Meet the Kingston, Ont.-based company making waves around the world with their state-of-the-art boats.
In November 2020, a crewless boat was tasked with monitoring a 20-square-mile restricted area off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. The Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) aptly named “The Watcher” was being leased by the United States Coast Guard.
The fully autonomous prototype vessel (that can also be controlled remotely) was built by Kingston, Ont.-based MetalCraft Marine, in collaboration with their AI partner in Virginia.
The Watcher operated continuously for 30 days and nights and survived the month-long test on the punishing seas with only two minor repairs, successfully spotting imitation “intruder” boats each time they entered the area. The USV is designed to approach a trespassing vessel and provide real-time pictures, along with necessary details such as latitude and longitude.
Monty Smith and Tom Wroe may not have imagined such a futuristic boat back in the 1980s when they worked together at Kingston Aluminum Yachts, but when Smith bought the ailing yacht company in 1987 and gave it a new name, their trajectory was set. Together, Smith and Wroe changed the course of the company to focus on the patrol and work boat market, and MetalCraft Marine has been evolving ever since. Shortly after its inception, the pair introduced the Kingston — their first powerboat. That same jet design was later selected by the US Navy and served in the war in Iraq, and the Kingston series is still in MetalCraft’s product line today.
When Bob Clark joined MetalCraft as the contracts manager in 1991, the team consisted of only four production people and a single partner. Today, MetalCraft is the largest manufacturer of high-speed fire, patrol and work boats in Canada, and third in North America, with 75 employees in Kingston, and 15 in their New York facility, along with five partners.
Their innovative design and construction techniques quickly propelled them to be a leader in the jet boat market. “Our in-house design team is well ahead of many other companies, and we have new designs planned well into the future,” says Clark. “Our only hold up is how busy we are, which tends to slow new innovations. We use sales-driven intel to indicate new markets well before the market is ripe and we have done our sales homework to establish timing and the products we will need.”
Currently, MetalCraft designs and constructs custom vessels ranging from 25 to 85 feet, with price tags from $100,000 to $6 million. Depending on size, a boat can take anywhere from eight weeks to 18 months to construct. While they dominate the Canadian market, a staggering 90 percent of MetalCraft’s business is in the US. Since 1998, their largest customers have been the US Navy and US Coast Guard, with state police forces quickly becoming another large customer base. A vast majority of their business stems from word-of-mouth and it appears it knows no bounds, as their boats can be found around the world, in locations such as the Artic, the Middle East, South America, Micronesia and Asia.
Undeniably, many security issues came to light after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, including the importance of fireboats. As first responders quickly found, all the water mains in the vicinity of the Twin Towers had been destroyed and they were forced to rely on their dated fireboats. Following the attack, MetalCraft designed a line of the most technologically advanced fireboats on the market. Capable of water output two to three times that of a fire truck, and with far more pressure than a hydrant, their fireboats can run a water hose much farther than a truck, whether they are fighting fire from the water or pumping water through to fire trucks fighting flames inland. Now, in the US, most major ports have at least one of their fireboats. They were kept so busy serving this sector that they completely missed the boat (pun intended) on the initial patrol boat surge, a situation they have been working to rectify in recent years.
One such strategic opportunity came in 2017 when MetalCraft joined forces with Parry Sound, Ont.-based Stanley Custom Aluminum Boats. They are using their joint research and development efforts to make new products. Their expertise in different areas lends well to an integration of designs and engineering capabilities, as seen in their new patrol boat that just launched, featuring the bottom shape of a Stanley, and MetalCraft designs above the water line.
Looking forward, MetalCraft knows all too well that you have to continuously grow and adapt in order to stay afloat, and they have their sights set on becoming number two in the US. “You have to be an aggressive competitor,” says Clark. When it comes to innovating, they attribute some of their success to simply listening. “The biggest thing in design, I think, for any company, is to listen to your customers,” says Clark. “You’ve got to listen and really hear them, and if something they say is crazy, it may not be crazy when it’s run through an engineering cycle. It may be a fantastic idea.”