Today, despite an abundance of market challenges and supply chain headaches, many of America’s police and fire boat builders are in possession of the shipyard holy grail: a healthy backlog.
Dave Hunt, business development and project manager for Theodore, Ala. based Silver Ships said vessel orders from police and fire agencies have been on the rise and that the expectation is that this trend will continue. “Between vessels delivered and in production, we have seen a year over year increase steadily since 2017; particularly the last two years. We anticipate a strong growth in 2022 and beyond.”
And it’s a similar story for other yards across the U.S., from Metal Shark on the Gulf Coast to Moose Boats and North River Boats in the West, each of which has remained active building for police and fire agency customers.
RIBCRAFT USA in Marblehead, Mass. is a specialist builder of rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB) from 15 to 41 feet, and about 30% of its business is police and fire boat builds, according to Matthew Velluto, the company’s director of business development and marketing.
“We’ve seen strong demand with some good steady growth in the police and fire boat market. Based on our current backlog, we’re looking to be where we were in 2021 again in 2022 with maybe a bit more growth,” Velluto said. “It’s a market that we expect will continue to grow. Order levels are as good as they’ve ever been, and we’re in a good strong position, both in terms of current backlog, as well as demand and interest.”
For RIBCRAFT, key demand drivers are its vessels’ versatility, ease of use and rapid deployment capabilities, Velluto explained. “A lot of departments and agencies are looking for vessels that offer an ease of operation, are functional and simply enable them to do what they need to do. We’ve seen departments going from larger boats and scaling back to something that can get out on the water quickly and be easily operated by one or two operators, with the added benefit of lower maintenance and operational costs.”
“Vermont State Police use our boats for everything from dive operations to patrol work, to border enforcement to special security operations,” Velluto said, alluding to the boats’ versatility. “RIBCRAFT is currently building boats for the California Fish and Wildlife to support their patrol operations, be it standalone shore-based operations, basic enforcement duties or for some of their fisheries enforcements and other enforcements where boats are used in tandem with some of their larger patrol craft.”
Silver Ships has also been busy, and Hunt said the builder had more than 30 vessels either in production or delivered for law enforcement and emergency services ranging from the local and state to the federal level in 2021. “In spite of supply chain issues, we have managed to maintain a steady pace of production and consistently seek to optimize our integrated production schedule to accommodate the uncertainties that have arisen in 2020 and 2021 while continuing to deliver to our customers,” he said.
Hunt said building to the specific demands of each project has been crucial. “Critical to our process is the understanding of each customer’s unique needs. Law enforcement and first responders are not monolithic, so no single solution will provide a solution for all.”
Hunt added that Silver Ships has seen “a notable shift” from the retrofit and use of fiberglass recreational vessels in law enforcement to the acquisition of purpose-built aluminum vessels. “Custom aluminum workboats offer departments the ability to have a vessel tailored to their existing operational mission profile and TTPs instead of having to adapt their procedures to a vessel that is ultimately designed for the recreational customer.”
Among Silver Ships’ recent notable deliveries, League City Fire and Rescue near Houston took delivery of an Endeavor 30 multi-mission fire and law enforcement vessel. “The vessel, designed to fulfill the needs of both law enforcement and fire/rescue was immediately put into service after rigorous training and was instrumental in supplying water to a land-based apparatus in response to a large condominium fire within months of its in service date,” Hunt said. “Equipped with twin Suzuki propulsion and a Darley LSDE1000 direct mount fire pump, the vessel is both fast and extremely capable of flowing large amounts of water. The enhanced Raymarine electronics package with both a FLIR and sidescan provide critical capabilities during search and rescue missions.”
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