By Alex Binkley

Kingston is widely known as the Limestone City, but aluminum is gaining importance in the Ontario city known for its university and historic Fort Henry, and MetalCraft Marine has quietly built an award-winning reputation in Kingston, Ont. for its heavy-duty aluminum workboats.

In October, it was awarded the bronze medal in the 30th Ontario Business Achievement Awards, sponsored by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the provincial government, which honours companies that have expanded exports and created jobs by developing and/or improving world-leading products.

The company, established in 1987 by Monty Smith and Tom Wroe, is now a leader in the design and manufacturing of aluminum jet propelled craft, notes contracts manager Bob Clark. In the succeeding 25 years, it has built more than 550 hulls and has been recognized for technological advances in engineering and construction by a wide variety of publications. Among its customers are the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy, Panama Canal Authority, Dubai Fire Services and numerous American cities and municipalities. Export sales have grown during the last five years to $20 million annually from $5 million and Clark is optimistic that figure will continue to increase.

The company offers fully integrated design and manufacturing of high performance patrol, fire, rescue, research, and workboats from 24 to 70 feet long and capable of top speeds ranging from 35 to 60 knots. It has 130 employees in Kingston and twelve at its new Cape Vincent, N.Y. plant, which constructs eight to twelve boats every year.

MetalCraft works with a wide array of local suppliers, as well Canadian and American providers of engines, fittings and equipment such as pumps, Clark says. Being located on Lake Ontario means the company has to gear its production schedule to match the navigation schedule of the St. Lawrence Seaway because the vessels are all delivered by water, Clark adds. The company’s Custom Division can build vessels to designs prepared by customers, or through its own design services. Its FastShips Division has supplied craft to the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guards and the American Navy. The company’s Drydock & Refit Division operates one of the most historic facilities on the Great Lakes, and is capable of handling vessels up to 210 feet in length and 40 feet in width. “We use it to do major and minor refits as well as five year inspections for most of the commercial and tour boat operators in the area,” Clark notes. “We have engineered and performed many hull extensions and modifications over the years, and work on Canadian and U.S. vessels.” The Design Division is headed by Wroe, who had been in the aluminum boat business for more than 30 years. It stresses proper propulsion for the craft because “it’s the only thing that gets you home or out of harm’s way,” Clark explains. “Proper matching of the propulsion system to a specific hull and its operating environment is the most important part of your boat. Having the experience and knowledge to put it together right, is what MetalCraft’s design team is all about.”

MetalCraft also operates Kingston Marina in the city’s inner harbour, which has 150 slips with hauling and services for larger and smaller yachts. The site is located on Kingston’s Inner Harbor and is well protected.

MetalCraft was formed when Smith bought Kingston Aluminum Yachts and, working with Wroe, opted to switch the company’s product line into the patrol and workboat market. It introduced its first jet boat, the Kingston, that year and it was purchased by the U.S. Navy. MetalCraft’s greatest area of success has been designing and building high speed Patrol, and Search & Rescue craft, Clark says.

MetalCraft began offering a 10-year warranty in 1987, a feature which is now becoming a requirement on most government procurements, Clark points out.

MetalCraft opened a U.S. facility in Clayton, N.Y. in 2007 and built eight specialty tow boats for the U.S. Navy, and a 36-foot pilot boat for the New York State Pilots Association. It is in the process of building  a prototype test boat for the U.S. Coast Guard that could result in a contract for 100 craft over seven years. It is working on a pilot boat for Key West, Florida, and will supply Houston with three 70-foot fireboats worth more than US $15 million. The company is transferring its American operation to a much larger facility in Cape Vincent because of a lack of space in Clayton. Built on innovation and customer service, MetalCraft appears to have a shiny future.