Fifty years is a long time to do anything, especially the business of building boats — and through at least six recessions and an ever-changing economy.
In April 1964, Bill and Bob Healey opened the doors to the Viking Yacht Co. in New Jersey — home state of then-venerable builders Egg Harbor, Pacemaker and Luhrs. The brothers focused on building wooden sportfishing and cruising boats (switching to fiberglass in 1971) in a 26,000-square-foot building with dirt floors and no heat.
A half-century later, Viking is still owned by the Healey family and is the world’s largest manufacturer of sportfishing convertibles from 42 to 92 feet — 4,660 boats, 17 models and counting. The New Gretna plant near Atlantic City now consists of five buildings with a combined 810,000 square feet of space.
“We build a better boat every day. That has been my father’s mantra since day one,” says CEO Pat Healey, the son of Bill and the second-generation Healey to run the company. “Viking is a family-owned company that not only believes in our product, but also uses the product. When I’m out fishing a tournament, I can see where improvements can be made, even if it is tweaking the slightest detail. We are never satisfied; it can always be made better.”
At the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, Viking introduced three new boats: the 92-foot Enclosed Bridge Convertible — its largest yacht ever — along with the 52-foot Open/Sport Tower and the 75-foot Motor Yacht. Viking always makes a splash at the show, and this year it was showcasing 15 boats at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center — a fleet ranging from a 42 Sport Coupe to the 92-footer — a mix of its Open, Convertible, Sport Tower, Enclosed Bridge and Motor Yacht models.
Pat Healey says giving Viking customers what they want is always at the forefront of new designs. “All of our customers are looking for value,” he says. “Admittedly, a Viking is not inexpensive. However, we need to exhibit the value of our product over our competitors. Once again, this value comes with our design, engineering, manufacturing and support of our product over everyone else. Our customers work very hard, but when they schedule time off, they want to relax, go fishing and spend time with family. They don’t have to worry when they have a Viking yacht.”
The 92 Convertible is a sight to behold. “This project was born in the summer of 2010, while I was spending time with my good friend and longtime customer Bob Hixson. During one of the tournaments, after a day of fishing on a Viking sportfisherman, Bob used his 112-foot motoryacht as a platform to entertain while we unwound,” Healey says. “The boat was the perfect mix of practicality while also being pleasantly comfortable. The aft deck and saloon worked together as one seamless unit, allowing guests to use and savor the space. I figured if we added a cockpit and mezzanine it would be a perfect layout for a fishing boat.”
Healey went to his design and engineering team, and they began formulating a plan on the ideal size for the new boat. “At the same time, we had a group of our current 82 owners that were pressing me for a bigger boat, or their ‘next boat,’ ” he adds. “From this, the 92 was created.”
Viking says the 92 is the largest sportfishing boat ever built in the United States entirely with the resin infusion process. Resin infusion allows Viking to build a lighter, stronger boat in a more measured environment. The 92 features a climate-controlled enclosed flybridge and a custom Palm Beach Towers tuna tower. She also will be available in an open-bridge configuration.
The yacht has six staterooms, each with its own head; a dining area to port; a galley to starboard with a wraparound counter and bar; a C-shaped sofa in the saloon area; and an entertainment center with a flat-screen television. She can be powered with 1,925-hp Caterpillars or 2,600-hp MTUs. With the MTUs, she’ll cruise around 30 knots and top out at about 34. With an optional 4,015-gallon fuel supply and the MTUs, the 92 has a range of about 616 nautical miles at 28.5 knots.
Tough boats, tough guys
The elder Healey brothers — both in their mid-80s — remain active at the company. They have a reputation for blunt talk and an unwavering demand for excellence in every boat they build. Bill is credited with coining the oft-recited Viking motto: “Build a better boat every day.” Bill’s employees describe him as the “Henry Ford of the boatbuilding business” — a craftsman, perfectionist, innovator and workhorse.
“My brother Bob always raised the money, and I did the work,” says Bill, a Marine Corps veteran. He has always been a hands-on, full-steam-ahead owner. Employees say he would never demand that they do something he wouldn’t do himself.
“Me, I’m a businessman,” Bob says. “On the other hand, my brother is madly in love with the yachts. He will be a yacht builder until the day he dies.”
The Active Interest Media Marine Group honored Bill and Bob with its Lifetime Achievement Award at AIM’s Editors’ Choice Awards dinner during the Fort Lauderdale show.
Pat, who now handles day-to-day operations, continues his father’s hands-on approach, as well as his father’s tradition of personally thanking each of the company’s employees as they head out the door at the end of the day. “The people who work here are the heart of the Viking product,” Pat says. “Broken down, any boat is a collection of fiberglass, wood and metal. It’s the people that design, engineer, build and support it that make the difference. There is a culture here that is instilled and passed around. It becomes a way of life.”
The next 50 years
“As a company, we look forward to improving in every aspect,” Pat says. “Personally, I’m excited that we have committed to creating a full line of motoryachts to flank our new 75. They will range from 65 to 85 feet. Our commitment is to update our manufacturing facility as new equipment becomes available so that we can continue to design, engineer and build a better boat every day.”
New-product innovation has been driving Viking’s success since the Great Recession. “Since the major downturn, we have replaced our entire line with new models that offer better performance, increased speed, reduced fuel consumption and creative interior designs,” Pat says. “We’re building our boats lighter, stronger and faster. Viking will continue, as it has the past 20 years, to raise the bar within the industry.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue.