BoatUS Special Report


Boating Industry Helped By Law Enforcement Purchases

By Chris Landers
Published: February/March 2013

In a slowly recovering boating market, law enforcement and security small craft are strong sellers.

Texas Department of Public Safety Patrol Boat
Photo: Texas DPS
The Texas Department of Public Safety ordered six armed patrol boats to
predominantly fight drug smugglers.

Traveling 200 days a year to boat shows and customer meetings can get expensive. Jones says the time between bidding on a contract and getting it signed for the Jeanerette, Louisiana, boatbuilder can be around 18 months. It's a different business from selling yachts in a showroom, and the boats are different, too, he notes."

"There are many boatbuilders who've thrown their hat in the ring, but haven't been successful. It's not as easy as, say, building a boat and putting a blue light on it and saying, 'This is a police boat.'... Yes, they're both boats, but the engineering behind it is completely different."

Wes Hudson, of Shallow Sport Boats, says his company's decision a few years ago to start a government-products division was driven more by an ability to fill a perceived niche than economics. They had been building commercial boats for the oil and gas industry and commercial fishermen for about 10 years, but there's little doubt that the government contracts they're currently bidding on would be a boon to the small, family-owned boatbuilder.

"It would basically double the size of the company," he says, and require a second production facility, new equipment, and new employees at its Port Isabel, Texas, plant. Shallow Sport's recreational business took a slight dip, he adds, but has recovered to pre-recession levels. The company is sold out of small boats for the next six months and producing the firm's 27-foot shallow-draft "Near Shore Response Vessel" would create even bigger backlog without a dedicated production line.

In some ways, Hudson says, building the boat is just the beginning of the process. Shallow Sport has a lot of money and time invested in a prototype model, fully outfitted with the help of suggestions from state and federal agencies. Dealing with the intricacies of the government-contracting world isn't easy for a newcomer ("It's a full-time job for somebody for two years," he says), but he's hoping the effort will pay off.

"We've done several demonstrations for high-level officials," he says. "I can't mention their names, but we're definitely on the verge of becoming, possibly, the next big thing in law enforcement for that size boat."

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