Viking Yacht Company
A Hull of a Story
by Michael Adkins
The year was 1964. Two brothers, Bill and Bob Healey, bought Peterson-Viking Builders, which was a struggling manufacturer of wooden sportfishing and cruising boats in New Jersey.
Fifty years later, the company those two brothers built now boasts about 850 employees and is known and respected the world over for its high-end convertible yachts. Through the ups and downs in the industry, this family-owned and -operated business has remained true to the mantra declared by Bill Healey five decades and some 4,660 boats ago: “Build a better boat every day.”
Viking Yacht Company’s main factory is in New Gretna, New Jersey, with two service yards in Riviera Beach, Florida. According to Peter Frederiksen, Viking’s director of communications, the vertically integrated company designs and manufactures 90 percent of each of its yachts’ components, including fiberglass molds, fuel and water tanks, furniture, and more. “We also have our own electronics company, Atlantic Marine Electronics, and a tuna tower company, Palm Beach Towers,” Frederiksen said. A tuna tower is an elevated platform above the main deck of a boat, often with a second set of controls, used for spotting fish far in the distance. “These subsidiaries allow us to deliver a turnkey-ready boat to the customer,” Frederiksen added.
In 1972, the Viking 40-foot convertible yacht made its debut to tremendous acclaim. The company sold more than 600 40-foot and 41-foot models during the next 16 years. Perhaps more importantly, according to Frederiksen, every Viking model since then has shared this unit’s basic hull design, “with evolutionary refinements being made to accommodate steadily increasing available horsepower and speed,” he added.
Though Viking is world-renowned for its high-quality yachts today, there was a time when it looked as though the company might be sinking. The onset of a national recession in 1990, coupled with the introduction of a federal 10 percent luxury tax in 1991, was crippling to Viking. The manufacturer went from having 1,500 employees in two plants to just 80 employees in a single facility.
But this was not to be the end for Viking. With the help of a grassroots campaign organized by Bob Healey, the luxury tax was repealed in 1993. Viking remained open during this time, focusing on creating new models, which allowed it to leapfrog over the competition when sales rebounded and quickly established Viking as the industry leader of its class.
Today, Viking continues to dominate the industry, thanks to its constant innovation in the models it offers. The company’s 92 Enclosed Bridge model sets a new standard, boasting an overall length of more than 93 feet and a gross weight of 205,000 pounds — the largest resin-infused sportfishing boat in the United States, Frederiksen noted.
This history of success comes from having the same family at the helm for the company’s entire 50-year lifespan, Frederiksen said, with the second generation of the Healey clan now running Viking. “The boating industry can be in a state of flux for most companies,” he said. “But we’re steady on course — just building boats.”
Frederiksen attributed this to the company’s focus on hard work and perseverance. “It’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s not that we’re better than anyone else. But we do work harder, and we strive to do things better each and every day.”
How to Build a Better Boat
Continuous improvement is as important to the boats Viking builds as the water they cruise on. Recalling his company’s all-important mantra, Frederiksen explained, “Composites allow us to build a better boat every day.”
Composites can be found at nearly every stage of a Viking yacht’s construction, from the resins that form the hull to the gelcoat that makes it shine. “Composites give us better strength and durability and reduced weight for better efficiencies and propulsion,” Frederiksen said. “I think of using composites like using good tools. You use the best tools to make the best product. That’s what we want to achieve.”
And that’s just what Viking’s partners at North American Composites (NAC) want to help the company achieve. NAC supplies Viking with a variety of essential materials, according to NAC District Manager Bern Brody, including:
• Core materials
• Mold preparation chemicals
• Urethane foam
“Composites make [Viking] boats … lighter, stronger and more durable,” Brody said. “Composites provide design capabilities that just wouldn’t be possible with other materials.”
Viking has worked with NAC for approximately seven years, but Viking’s relationship with Mahogany Company, a subsidiary of NAC located in Mays Landing, New Jersey, goes back some 43 years. “We’re connected at the hip — no doubt about it,” Frederiksen laughed.
“The longevity of [the relationship] is number one,” Frederiksen added. “When you’re comfortable with a supplier, you know they’re looking out for you and your best interests.”
Longevity is one crucial factor, but so is proximity. With NAC’s Mays Landing facility located just 20 minutes from Viking’s New Gretna factory, Viking can deal with critical issues quickly without having to wait long for materials. “Sometimes we have changes come up from nowhere,” Frederiksen stated. “When that happens, NAC is right there, ready to help.”
“We’ll often deliver to Viking twice a day,” Brody added. “We’re able to provide the materials they need on a just-in-time basis. I think our level of service is another important part of our partnership.”
“That product availability is crucial to our being able to get our boats done on time,” Frederiksen confirmed. “NAC is a pivotal component of our success. … We’re able to say, ‘Let’s come out with something new,’ and we know NAC will have the products we need to do it.
“NAC is a leading-edge supplier,” Frederiksen continued. “They’re always keeping us up to speed on new products that are available. That goes a long way toward letting us do our job.”
Navigating New Seas
With a strong partner like NAC, Viking is able to devote the resources it needs toward its ongoing mission of excellence in the industry. “Our number-one challenge is building the best boat that we can,” Frederiksen said emphatically. “We have the materials we need to do that through our relationship with NAC.”
As Brody pointed out, though, the materials are only part of the equation for success in the boating industry. “The challenge is to make a product that is completely discretionary spending interesting, attractive and desirable to the customer,” he explained. “And Viking does that.”
As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, creating boats that are worth customers’ time and money continues to drive Viking forward, Frederiksen said. “What we’re able to do is, by keeping our philosophy of building a better boat every day, we’re able to build boats that are faster, provide better fishability and are overall better able to be used,” he observed. “It’s about taking things to the next level. How can we make that next boat appeal to the owner? How do we make that boat say to him or her, ‘This is the boat you’ve been waiting for. This is the boat for you.’?
“The customer today can be demanding,” Frederiksen continued. “And we work hard to meet their demands. We’re all about the ‘Wow’ factor, and we work hard to make that ‘Wow’ factor obvious.”
Part of always appealing to new customers involves always having new models to appeal to them — a practice that goes back to the early days of Viking. The 2014 model year saw three new models, with four new models debuting for the 2013 model year — making Viking’s yacht fleet the youngest in the industry,
“We’re always working on new boats,” Frederiksen said. “For our 2015 models, we’ll be rolling out a 92-foot Enclosed Bridge Convertible, a 75-foot Motor Yacht and a 52-foot Open/Sport Tower model, with more boats to follow.”
And the innovations that are included in these newest models often make their way to Viking’s older models as well. “This helps keep the entire product line fresh and exciting all the time,” Frederiksen pointed out.
The now, the new, the innovative — these are the frontiers Viking Yacht Company seeks from each new boat that it crafts. “Our challenge is to never lose sight of our mission,” Frederiksen said. “All of us, as a company, are always looking for the next big thing.”