At a time when most boat manufacturers were hunkered down, slowing production and waiting for the economy to show better signs of recovery, Tommy Hancock and Dale Martin took a major leap of faith. The two boating industry veterans started Sportsman Boats, building 20 to 25 foot Bay and Offshore boats.
Boat building is a family tradition for Hancock. His father owned Citation Boats where Tommy worked and where he met Martin. When Hancocks father sold Citation in 1985, Martin went on to found Key West Boats in Ridgeville, SC. The following year, Hancock founded Sea Pro Boats near Columbia, SC. As Sea Pro grew, it was moved to larger factories, all in his home state of South Carolina, ﬁrst in Chapin in 1991, then to Newberry in 1996. The business prospered, building 17 to 25 foot Bay, Center Console, Walkaround and Dual Console saltwater fishing boats.
Sportsman Heritage 229 deep-V center console boat. Photos: Sportsman Boats
The boats were so popular that the Brunswick Corporation, parent company of brands like Sea Ray, Boston Whaler, Bayliner, and Mercury motors contacted Hancock in early 2004 about buying Sea Pro. "We werent looking to sell," recalls Hancock, "but Brunswick was a great company, the biggest in the industry, with a good growth and acquisition plan." Sea Pro joined the saltwater boat division of Brunswick in December of 2004.
"They had a great plan," Hancock said. Unfortunately, the economy started downhill, hit Brunswick hard, as it did the entire marine industry, and the Sea Pro line was shut down.
After selling Sea Pro, Hancock found the freedom to enjoy himself, spending more time ﬁshing and traveling with his family. Coincidentally, Martin had sold his interest in Key West in 2003. Martin and Hancock had kept in touch, each knowing the other still had a strong interest in building boats again.
The "Dynamic Duo" of Hancock and Martin began looking at ways to reenter the marine industry. They conducted market surveys and talked to both dealers and boat manufacturers to determine what was selling and why. "The economy was our biggest concern but we felt that we had seen bottom and there was signs of recovery" said Hancock. These guys, having more than 50 years of combined boat building experience with 70,000 plus happy boat owners to their credit, are arguably the brightest and most experienced in the saltwater fish boat market today and undeniably the most successful.
Dale Martin (left) and Tommy Hancock of Sportsman Boats.
They explored the opportunity to buy an existing boat builder but ultimately decided that they didnt want to buy in to old models with dated designs and old tooling (molds). "Technology has advanced so much," Hancock explained, "in design as well as in tooling like 5-axis CNC routers that just didnt exist when we were building boats before." This new technology is costly but helps us to bring a superior product to market.
On September 19, 2011, they took the plunge and launched Sportsman Boats. Their ﬁrst model was the Heritage 229, a 22 ½ foot deep V center console ﬁshing boat. The 229 was followed by the Masters 227, a 22 ½ foot bay boat, the Masters 207, a 20 ½ foot bay boat, the Heritage 211, a 21 foot deep V center console fishing boat, and most recent, the Masters 247, a 24 ½ foot bay boat. In addition to the five existing models, a Heritage 251 is scheduled to arrive this Spring. There are three additional models that are now on the drawing board that are also planned to be introduced in 2013.
"We did a lot of preliminary work in that timeframe - opening the business, producing designs and building molds. It was a lot of hard work but were excited!" Hancock said. "Having enough orders has not been a problem, the problem then and now is keeping up with demand and thats a good problem to have."
The company initially leased 20,000 square feet of space in Summerville, SC. but within three months expanded to 40,000 square feet and today they are in hot pursuit to purchase a much larger facility they will be able to call home. Sportsman built just under 300 boats in 2012 and is projected to build between 550 and 600 boats in 2013. Within weeks of opening they had hired 14 employees, now the workforce has grown to 40 and it is projected to grow to 50 to 55 in 2013. That should enable them to produce Sportsman boats at a pace to meet their projections.
Milo Hanckel, owner of Hanckel Marine in Charleston, was a Sea Pro dealer and the ﬁrst dealer for Sportsman. When he ﬁrst learned about the new company, his immediate reaction was: "Its about time! What took you so long?" Hes enthusiastic, not only about the phenomenal product Sportsman is producing but also because of his admiration of Hancocks and Martins knowledge and integrity in boat building.
A dealer network has come together rather quickly with quality dealers from the North East down to Florida and over to Texas. In Texas alone there are eight dealerships carrying Sportsman Boats today and I am sure there is one near you. Look for Sportsmans full page ad in this magazine which has most of their Texas dealers listed.
Sportsman has put together a lineup of high quality Bay and Offshore boats that have features that are fresh, functional and have many things you wont find with any other brand. There is a mass of outstanding features on the Heritage Series boats but since we are in Texas where the Bay Boat is King, I want to focus on some of the great features found on the "Masters Series" Bay Boats.
Along with extreme high quality, no wood construction, great ride and performance the "Masters Series" Bay Boats include 2 aerated livewells plus an aerated release / 3rd livewell that is standard on the 227 and 247 but optional on the 207, large anchor locker, 2 locking rod lockers that will hold 10 rods along with lots of other gear, a very comfortable leaning post, large front and rear casting decks, 5 pull up cleats, easy to clean yacht style non-skid. The ergonomically designed console features Yamaha digital gauges, hydraulic steering, stainless steel steering wheel with turning knob, built in deep footwell, large lockable glove compartment, easy front access to a large storage area inside the console and plenty of room to mount up to a 12" screen GPS / depthfinder just below your line of sight. And then there is "Total Access." At first glance you see the large rear casting deck but when you raise the center lid it exposes a safe and comfortable ¾ bench seat that is large enough for two adults. Being positioned at center will protect your passengers from the spray, rain and wind that has always been a problem with side jump seats commonly found on other bay boat brands. Raise the stainless gas shock assisted seat bottom to expose a lockable storage compartment not found on other bay boats and is large enough for an average size man to sit in below deck level. There you will realize how massive the storage area is but behind a removable bulkhead, you will also find easy access to the boats livewell, bilge and fuel systems as well as the engine electrical and mechanical cabling.
To learn more about Sportsman Boats, you can go on line to:
Uncle Norms introduces an improved "Shark Fin," which is a retractable rudder for inboard jets that improves maneuverability and stability, stops hydroplaning in tight turns, reduces response time and provides solid tracking which takes a lot of work off the driver. Uncle Norms Marine Products has been working with law enforcement agencies to improve the operation of jet boats operated in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Canada. As a result, the officers have reported having far greater slow speed control when working around other boaters and people in the water. They report much tighter turn rates and a greater steering response when needing to make quick adjustments to avoid logs or other debris.
The "Shark Fin" is easily installed to the jet nozzle of Hamilton, American Turbine and Extreme - Marine Power jet pumps. The design is totally passive. Install it and forget it. The fin system is a trailing link design that works with gravity and water pressure. In addition, the trailing link design simply rides up and over an obstacle which protects the nozzle and pump from being damaged from impact the way that other fixed jet boat rudders do. See it in action on the Uncle Norms Marine Products You-Tube channel.
The Shark Fin retractable ruddor works on both inboard jets and prop engines. It increases turning tightness and stability, and reduces bow rise and cavitation. Photo: Uncle Norm Marine Products
Similar results are achieved for prop boats. Fins for prop boats add powerful rudder action that tightens turns, quickens response rate, increases stability, reduces bow rise, reduces cavitation, improves the effectiveness of autopilots and reduces wake.