Even if demand for yachts never returns to where it was before the recession, manufacturers and craftsmen will still be making boats in Rhode Island.
The centuries-old recreational marine industry centered in the East Bay is smaller than it was a decade ago, but is evolving and diversifying as companies position themselves for the recovery.
With the economy improving, Americans have slowly begun to buy sailboats and powerboats again, and smaller, less-opulent craft appear to be leading the way.
That’s helping companies such as LaserPerformance in Portsmouth, which makes fiberglass sailing dinghies and is in the process of moving production of foils (centerboards and rudders) from China back to the Ocean State.
LaserPerformance is hiring 15 new full-time employees, plus six part time, by the end of the year to operate the new production line, said company Chairman Bill Crane. Next year the company plans to bring production of racks for its boats in-house, which could add another four workers.
Formerly known as Vanguard, LaserPerformance makes sailboat types such as the Laser, Optimist, 420 and Sunfish, and is in the process of transitioning the method for making their hulls from an open-mold system to an “infusion,” closed-mold system similar to how the foils are made.
“We started a factory in China and realized it is so valuable we closed it and moved it to Portsmouth,” Crane said. “We wanted to make a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for foils for our boats and for those of our competition. Strategically, we think this technology is really valuable and we should integrate it to what we are doing in the Rhode Island facility.”
In Newport, sailboat designer J/Boats Inc. has seen strong demand for its 23-foot J/70 sailboat, which is manufactured at C&C Fiberglass in Bristol, another company that has bounced back well from the recession.
C&C also makes the hulls for Hunt Yachts, a Portsmouth company that was recently acquired by the New York investment firm that owns luxury-boat maker The Hinckley Co.