Industry mourns ‘Mr. Unsinkable’ Bob Dougherty

Industry pioneer Bob Dougherty died peacefully on Wednesday with his family at his side. He was 85.
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Dougherty is shown in a familiar pose, working at his drawing table.

Dougherty is shown in a familiar pose, working at his drawing table.

Industry pioneer Bob Dougherty died peacefully on Wednesday with his family at his side. He was 85.

A former schoolteacher, Dougherty got his start in the industry drawing the lines for Boston Whaler’s classic hulls during the 1960s and later launched the EdgeWater and Everglades brands. He refined the technique of building “unsinkable” boats.

For that safety innovation, which transformed recreational boating, the Boston-born Dougherty earned 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 said in a statement. “As his boatbuilding career unfolded, the people in his organizations were his highest priority, taking care of them as he would his own family.”

The original 13-foot Boston Whaler is perhaps the most famous “unsinkable” vessel in recreational boating history and is tied to company founder Dick Fisher, who turned the innovation into one of the industry’s greatest marketing campaigns.

But the quality that made the Whaler stand out from its contemporaries for a time was merely an afterthought for its creator, who was focused on taking the weight out of the boat so it would be light enough to be powered by a small engine, Dougherty said in a 2005 story published in Soundings magazine.

Working in the late 1950s, Fisher originally used balsa wood as the core material, Dougherty recalled. But after it proved unsatisfactory Fisher hit on a material the Germans developed during World War II: a polyurethane resin that expanded into closed-cell foam. Sandwiched between two thin layers of fiberglass, the whole unit became very strong, and it also had positive flotation, Dougherty added.

He worked as a designer with Fisher and Ray Hunt in the early 1960s. Dougherty, who worked with Fisher from 1960 until Fisher sold Boston Whaler to the CML Group in 1969, was promoted to chief designer and senior vice president of engineering.

During a 30-year career at Boston Whaler, Dougherty designed almost every one of its boats, ranging from 9 to 31 feet.

In 1990 Dougherty left Boston Whaler to start EdgeWater Boats, where he integrated the now refined unsinkable closed-cell foam flotation. In 1995 he would go on to spread the gospel of unsinkability at Everglades Boats, the next company he founded.

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,” Everglades said.

Services will be held 4-7 p.m. April 1 at Baldwin Brothers Funeral Home in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., with a funeral mass at 10 a.m. April 2 at Our Lady Star Of The Sea Catholic Church, also in New Smyrna, with burial to follow at New Smyrna/Edgewater Cemetery.

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