First-time Pas­sage­Maker con­trib­u­tor, Steve Jack­man, gets a visit be­hind the cur­tain at B.C. builder, Coastal Craft.

Passage Maker - - @Rest -

On my way to meet up with the crew from Coastal Craft for a fac­tory visit, I can’t help but feel a bit nos­tal­gic. Coastal Craft is head­quar­tered in Gib­sons, Bri­tish Columbia, the small vil­lage that served as the set­ting of one of my all-time fa­vorite TV shows grow­ing up: The Beach­combers. This long-run­ning show (nearly 400 episodes aired over its 18-year run) fol­lowed the life of a GreekCana­dian log sal­vager in Gib­sons. As I’m a small town B.C. boy my­self, the show res­onated with me. But I wasn’t just ex­cited to visit the lo­ca­tion that in­spired my fa­vorite child­hood pro­gram. Grow­ing up on the wa­ter and in the marine busi­ness, I was lucky enough to ex­pe­ri­ence the beauty of the Cana­dian coast and get into boat­ing early. And for me, Coastal Craft is a com­pany that rep­re­sents the tra­di­tional val­ues of the mar­itime in­dus­try on Bri­tish Columbia’s Sun­shine Coast.

In Gib­sons, a town with just over 4,500 res­i­dents, Coastal Craft is one of the largest em­ploy­ers. But in the world of boat build­ing, they are very much still con­sid­ered a small busi­ness, count­ing fewer than 50 em­ploy­ees. Dur­ing the four days I spent in and around the fac­tory, I was able to spend con­sid­er­able time with the team, watch­ing them work, and in­ter­view­ing them about their daily lives.

The first thing that sur­prised me was to learn that the com­pany ex­pe­ri­ences very lit­tle em­ployee turnover, which al­lows them to work more on boat­build­ing than on hav­ing to con­tin­u­ally hire and train new staff. Coastal Craft’s staff con­sists of a num­ber of peo­ple who grew up nearby as well as sev­eral crafts­peo­ple who were drawn to Gib­sons for the job and the op­por­tu­nity to build top-notch alu­minum cruis­ing boats.

Pres­i­dent and founder, Jeff Rhodes, also grew up in Gib­sons and had a pas­sion for boats from an early age. While work­ing on the coast, Jeff saw an op­por­tu­nity with a lo­cal fabri­ca­tion com­pany to start build­ing alu­minum work­boats that could meet the large de­mand he saw in the B.C. prov­ince. Dur­ing sum­mer months, the BC coast­line has some of the best cruis­ing grounds in the world, with well-pro­tected, deep an­chor­ages and in­lets teem­ing with wildlife. How­ever, for peo­ple that call the re­mote ar­eas of the B.C. wilderness home, life on the wa­ter doesn’t stop when the ideal cruis­ing sea­son ends. With this style of coastal liv­ing, there is a need for tough, durable, and re­li­able boats for year-round trans­porta­tion, and, for those who can put up with the rainy win­ter months, end­less cruis­ing. To ad­dress this de­mand, Coastal Craft was born.

The Coastal Craft team is small but their com­bined ex­pe­ri­ence runs deep, and the staff brings a pas­sion for crafts­man­ship that is no­tice­able in ev­ery de­tail through­out the boat, from the con­trast of the in­lay in the gal­ley to the bead on ev­ery weld.

Jeff un­der­stands pas­sion for work, but he also re­spects qual­ity of life and the im­por­tance of spend­ing time with fam­ily. Coastal Craft’s work sched­ule re­flects those val­ues. As an ex­am­ple, the team de­cided to shorten their breaks dur­ing the day, al­low­ing them to be home by 3:45 p.m. while not hurt­ing their pro­duc­tiv­ity. This sched­ule al­lows em­ploy­ees time to en­joy Sun­shine Coast lifestyle in an area they all trea­sure, and it also helps re­duce staff burnout and re­duce the risk that qual­ity will be threat­ened by com­pla­cency.

Talk­ing with one of their fit-out man­agers, I learned that his per­sonal the­ory on this re­ally re­in­forced the ef­fort to keep the staff en­gaged and fo­cused on the task at hand. He be­lieves that once you per­fect what­ever skill you’re do­ing, teach some­one else the same tech­nique and move on to the next challenge.

