Hitting the Waves on the Prairies
Central Alberta boat builder keeps customers jetting about
By David Quinn
The roar of the engine. The wind in your hair. The spray off the water. It’s all part of the experience for owners of the aluminum boats designed and built by Outlaw Eagle Manufacturing in Red Deer County, Alberta.
You might be thinking, boat manufacturing in central Alberta?! Yep, it’s a real thing!
“We’ve got some fantastic waters here on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies,” says Dale Whiteside, owner of Outlaw Eagle Manufacturing. “There’s always been boat building here, and a lot of the credit goes back to a handful of individuals who were instrumental in starting the industry.”
From Red Deer to the world
In 1987, Outlaw Marine was started by Alex Millar and Rob Chrunyk. In 1993, Chrunyk left Outlaw to start Eagle Powerboats. In 2002, Whiteside purchased Outlaw Marine, eventually purchasing Eagle in 2004 and merging the companies to create Outlaw Eagle Manufacturing.
In the last 35 years, the company – through the various corporate iterations – has produced and sold nearly 2000 boats to customers primarily in Western Canada and abroad in the United States and even New Zealand.
“From the start to about the year 2000, jet boats probably accounted for 95 per cent of our output,” explains Whiteside. “Since then, we’ve been building a lot of commercial boats, which tend to be spec’d with outboard engines, so today we’re probably about 75 per cent jet boats.”
Not your father’s boat
While there may be other manufacturers in the market delivering boats by – pardon the pun – the boatload, Outlaw Eagle isn’t competing for the basic utility watercraft position. Rather, the company’s boats are decidedly higher-end and built for speed and comfort.
“In earlier days, this really was a price-competitive type of business where we were trying to be super competitive on cost. There was hardly any options or higher-value stuff done on the majority of the boats,” Whiteside says. “In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, we were producing some really nice boats in the $45,000-$65,000 range.”
“Now, everything we’re making has a nice plush upholstered interior, automotive-style paints and finishes, and high-end electronics and entertainment equipment,” says Whiteside. “There’s probably 80 per cent of the boats we’re building that have half to three-quarters of the available options selected by the customer. Not many boats leave here for under $100,000.”
It takes a village
Where does the company get the inspiration for the high-end finishes and options? Whiteside says it’s a combination of ideas from their customers and their own staff.
“We get a lot of great ideas from our customers and staff, and if something ends up being really popular, we’ll often move it into our system as a standard feature or an optional item that will ultimately sell boats,” Whiteside says.
Key staff at Outlaw Eagle Manufacturing have more than 200 combined years of experience designing and building high-quality boats, and it’s a passion for the craft that drives the company every day.
Whiteside says, “we aim to make every boat with as much value built in as possible, and we do so with a focus on ensuring the quality of every component and every step in the process.”
“We’ve got some automation in the cutting processes, and we continue to increase that functionality,” says Whiteside. “The design and engineering of the boats needs a high degree of precision and accuracy, so also we use a lot of AutoCAD tools to ensure the quality is there from the start.”
Nonetheless, the manufacturing process remains very hands-on and requires the finely honed skills of craftsmen to bring the boats over the finish line.
Like many other manufacturers at the start of the pandemic – especially those operating in what can be seen as ‘luxury-type’ sectors – Outlaw Eagle faced the unknown and had to respond quickly.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” Whiteside says. “We had most of our staff on layoff notice, but as it turned out, we never missed a day – there was no workforce loss to speak of. Demand in the recreational boat market definitely increased, and we quickly got to the point of being sold out for six to eight months.”
Of course, the pandemic had effects on the various supply chains involved in the manufacture of watercraft, and some of those effects linger to this day.
“Everyone was facing the challenge, so we weren’t alone,” says Whiteside. “The issue of supply chain disruptions and labour shortages were the biggest problems, but as time’s gone on, our vendors are telling us they’re getting more and more caught up every month.”