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Little dayboats that get around

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An upstart Canadian builder of small powerboats and rowboats has doubled its dealer network in less than two years and plans to launch a 23-foot runabout this spring.

The Rossiter 23 Classic Day Boat likely will debut at the Palm Beach International Boat Show (March 20-23), says Rossiter Boats Inc. owner Scott Hanson.

“My customers said, ‘Build us a great dayboat,’ ” Hanson says. “They didn’t want a cuddy cabin or another center console, just a great dayboat for multigenerational use. People said, “Give me comfortable seating for six to 10 people — with at least six under cover.’ ”

Six — that’s the number of dealers Hanson had in his network in 2012. It now stands at 12, with two in Florida. The company, founded in 1974 and taken over by Hanson in 2007, has stepped up its efforts to stake a claim in Florida. “The typical Floridian customer for us is a snowbird who has probably grown up in the Great Lakes or Northeast,” Hanson says.

“When they look at our boat, they say, ‘That is a boat I remember.’ It conjures up a lot of positive memories in terms of style and look. They are attracted by the clean look and simplicity and the quality of the finish and deep-vee hull.”

They like the look in New England, too. Scandia Yacht Sales in Woolwich, Maine, is the latest addition to the Rossiter network. “We like the style of the boats they offer, kind of a classic New England-style boat that you don’t see much anymore,” company owner Bruce McElman says. “They are kind of a throwback to the older wooden runabouts. Ninety percent of what you see on the market is center consoles, so the boats fill a void in the market.”

Rossiter operates out of a new 92,000-square-foot plant in Markdale, Ontario. The company, which employs 15, builds semicustom rowboats and powerboats, including seven models of rowing boats, which include yacht tenders, skiffs, recreational sport shells and its most popular model, the 17-foot Loudon. The powerboat lineup consists of the Rossiter 14, the Closed Deck R17 Runabout and the 17 Center Console.

Beyond the dealer expansion, sales numbers also illustrate the company’s growth. Rossiter built 12 boats in 2007. Fast forward six years: “We produced over 100 units this past year for dealers and customers, with limited display product remaining in inventory at dealers,” Hanson says.

In terms of powerboat sales, and specifically the R14, Rossiter built one boat in 2007, but it has made 20 of the 14s during the past year. The company also built 47 of the 17 Runabouts and Center Consoles.

“[In mid-December] we took orders for seven of our new Rossiter 23 Classic Day Boats,” Hanson says. An advertising campaign in magazines from the Great Lakes, Maine and South Florida has helped to fuel sales, Hanson says.

The new 23 Classic Dayboat.

The new 23 Classic Dayboat.

Hanson has always wanted to own and operate a boatbuilding company. In fact, he left his business career behind 20 years ago and with his wife moved to Maine to attend The Landing School, where he earned a degree in design and boatbuilding for both commercial and recreational vessels. But a downturn in the economy forced Hanson back into the non-marine business — until he met George Rossiter.

Strangely enough, Hanson and Rossiter’s relationship began on the ski slopes in Collingwood, Ontario. The two men later bumped into each other at a cocktail party. “I was CEO of a market research firm with offices in New York and Toronto,” says Hanson, 49. “I was one of these fathers who spent their life on an airplane. George had terminal cancer and had to get his affairs in order.”

Two days after the party, Hanson visited Rossiter’s shop in Meaford, Ontario, on Georgian Bay. “What I found is that those who knew Rossiter boats loved them, and the rest of the world had no idea they existed,” Hanson says. “And as a brand marketing guy, which is what I was, there appeared to be a real opportunity.”

When Hanson took the reins, Rossiter was a direct-to-customer business. “It became clear to me that we needed to change the business model,” Hanson says. “We needed to go out and create awareness; we needed to work with the dealer community to establish a network.”

But there would be no stockpiling of inventory, Hanson says. “We weren’t asking the dealers to sit on $1 million worth of product that they were unsure would sell or wasn’t necessarily appealing to their clientele,” he says. “Instead we brought the product to the market and stood behind the dealers — underwriting the boat shows, underwriting other promotions, knowing that when consumer confidence comes back we’re going to be on boaters’ shopping lists.”

Rossiter does, in fact, support the dealers, says Brian McMurphy, owner of Big Toy Sales and Storage in Venice, Fla. “I have yet to ask for something that Scott hasn’t said yes to,” says McMurphy, who sells Wellcraft powerboats and Bentley pontoons in addition to Rossiter boats. “Everything we have suggested and wanted to do he has backed us in spirit and financially. If we call him with an issue, it’s resolved.”

McMurphy looks forward to carrying the 23-footer. “I have a handful of people who can’t wait to see the boat,” he says. “That size is more in the sweet spot for Florida. The bread-and-butter size for this area is 20 to 25 feet.”

McMurphy became a dealer in October 2012. He has been impressed with the ride quality of the 17- and 14-footers and expects the same performance from the 23.

The ride originated from George Rossiter’s design of his first and only powerboat — the 14 Rossiter. “He wanted a boat that was surefooted and soft and dry,” Hanson says. “He wanted to combine the hydrodynamics of a deep-vee with the market demand for efficiency. And he said a deep-vee is where we’re going to start.”

Rossiter added a flat lifting pad on centerline for easy planing. Hanson used the 14’s design to create a 17-footer in center console and runabout models. I had an opportunity to demo the 17-foot center console with a Yamaha F115 and a 14-footer with a Yamaha F40. And those lifting pads do indeed work. These boats are quick to plane and can stay on plane at low speeds. I had the 17-footer cutting through 2- to 3-foot seas at a 12-mph clip in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The simplicity of our boats is their beauty and the ride is the surprise,” Hanson says.

Simple, but high-end: The 14, with a 40-hp engine, ranges from $18,000 to $20,000 and the 17 with an F90 comes in at roughly $35,000. The F90 pushes the boat to a top speed of 43 mph.

If you are happy cruising at 30 mph, you will get 100 miles of range while leaving 15 percent reserve in the 27-gallon tank. But if you want a little more speed, the Rossiter 17 will handle an F115 and deliver 48 to 50 mph, depending on load and sea conditions.



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