Hewes Marine has become industry-leader in boat-making

A Hewescraft boat sits ready for shipment down Highway 395. (Photo by Brandon Hansen)

By Brandon Hansen / brandon@chewelahindependent.com

Located just north of Colville isn’t just a simple factory but an industry leader.

After Bob Hewes returned home from World War II, he along with some of his friends wanted their own fishing boats. So Bob and his friends bought aluminium sheets and other material from a junk dealer in Spokane.

The first three boats for the friends were built and then those friends quickly lost interest in helping Bob finish his own boat. Bob recruited the help of his younger brother Ralph to help him. That would end up being the catalyst and creation of Hewes Marine Company.

Now, Ralph’s sons Bill and Dave Hewes are keeping the tradition alive.

Today the factory has been moved from its previous location near the airport to just north of Colville in a building that was formerly a bowling alley. Now with a newly completed addition, Hewes Marine Company has more room to produce their quality boats.

During a Colville Rotary tour last Wednesday, visitors had the chance to see how the U-shaped factory starts with sheet metal and other pieces of metal on one side and kicks out a finished boat on the other end.

Hewes Marine Company’s boats come with a lifetime warranty on the floors, hull and all welding throughout each boat. According to Clint Kirry, of the company’s sales and marketing department, a special vinyl coating on wood floor makes them extremely durable. In all, the company produces nine different models in three different sizes.

It all starts out simply enough, as the first few rooms of the factory line includes metal materials for the smaller components and the interior bracing of the hull, along with large single sheets of aluminium destined to become the bottom of the hull.

Then it’s off to the sheer, plasma cutter and metal bender all big, imposing machines that look like the next coming of a Terminator movie where computers are used for precise angles and cuts.

Welding teams then join the internal pieces and framing of the hull as the material takes its first step in looking more like a boat. Once that is complete, the boat takes a bath in their water test tank to check for leaks.

At this juncture, it’s easy to see the company’s commitment to safety. Every boat under 20 feet must pass a float and tip test, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The boat has to fill with water and still float. This regulation does not apply to boats over 20 feet.

“However, here at Hewescraft, we fill every boat — even our boats that are over 20 feet in length — with enough flotation foam to keep every boat afloat when it is overturned or filled with water,” Kirry said.

Float reliefs are cut into the frame and flotation foam is inserted into reliefs at the bottom of the boat. Hewes tries to find as many nooks and crannies to get the foam in because they have a reputation to keep with their rugged — and safe — boats.

After foaming, the metal gets roughed up and then acid primer and an epoxy primer are added to the frame then baked in a room at 165 degrees. This is at the bottom of the “U” shape of the factory, and then it’s on to finishing.

Hoses, windows, controls and the floors are added to the boat. The final decals and striping are done at this stage as well. Then a team custom-fits canvas on some of the boats while seats are also installed.

“Because every boat is handcrafted, each convertible canvas top must be custom fit to each boat. These boats do not come out of a mold (as is the case with fiberglass boats), so it is up to our skilled employees to make sure that quality is maintained at every step,” Kirry said. “A boat’s canvas top must be neither too loose, nor too tight. Our canvas department does an excellent job.”

Engines are installed according to dealer specs but Hewes Marine Company also produces one jet inboard motor that customers sometimes prefer.
The boats get washed down and then shrink-wrapped for delivery – you’ve probably seen them headed down 395. From start to finish, the build process takes about six weeks – from paperwork through delivery.

December and January are the busiest months for the company because boat dealers are gearing up for boat shows. Hewes Marine Company tries to keep up thanks to the hard work of its 128 employees.

“Everything is put together by skilled people and they’re our most important resource,” Kirry said.

Welders are usually so well-versed they can weld all around the factory during any stage of the process. Experienced department supervisors and leads make sure all the welders are skilled and ready for the job.

It’s the commitment to quality that has allowed Hewes Marine Company to become the No. 1 selling boat in the Northwestern United States.
Before the recession hit in 2008, the company was usually ranked third or fourth in sales volume. Some boat builders were not able to adjust but Hewes Marine Company was able to shine.

Every year the company invites dealers to the factory to see how the boats are made and to see what changes are being made in each model.
So from a desire to build just one fishing boat to a complete assembly line and sales that top the charts – you could say that Hewes Marine Company might be the best fish story of them all.