A Behind the Scene Look at Building an Aluminum Fishing Boat
by Craig Ritchie
There, the company manufactures aluminum fishing boats sold under its Smoker Craft, Starcraft and Starweld brands, along with pontoon boats and fiberglass runabouts.
Whether riveted or welded, all aluminum fishing boats begin life as massive, heavy rolls of raw aluminum plate that can weigh more than three tons. The
rolled aluminum must first be flattened and cut to length, which involves running the roll through a decoiling machine.
The flat plates then move to a cutting room, where sophisticated CNC laser routers cut the flat sheets into pieces which will form the hull bottom, the side gunnels, the transom, and countless other major components. The laser router allows incredibly precise cuts that reduce the amount of finishing work later down the assembly process. It also allows multiple components to be cut simultaneously from the same aluminum sheet, reducing waste. From an aluminum sheet the size of a car, the amount of leftover scrap barely fills a bucket. Those pieces are collected and recycled.
While this takes place, another set of decoiling machines in another portion of the plant flatten and cut much narrower rolls of aluminum which are used to make ribs and spray rails.
CNC equipment is also used to cut wooden components like deck panels, which will join up with the hull farther along in the assembly process.
Assembly starts with loading the heavy hull plates onto a wheeled cart, which will move the boat through the plant. Bottom plates are attached to the gunnels, followed by the internal bracing and the transom. Starweld boats are fully welded, while the Starcraft and Smoker Crafthulls are assembled with rivets. In either case, the work is done entirely by hand as the technicians go over the boat literally inch-by-inch. If a piece of aluminum is even slightly misaligned, it can be addressed right then and there, so the boat is built correctly the first time.
Not too many other things in today's world are truly hand-made like a boat, so it says a lot about the level of quality and craftsmanship that go into every single hull.
With the heavy work on the outer hull done, the hull is then rotated so work can start on its inner structures. The first step it to install the interior ribs and bracing. Then, the hull goes into a water tank for testing, ensuring there are no leaks or other potential defects.
Once the hull is certified to be watertight, work can begin on installing interior components, like built-in fuel tanks, live wells, bilge pumps and electrical conduit. Next comes the floor, which is formed from marine-grade heavy plywood. Once it's fixed in place, expanding foam flotation is injected through holes in the floor, allowing it to fill every space between the hull and floor that isn't used for storage.
Once the foam has cured, the vinyl or carpet flooring goes in, along with the interior side panels. The boat comes together quickly now as major components like the helm console and the splash well, which have been pre-assembled elsewhere in the plant, are installed, along with the seats and other components.
At this stage the entire boat is thoroughly cleaned in preparation for painting. Working in a dust-free environment, dust, dirt, waxes and even fingerprints are carefully removed using a progressive rage of cleansers until the boat is practically sterile. Skilled workers then then begin the process of masking off the boat as required, including intricate taping work for what will become the final graphics. The masked boats then wait for their turn in the spray booth where they get a primer coat, followed by a series of tough, urethane colour coats. After baking in an oven for a durable, smooth, hard finish, the boat emerges from the paint shop and the masking paper is carefully peeled away.
At this point the boat is almost ready to go. In the finishing area the final components like steering wheels and engine controls are installed. Some boats will then be shrink-wrapped and shipped to the dealer as bare boats, while others will have their outboard, electric motor and fish finder installed right at the factory - it all depends how the boat was ordered.
Aluminum boats have come a long way over the years, not only in terms of features but quality. No wonder we become so attached to them. When you see what goes into making one, it's hard to not appreciate your boat all that much more.
About the author:
Over a near 40-year career as a full-time outdoor writer, Craig Ritchie has fished all over the globe for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species. The author of The Complete Guide To Getting Started In Fishing, he has written thousands of articles for magazines, websites and newspapers worldwide, appeared as a guest on several television fishing programs and won numerous awards for his writing and photography. He lives in the Great Lakes region where great fishing is as close as his own back yard.