Find­ing key team lead­ers and em­pow­er­ing them to make the com­pany their own has def­i­nitely made Jeff ’s com­pany stronger. Sean, Coastal Craft’s fabri­ca­tion man­ager who joined the com-

pany a few years ago, brings 37 years of ship­build­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Build­ing fer­ries and Coast Guard ves­sels across Canada, as well as in Dubai and Aus­tralia, Sean learned so much about build­ing large boats, but also man­ag­ing a 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 to help them hone their skills. The team has al­ways taken pride in their work, mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing the client sees on their new yacht is done to per­fec­tion. Sean has worked to take that mind­set to the next level, striv­ing for per­fec­tion even with the parts of the boat the cus­tomer will never see. Tak­ing pride in ev­ery weld gives each em­ployee a sense of own­er­ship of the fin­ished prod­uct, no mat­ter how large or small the role they played.

Sean’s team in the fabri­ca­tion shop comes from a range of back­grounds. Some had weld­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore they joined Coastal Craft, like Dave, who grew up build­ing boats with his dad and was a part of the team that built Coastal Craft’s in­au­gu­ral cruis­ing boat in 2005. Other mem­bers of the fabri­ca­tion team, like Cory and Fred, have grown with the com­pany and learned along the way. Fred, who has been with Coastal Craft for 14 years, started out in the paint de­part­ment and had never welded in his life. But to watch him lay the first two pieces of the lat­est 45 hull with such pre­ci­sion, you’d never know it. Cory, whose fa­ther heads up their small boat divi­sion, started sweep­ing the shop floors years ago and is now

a key part of the fabri­ca­tion team. He just re­turned from an­other ses­sion at the Bri­tish Columbia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (BCIT), ea­ger to ap­ply what he has learned to the lat­est build. Pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment is an­other value of Jeff’s, and many crew mem­bers have taken ad­van­tage of these con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove and ad­vance their skillsets.

In ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing in-house tal- ent, Coastal Craft’s abil­ity to adapt to the ever-chang­ing tech­nol­ogy al­lows them to cre­ate more in their shops than you might ex­pect from such a small com­pany. What sep­a­rates Coastal Craft from a lot of other alu­minum boat builders is the high-qual­ity work cre­ated by the join­ery team. While the CNC router has rev­o­lu­tion­ized the in­te­rior de­sign and pre­ci­sion as­pects of each build, the fin­ished prod­uct is also a credit to the cre­ativ­ity of the wood­shop crew that makes the fin­ishes pos­si­ble. The shop’s fore­man, Tyler, moved to the Sun­shine Coast in his early teens and re­sponded to an ad look­ing for en­try-level helpers. That was 13 years ago and now he’s run­ning the shop. Jesse, their lead hand in join­ery, has been with the com­pany for 10 years. Hail­ing from On­tario, he has a long his­tory of wood­work­ing, from fin­ish work to build­ing log homes. Since Coastal Craft is a cus­tom builder, hav­ing cre­ative prob­lem solvers like Jesse and Tyler is para­mount to suc­cess. And like the other de­part­ments, these two shine most when the pres­sure is on. Watch­ing both in­ter­act with Jeff as they look to fi­nal­ize the in­te­rior on their lat­est 30-foot Profish model, it’s clear their tal­ents are ap­pre­ci­ated at the com­pany.

Miguel, the paintshop fore­man, is equally tal­ented and ver­sa­tile. While liv­ing in Los An­ge­les and work­ing as a pain­ter in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, he also played drums for var­i­ous blues bands. Orig­i­nally from Mon­treal, Miguel has been with Coastal Craft for al­most six years, mov­ing here for the coastal lifestyle and to be closer to fam­ily. He re­sponded to a Coastal Craft ad for painters and was ex­cited to test his paint­ing skills in a new in­dus­try. Watch­ing him and his team work on any task, even just tap­ing, it’s clear that they take pride in ev­ery step of the process. And it re­ally shows in the fin­ished prod­uct. That dark blue sheen that we’re ac­cus­tomed to see­ing on Coastal Crafts is proof that Miguel’s crew is very good at what they do.

It’s easy to see that Coastal Craft pro­duces high qual­ity work, but equally im­por­tant is the way the or­ga­ni­za­tion is run. For a com­pany to be around for 22 years and ex­pe­ri­ence such in­fre­quent em­ployee turnover shows they treat their em­ploy­ees well and work to make it fun to come to work each day. Cruis­ing home in the new Coastal Craft 45-foot Sedan, af­ter spend­ing a few days with the team, my new ap­pre­ci­a­tion of all the fine de­tail through­out the yacht was one of the only things that could ri­val the beau­ti­ful pass­ing land­scape of Howe Sound. So much time, ef­fort, and love has been put into ev­ery as­pect of this great build.

Lay­ing the first few welds on the hull of a new 45 Sedan.

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