Bob Dougherty, the chief designer and senior vice president of engineering at Boston Whaler in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and the founder of two other powerboat manufacturing companies, died with his family by his side at his New Smyrna Beach, Fla., home on March 23. He was 85.
Dougherty remained active in the industry until his retirement last November, when he sold Everglades Boats to the Chicago-based private equity firm Grand Crossing Capital Partners LP.
“He was a boatbuilder first and foremost,” says Bryan Harris, vice president of sales and marketing at Everglades Boats. “He wasn’t a marketer or a professionally trained businessman, but he succeeded in all of those areas. At his core he was a boat designer and one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.”
A former schoolteacher from Boston, Dougherty got his start in the industry drawing the lines for Boston Whaler’s classic hulls during the 1960s and later manufactured boats that would become the EdgeWater brand before launching Everglades in 2001. He refined the technique of building “unsinkable” boats that Whaler founder Dick Fisher made famous (with credit to pioneering designer C. Raymond Hunt, as well).
During a 30-year career at Boston Whaler, Dougherty designed nearly every Whaler built. His contribution to perfecting the integrated buoyancy safety innovation, which transformed recreational boating, earned Dougherty the nickname “Mr. Unsinkable.”
“Always taking the high road on quality, he was a disciplined and visionary leader, for whom doing the right thing always came first,” Everglades Boats says. “As his boatbuilding career unfolded, the people in his organizations were his highest priority.”
Harris, who says he worked alongside Dougherty for more than a decade at Everglades, echoed that sentiment.
“He just wanted to do things the best way. He didn’t want to cut corners. He wanted to do things the best way he knew how,” Harris says. “He fostered an entire company atmosphere that we were all in this together and we were a family. If you worked for him you wanted to do right for him, and he took care of his people through both the up and down years that come with this industry.”
In 1990 Dougherty left Boston Whaler and founded Dougherty Marine and RJ Dougherty & Associates, building OEM windshields and other parts, along with an unsinkable boat he marketed under the Marlin brand. The company he sold to the North Technology Group in 1994 became the EdgeWater brand in 1996.
He refined the unsinkable closed-cell foam flotation technique with the creation of the Rapid Molded Core Assembly Process (RAMCAP), which won an industry Innovation Award in 1999. He then brought his knowledge of unsinkable construction to Everglades Boats, the next company he founded.
“In his own way Bob made a huge impact on our industry,” recalls Peter Truslow, president of EdgeWater Power Boats. “He was behind some of the biggest developments in small-boat construction: unsinkable foam construction, the center console and the single-piece fiberglass grid stringer system. He was also a pioneer in boat business practices like standardizing dealer inventory and factory engine rigging.”
Truslow says Dougherty’s energy, passion and curiosity were evident throughout his career. “He was a true ‘maker’ who could design and build in almost any material — fiberglass, wood, metal, plastic. Best of all, he was really good at explaining how it all worked,” Truslow says.
“He was a teacher, and I think he carried the teacher in him throughout his career,” Harris says. “I know people who would go into his office for a 20-minute chat and emerge 90 minutes later having learned four or five things they hadn’t even gone to him for.”
In 2014 Everglades introduced a limited edition of its most popular boat, the 243 center console. Only 50 boats in the Signature Series line were built — each signed and numbered by Dougherty.
“We wanted to honor Bob for all that he has done for our company and the industry,” Harris says.
Harris notes that even though Dougherty had left Whaler decades earlier, the loyal “Whaler heads” continued to seek him out.
“In the 13 years I worked with Bob it was amazing how people just randomly showed up in our [Everglades] parking lot with 13- and 15-foot Whalers wanting Bob to sign them,” he says. “They would just show up out of the blue with these old boats they loved so much.”
Harris says the Everglades 435 center console — the company’s flagship model, launched in 2014 — was Dougherty’s final design.
“It was his last hull and his biggest hull, so in a way it was the crown jewel of his career,” Harris says.
Between founding EdgeWater and Everglades, Dougherty operated RJ Dougherty & Associates, which made windshields and parts for the boating industry.
During an indelible career, those who knew him say one of Dougherty’s favorite sayings was “tight lines” — a fishing term for good luck or good fortune.
“He lived his life as if a fish were always on the line, ready for the next challenge with a can-do attitude that never quit,” reads the Everglades statement.
Dougherty is survived by his wife, Barbara, daughters Laura and Gail, sons Rob and Stephen, and 10 grandchildren.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue.