of building custom boats ranging from 24 to 75 feet, owners Tim Winters and Will Copeland came to the business with engineering backgrounds, and their meticulous attention to detail reflects that ethic. “I think the main thing that separated us from the pack is our willingness to take the design aspect to a much greater detail,” Winters says. “Since we all come from engineering backgrounds, we are probably more methodical than most with our layouts. We are also a bit modern with our styling. We like a more subtle look and pair it with a more hybrid bottom that’s designed by Rhodes Yacht Design.

“We incorporate a lot more curves in our boats and a lot more belly in the transom. They back up better when you put some belly in the transom, and it also lets it spin and move side to side much better. They are much more nimble, and you can really see the difference,” he says.

“Everything is 3-D molded now, which allows you to jig every structural component. This allows us to mock up the boat and let the owners see exactly what they are going to get. When we hit the floor, this makes everything go as smooth as possible. This also allows you to customize even the smallest details, including each piece of hardware and all the finishes that will go into your vessel,” Winters says.

This combination of modern styling and advanced planning has worked out well for the company, even in the hard economic times of late. “We’ve got nine in the water, five under construction and three waiting to be built,” Winters says. And not all of those boats fit the conventional mold. “We recently built two single diesel boats and equipped them with an oversize bow thruster. You can really make those things dance, and you wind up using a lot less fuel. Maybe this will be my niche going ahead,” he says. Winters embraces all engine and layout configurations; he’s got a 43-foot convertible on the floor with Zeus Caterpillars, a 35-foot walk around with a single 360 Cummins and a 46-foot walk around with conventional inboard power. In short, if you want it, Winter can build it.


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