Gulf Craft adds Marine Travelift 500c mobile boat hoist to new shipyard facility

 Franklin, La.-based custom boatbuilder Gulf Craft has purchased a new Marine Travelift Inc. 500C mobile boat hoist. Delivered to Gulf Craft in August 2011, the massive hoist marked a significant shift in long-term strategy for the nearly 50-year-old family business.

According to Scotty Tibbs II, Gulf Craft’s vice president and chief financial officer, Gulf Craft’s original facility in Patterson, La., was located on a restricted waterway with narrow locks. Changes in customer needs forced them to take a new look at how, and where, their business operated.

“My dad, brother and I saw that boats were getting bigger and bigger,” Tibbs says in a Marine Travelift press release. “We realized that if a lot of these new contracts came through for us, we wouldn’t be able to take them. The bigger boats wouldn’t fit through those locks.”

So they found a new piece of property in Franklin, an ideal shipyard location with easy access to unrestricted water. They also began searching for a different launch and haul-out system.

“Our existing launch system was a railway and cradle,” Tibbs says. “And with rail, you’re stuck; once a boat’s in there, you can’t haul or launch anything else.”

They decided to review mobile boat hoist options, recognizing that such a machine would be far more versatile than a railway.

 “We knew a mobile boat hoist would be able to maneuver anywhere in the yard, whereas with rail, you’re so limited,” Tibbs said. “And although it would cost more than a rail system, we knew it would allow us to diversify if new construction fell off. We could move into modifications and repair work.”

Tibbs reached out to several manufacturers, assembling quotes and trying to design the best system to meet Gulf Craft’s needs, ultimately determining that Marine Travelift was the best choice.

 “Marine Travelift has such a presence out there, and they are such a good team,” he says. “It was a three-year process to actually purchase the 500C, and they provided so much guidance, forethought and vision.”

Tibbs added that it was important for Gulf Craft to work with a domestic manufacturer, as it had received a U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) grant in 2010 to support its operation. And a mobile boat hoist clearly was going to be a major investment at the new Franklin shipyard.

“It was MARAD’s preference to use a domestic corporation,” Tibbs said. “It worked out well for us, too. We get incredible local service through the H & E Equipment Services Inc. branch in Belle Chasse, La.; Jeff Shall worked with us continually, and we feel so comfortable with the level of service and support.”

Working closely with Tibbs and Shall, Marine Travelift says it constructed a 500C mobile boat hoist with customizable width, allowing the machine to accommodate 52-foot wide passenger catamarans as well as narrower monohull boats. The team also incorporated additional drive motors to enable the 500C to travel over inclined, uneven or sloped surfaces, adding to its versatility around the Gulf Craft yard.

“They also counseled us to purchase the 500-ton machine rather than a 400-ton,” Tibbs said. “They told us not to cut it too close, otherwise we’d use it for a couple of years and then realize we’d grown out of it. They advised us to go with what we thought we were going to need in the long term.”

Less than two weeks after its August delivery, the new 500C was officially in service at the new shipyard.

 “It was up and running after only 10 days,” Tibbs said, chuckling. “We couldn’t believe how big that thing is! It’s so impressive to see it pick up a boat 200 feet long and 35 or 36 feet wide and move it around like a piece of candy.”

While Gulf Craft does build a significant number of passenger cruise boats and catamarans, the bulk of its workload comprises crew/supply vessels for offshore oil rigs around the world. The shipyard, which employs more than 100 boatbuilding professionals, can accommodate four new vessels at a time, and Tibbs said deliveries are booked through 2015.

Yet things can change over time, and while the 500C is currently focused only on new construction, Tibbs observed that it remains an important element of Gulf Craft’s long-term business strategy if new orders decline.

 “We can keep it in regular service, working on modifications and repairs,” he said.

Until then, the machine will continue to work on new vessels. And the Gulf Craft team couldn’t be happier with its ease of operation and overall performance.

“This was,” Tibbs said simply, “a smart business decision.”