Talk about promoting your product. Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs, an aluminum-boat builder in Meridian, Idaho, ran two of its 26-foot jetboats through a 3-mile stretch of rapids on the Niagara River.
“The water is running 38 mph, so you are pushing against a 38-mph current,” says Chris Bohnenkamp, founder and owner of BWC. “You are running between a quarter and half throttle most of the time. The thing about the river is if you mess up, there’s really no place to go other than where the water takes you. You are in a current with 25-foot standing rollers in the middle of it.”
Click play for footage from the test run.
Bohnenkamp and Mike Fox co-own FoxBoyZ Marina in Youngstown, N.Y. The duo has launched a business — Niagara Jet Adventures — that should get off to a strong start now that the YouTube video of the BWC boats crashing their way through Niagara’s whitewater has led to significant media coverage.
The boats in late April traveled from FoxBoyz marina to the base of the falls and back, roughly 20 miles. The dramatic endeavor should reassure customers “that they are getting on one of the safest, best-built boats in the industry,” says Bohnenkamp. He and another professional river pilot drove the boats through the rapids.
Bohnenkamp wants to make it clear that Jet Adventure’s boats will be running through much tamer waters than those shown in the video. “Some media reports have said we would be taking passengers through those rapids, and that’s just flat-out wrong,” he says. “Niagara Jet Adventures has no plans to run that section of rapids between the Whirlpool and the base of Niagara Falls with passengers. There is a possibility that we would still do some testing in that section of water from time to time.”
BWC has begun building three 33-foot jetboats — powered with triple 550-hp Cadillac 6.2-liter supercharged engines — for the new business. BWC builds 30 boats from 20 to 40 feet a year; about 70 percent are recreational, and the remainder are for the commercial market, Bohnenkamp says.
Six months ago, BWC completed a 30-foot jetboat for Killgore Adventures in White Bird, Idaho. The company offers jetboat tours of Hells Canyon — a “Wild River Hells Canyon Dam Tour” and a “Scenic River Tour,” according to the company website.
Bohnenkamp says he uses the canyon, which is about two hours from his boatbuilding operation, as a testing ground for all of his boats. “Our boats are designed to take the forces of the biggest water in the world,” he says. “We try to prove that over and over again.”
Bohnenkamp launched BWC with his wife, Rachel, in 2009 after running a dealership that repaired and rebuilt jetboats. BWC employs 30 people out of a 33,000-square-foot facility.
The two BWC Gatling Series boats that ran the river are about $240,000 each, but you can get a simpler version with a soft top instead of a full pilothouse for about $118,000. “We can sit down with the customers and create the kind of boat they want — that’s what is nice about being a custom shop,” says Bohnenkamp.
BWC boats range from $55,000 to $500,000 depending on the model, options and equipment.
BWC joins a handful of boatbuilders over the decades that have gone to great lengths to prove their craft. SeaHunter Boats of Princeton, Fla., in 2011 used a crane to hoist one of its 35 Tournament center consoles 20 feet and drop it to the pavement.
Ralph Brown and his brother Robert in 2009 hop-scotched their way up the East Coast and across the Atlantic — an 8,312-mile odyssey — in a 21-foot center console power cat.
Perhaps the most famous stunt is when Boston Whaler founder Dick Fisher appeared in photographs in Life magazine that showed him sitting aboard one of his 13-footers as the boat was sawed in two. Fisher motored off in the stern half as the bow section bobbed in the water.
SeaHunter also wanted to prove its boats are unsinkable, and it mimicked the exercise for an extreme boat test.