BUILDER: Whiticar Custom Boats, Stuart, Fla.
Phone: (772) 781-1095.
LINE: custom sportfishing boats from 40 to 80 feet, and ranging in price from $500,000 to $7 million-plus
PRESIDENT: John Whiticar
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 80
BEST KNOWN FOR: composite construction using wood-epoxy cold-molding techniques, Kevlar hull reinforcements and resin-infused superstructures
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT BUILDING BOATS IN FLORIDA: “The climate is our friend — for the most part — and there is a good boatbuilding work force.”
THE FLIP SIDE: “It’s hard to find qualified craftsmen, and in Southeast Florida the housing market is out of whack.”
If a company builds 0.3 boats a year while others are cranking out thousands, it either must be a very small operation or a shop that takes the principle of custom to a stratospheric level. Project manager Eric Short explains the Whiticar business model in simple terms. “We build boats one at a time,” he says. “We are the custom customer’s dream shop. When you order a Whiticar convertible, you want something special and you are happy to wait three years because you know it will be worth it.”
Currently, the company has a 30-foot walkaround and a 77-foot sportfisherman under construction. It takes around 100,000 hours to build one of the large Whiticar yachts that are widely admired but nearly as rare as a blue Mauritius stamp. From the hull to the cabinetry and joiner work, most phases of construction are done on the premises, with only a few tasks — like small-parts manufacturing, fairing and some glass work — outsourced to local subcontractors. Bridge, cockpit and interior are custom-built on every boat, which is slow and pushes up the price. But it’s also a guarantee that customers get exactly what they want.
“We hand-select the trees for the wood that’s used in our casings and in the veneer, so the grain is absolutely perfect,” says Short. “I don’t know if there is anyone elsewhere in the world who would build boats with such attention to detail. It’s a nice business to be in, but it’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of dedication to do what we do.”
Is there a “Florida quality” to Whiticar boats? “It’s about the people and the business,” says Short, so the more appropriate term would be “Whiticar quality.” And this quality has been known in the industry for several decades. Early in the 20th century, the family operated charter-fishing boats. When they started building them for their own business they realized there was a market, and production began in the late 1940s.
Over the years, the company has branched out into different marine businesses and now includes a yacht brokerage, a service yard in Fort Pierce, and a mobile yacht service called Shearwater. In Whiticar’s back yard are other custom shops, such as Jim Smith Tournament Boats, Gamefisherman and Rybovich, a bit down the road in West Palm Beach. While business in general seems to be good, not all builders in the area might stay, Short surmises.
“Shops don’t close,” he says, “but skyrocketing real estate prices make it appealing to sell property on the water to developers and move operations a bit farther inland.” And Whiticar? “We were born and raised here. We have roots, so we stay put.”