Business Monday

SeaVee Boats: Building boats many fishermen want

Every inch of the Doral facility is occupied by a custom boat in progress.
Every inch of the Doral facility is occupied by a custom boat in progress. jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

For South Florida anglers, compact, high-performance sport fishing boats are key to a day on the water and a catch on the line. A day on the bay or the ocean, gear and beer in hand — it’s the reason so many people live here.

The romance of the boating life starts in a factory like that of SeaVee Boat. In a crowded field of brands, SeaVee is among the most popular in South Florida, prized for its lightweight durability, center console and, perhaps especially, the company’s emphasis on creating built-to-order boats ranging from 23 to 52 feet.

And at $100,000 and far upward, a SeaVee boat price is out of reach for most amateur anglers; the final billed cost averages around $250,000. But these boats are highly coveted nevertheless.

SeaVee was founded in 1974 by Miami native Don McGee, who wanted to create high-quality custom-built boats priced lower than the competition’s. To do that, he decided to sell directly to buyers, cutting out the middleman — a strategy that has worked well for the company, which last year saw revenues of $40 million.

John Caballero, marketing director for SeaVee, says the direct-to-customer, personal approach is key to the company’s success. “We’ve found that having a third-party dealer makes that process far too difficult,” he says.

Custom rod-holders, electronics, engine, seating configurations, and more: Whatever feature a customer wants, SeaVee builds it, Caballero says. “We build our boats to the direct specifications of the customer.”

The path to owning a SeaVee begins in the company’s factory headquarters in Doral, where boats are constructed from the hull up.

Every inch of the facility is occupied by a custom boat in progress; another dozen hulls are outside, awaiting their turn. There’s a palpable sense of urgency here as SeaVee tries to keep up with demand. Although each model takes about three months to build, current orders have a wait time of about a year.

Currently, SeaVee turns out about 150 boats per year. When it adds a new 180,000-square-foot facility in Medley in the next 12-18 months, the company will be able to produce around 250.

SeaVee prides itself on its thorough building process. Its boats feature fiberglass hulls reinforced with many heavy layers of resin-saturated fiberglass and PVC foam to provide stiffness. The amalgamation of materials sits in the mold for 10 days — longer than for most other fiberglass hull manufacturers, Caballero says.

In Doral, the production floor houses around 200 of SeaVee’s 250 employees, with specific tasks. In one area, two men spray a vinyl ester resin to help form the deep-V hulls while they sit in the mold; another group installs a PVC foam core into another hull. Another handful of workers applies fiberglass insulate — which helps to waterproof the hull as well as to provide some thermal protection — to an entirely different build. The operation functions on a system of controlled chaos.

Because every build is custom and already has an owner, employees pay especially close attention to detail even as they work quickly, Caballero says.

Scott Salyers, president of Bluewater Movements, a Lighthouse Point-based sports marketing company, says that SeaVee’s highly customized process is what sets the company apart. Bluewater Movements hosts several competitive fishing events in South Florida. Salyers is also the group publisher at Bonnier Marine Group, which owns many of the sport fishing industry’s most popular publications, like SaltWater Sportsman and Sport Fishing Magazine.

“It’s certainly one of the highest quality brands out there,” Salyers says of SeaVee. “The intricacies and details that they put into their custom boats are really what set them apart from their competition. That process makes for a very high quality new boat and also one that holds its value into the future.”

Art Sapp, a longtime charter boat captain and tournament fisherman in Fort Lauderdale, has owned four SeaVees over the years and currently owns the 390Z — one of SeaVee’s powerhouse models, which is nearly 40 feet long — and a slightly smaller 340Z model. While Sapp has owned custom-built boats in the past, he says his experience with SeaVee was way more detailed.

“Most places just have a certain model they’re selling and that’s all there is too it,” Sapp says. “SeaVee isn’t like that; everything is custom and personalized. They’ll do anything you ask them to, and if they don’t make it themselves, you can order the part and they’ll install it for you.”

Mario Behr, also a SeaVee owner and a tournament fisherman, says he was attracted to the customization offered by SeaVee as well. Behr first bought a SeaVee in 2004 and sold it 10 years later. Now, he owns a custom build SeaVee 340Z model that he has docked at his residence in Keystone Point in Miami.

“Building a custom boat can be a bit intimidating, but for me, it’s a godsend. I can have everything done exactly the way I want it.” Behr said.

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