Coastal Craft - A Product of Passion
Published: Monday, October 8, 2018
By: Stephen Jackman
On my way to meet up with the crew from Coastal Craft and their factory in Gibsons, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic. Being a proud Canadian, there are three things that I loved growing up: hockey, the outdoors, and the Beachcombers. For anyone oblivious to the Beachcombers, it was a Canadian TV show that ran for 18 years with nearly 400 episodes following the life of a Greek-Canadian log salvager in Gibsons. Being a small town BC boy, I appreciate the many aspects of small town living and the people that call these places home. Growing up on the water and in the marine business, I was lucky enough to experience the beauty of our coast and got into boating early. Some of the things I’ve always enjoyed about boating are the evenings around a campfire ashore or sunsets on the back deck. As much as the day’s activities of boating excite us all, the evenings bring us back to what’s really important; the people around us, family, friends, and the moments we create together.
Here in Gibsons, on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, Coastal Craft is one of the largest employers in the town of four thousand, but in the world of boat building, they are very much still considered a small business. During my four days in Gibsons, I was able to spend a considerable amount of time among the team watching them work, and speaking to many.
The first thing that pleasantly surprised me was learning of their company’s little-to-no turnover, which allows them to work more on details rather than having to continually train new staff. Some employees grew up on the coast, some came for the coastal living before joining the Coastal Craft team, and some came strictly for the job and the opportunity to build such great boats.
Having grown up here, the President and Founder of Coastal Craft, Jeff Rhodes, also developed a passion for boats at an early age while out on the water. While working on the coast, he saw an opportunity with a local fabrication company to start building aluminum work boats for the large demand he saw in BC. In the summer months, the BC coastline has some of the best cruising grounds in the world, offering well-protected anchorages and deep inlets teeming with wildlife, attracting boaters from all over the world. However, for people that call the remote areas of the BC wilderness “home”, life doesn't stop when the ideal cruising season ends. With this style of coastal living, there is a need for a tough, durable, reliable boats to help provision for and transport the inhabitants of these areas. With this demand, Coastal Craft was born.
Starting with work boats 22 years ago, Coastal Craft now has more than 120 yachts in their resume from the first 24 foot workboat, to their popular 45 foot models and their 65 foot Concorde. Being a “custom yacht builder”, there have been challenges over the years to not only meet, but exceed, the client’s expectations. Among those expectations range a variety of challenges, from the fabrication adaptations made on the fly with their latest 45 foot Profish, to the custom enclosed flybridge with an elevator in one of their 65 foot Concordes. Compared to their humble beginnings with their workboats, the current designs are built with such comfort and finish, making them a unique boat among similar aluminum builds. The warm feel of the dark walnut cabinets in the latest hull, to the Zebra wood salon tables in previous give their yacht a look and feel more like a cozy apartment than a boat that can cruise at 30 knots.
Well laid out in their most recent 45 foot design are two cabins, one head, a very comfortable and spacious galley with a warm feel and great overall lighting. All this mixed with their rugged work boat reliability not only takes a unique vision to design and create, but a steady work ethic and an attention to detail to build. In any company, team, or family for that matter, comes varying personalities, issues, and patience levels. Having the opportunity to spend a few days among the employees at Coastal Craft, I was blown away to hear that the first reason they all liked building boats with the company was because of the people - “The Team”.
With less than 50 employees, there is still a great combination and diverse work history within their team that seems to work together seamlessly. With their many years of experience, the staff brings so much to the finished product - and it’s noticeable in every detail throughout the boat from the contrast of the inlay in the galley, to the bead on every weld. It is obvious that they really care about what they do and that the customer always gets exactly what they want.
A company’s direction starts at the top, and Rhodes’s model of empowering employees reaches all levels in the company and is a model of how a great company should be run. Here at Coastal Craft, everyone’s voice is heard, their creative and analytical thoughts appreciated, and often implemented. Rhodes’s humble attitude towards the premium product him and his team produce is evident as he continues to defer the company’s success to the team around him. Building boats has so many levels of artistry, from the creative needs in the hull design and fabrication, to the detail in the well-finished interior.
A big part of artistry is passion, and, on every level, the Coastal Craft team exudes passion; and artists, they are. Their lead electrical hand, who’s been with the company for eight years, is also a successful muralist and graphic artist. His creative resume includes album covers and sneaker deals, and he has also been newly tasked with creation of the new logo for Coastal Craft’s recent Profish design. Their paint foreman, who has been with the team for almost six years, spent a decade in LA, not only painting in the automotive industry, but also as a drummer in various blues bands and is now writing his own music.
Rhodes understands passion, quality of life, and the importance of spending time with family. Therefore, his company’s work schedule makes the strongest case for it. The team decided to shorten their breaks during the day, allowing them to be home by 3:45 daily whilst not hurting their production. With the Sunshine Coast lifestyle in Gibsons, this schedule not only allows time to enjoy the area they all treasure living in, but to also not burn out and risk sacrificing quality with complacency. Talking with one of their fit-out managers, I was presented with a theory on this, one which reinforced the effort given toward keeping the staff engaged and focused on the task at hand. He said, “Once you perfect whatever you’re doing, teach someone else the same skill and move on to the next challenge.”
I’ve always believed a change is just as good as a break, and this attitude really helps eliminate the lack of due care, lack of attention, and complacency that can easily come from the monotonous feeling of an assembly line.
Over the years, they have found and added key pieces to their staff puzzle to help bring the best out of their people. Their production fabrication manager, who joined the company a few years ago, brings 37 years of shipbuilding experience to the company. Building ferries and Coast Guard vessels across Canada, Dubai, and Australia, he has learned so much about not only big boats, but also big business. Being part of a smaller company, he is now getting the opportunity to spend more time working intimately with his crew on all levels, and helping them hone their skills even more.
In their paint department, their foreman and team musician, has really had an impact on getting the best out of his crew. With his meticulous attention to detail, he has helped create that reflective sheen on their fairing that Coastal Craft has become so well known for.
Not only adding key people over the company’s history, but also adapting to the ever-changing technology has had an enormous impact on what they are able to create in-house. Getting to spend some time in their joinery department with their shop foreman and lead hand, I learned how their CNC machine has revolutionized the interior design aspect of the build, but I also see where a lot of the creativity in the beautiful finish comes from. What separates Coastal Craft from a lot of other aluminum boat builders, in my view, is due to the work of the joinery team and what they create.
There is obviously many ways to run a business, but I have always believed running a business is like coaching a team; you must know your players’ strengths and weaknesses so you can put them in a position to succeed. For a company to be around 22 years, while also having little employee turnover - it shows you… not only do they build a quality product, but they also do it the right way, treat their employees well, and put effort toward making it fun to come to work each day.
As this custom boat building company evolves, I am looking forward to what Rhodes and his team come up with next. Most recently, their new 30 foot and a 33 foot Profish were launched in July and designs on a 33 foot Express already have orders coming in. Now that they have added a second production line, it has allowed them to also focus on their smaller boat line to compliment their very popular 45’ models and their existing build schedule. I, for one, am excited to see how they bring their finishing work from their 45 foot and 65 foot yachts to the new 30’s and 33’s.
Cruising home in the new 45 foot Sedan, after spending a few days among the team, it was hard to sit there looking out the window at the beautiful passing landscape of Howe Sound with my new appreciation of all the fine detail surrounding me. So much time, effort, and love has been put into every aspect of this great build.
As my friend Howard Behar, the former CEO of Starbucks and a New York Times best-selling author, said to me one day on the docks, “It’s not about the coffee, but rather the people that make it happen.” And, Coastal Craft is most definitely full of great character and quality people.