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Lack of choice spurs Sudbury contractor to build a better, rugged boat

BadRiverBoats now taking orders for durable, customized aluminum watercraft

In early 2020, after securing a construction job with a local mining company, industrial contractor Patrick Mechanical went about gathering the equipment needed to get the work done.

High on the priority list was a boat; more specifically, a sturdy, reliable landing craft that could ferry construction supplies and personnel to the worksite.

But the firm quickly realized the task was easier said than done.

“They couldn't find one,” said Guy Galipeau, general manager of BadRiverBoats, Patrick Mechanical's newly minted spinoff company.

The pandemic-charged consumer and commercial demand for watercraft had many boat builders scrambling. Orders were booked solid for “a year, six months, a year and a half," he said.

But the company couldn't wait, and so it decided to build its own.

After purchasing a package of boat designs online, Patrick Mechanical's team of welders set to work cutting, assembling, and finishing their first product. In short order, the company had built its own 24-foot, hand-welded aluminum landing craft, dubbed the SS Workhorse.

The Workhorse started grabbing the attention of other boating enthusiasts, and before long, the team was building boats for others; first an 18-foot fishing skiff, then a 19.5-foot landing craft for a lakeside homebuilder.

“That was the start of ‘Hmm… maybe we could build boats,” Galipeau said.

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Hired last May to head up the boat-building firm, Galipeau is a boating enthusiast with a career’s worth of manufacturing experience and a personal relationship to company founder Doug Patrick.

The long-time friends and their families have together spent decades 'gunkholing' — cruising in and out of shallow bays and coves — across northeastern Ontario.

One waterway that holds particular sentiment is the Bad River, a Lake Nipissing tributary that draws from the French and Pickerel Rivers before eventually emptying into Georgian Bay.

Favoured for its isolation, challenging boating, and rugged beauty, it proved the ideal inspiration for the new company name.

“These [boats] are utilitarian, but also pretty enough that you can take your wife and kids to a beach, or just leave it sitting on the dock at camp to get yourself to camp, to take your construction equipment to help a friend; it’s so versatile,” Galipeau said.

“But then the nice thing about it is if you actually did happen to hit a rock or hit the boat on the shoreline and put a hole in it, it’s that easy to fix.”

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BadRiverBoats offers five basic boat designs: 16 feet, 18 feet, and 19 feet, along with 21- and 24-foot landing craft, but Galipeau said they can also build anything in between.

Manufactured with 3/16-inch aluminum, each boat is tig welded by hand to make it strong and aesthetically pleasing. They can be completely customizable and come with a lifetime warranty.

“When we do sell a boat, that is one of the things I say: use it for a year, and bring it back if you need anything else,” Galipeau said. “We can make whatever you need.”

An average build takes between four and six weeks, but could be longer depending on customization.

The company also manufactures push barges, and Galipeau said they’ll soon add trailers to their catalogue.

BadRiverBoats’ target markets are construction, government, police and firefighting, but Galipeau said they’re also great for the average angler who wants a utilitarian craft that can get them where they want to go.

“(Clients) never know what they’re going to have to put in the boat, so being strong, rugged, having the non-slip floor, and versatile, they have all kinds of things they can do with it.”

A staff of six — Galipeau, a full-time salesperson and four welders — work out of Patrick Mechanical's warehouse-style shop in the east end of Sudbury.

Galipeau said he could easily hire more, particularly Red Seal welders and fitters, though it’s been challenging to find people who have the skills and are available to work.

“Labour today is a little bit harder to find than materials are, and materials are hard to find,”Galipeau said.

If growth continues as predicted, he anticipates needing another salesperson and three or four more welders over the next few years, with the eventual goal of moving into a larger, dedicated facility.

Since officially coming to market in 2022, Galipeau said the company’s been focused on perfecting its product and is in the process of adding distributors to its network.

There are competitors out there offering similar products, but he's confident BadRiverBoats’ high-quality, made-in-the-North series of watercraft will appeal to companies and families looking for something solid and long-lasting.

“We’re starting to grow,” Galipeau said. “We would like to see our growth double in the next two years.”