The history of Haines Hunter

Haines Hunter boats have an enviable reputation for construction quality, sea-keeping ability and value for money.

Haines Hunter 545 Sport Fisher

First published in December 2006

This year (2006) marks the 60th anniversary of the family-owned business responsible for the brand’s legacy in New Zealand.

Miller Moyes Sea Craft (originally Sea Craft Ltd) still operates from the same, small, Ellerslie premises purchased in 1946, yet remarkably, throughput has increased to around 230 boats a year today. All a result, say managing director Lionel Sands, of working smarter – particularly over the last 12 years.

Sea Craft Ltd was established by Sandy Sands – Lionel’s father. "My father was a boatbuilder, as was his father and grandfather, I’m the fifth generation. When Dad came back from the war, he began manufacturing oars and mass-producing small, clinker built boats.

"The timber boats were popular and the business thrived. Outboard motors were scarce in those days and many of the boats were fitted with [Ford]Cortina and Falcon inboard motors. In fact, when we switched to GRP construction in 1965, there was an overlap for a few years when we produced both."

In a visionary decision, Sandy selected two of his key staff members and sent them to the US be trained in GRP boatbuilding. Based on Sands’ existing timber range, the GRP boats were new designs – 15-foot semi-cabin boats, 13-foot whalers and the popular 17-foot Valencias and 19-foot Catalinas. "By the early 1970s, we were doing about 130 boats a year."

Through the industry’s ups and downs, Sea Craft’s growth remained fairly steady. "But with Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon’s introduction of boat tax (about 1978), we bloody near went broke. That year, we only built one new boat. And the tax was the catalyst for merging our operation with Miller Moyes in 1980."

Around the same time, the company acquired the rights to manufacture under licence the Haines Hunter boats from Australia. By 1983, the Sea Craft boats had been phased out and production switched to Haines Hunter exclusively. That development gained further momentum in the mid-1980s, when the Australian company carried out a restructuring programme, Miller Moyes Sea Craft purchased the Haines Hunter design rights for New Zealand, and became totally independent from the Australian operation. During this period, Denis Kendall joined the company as production manager and later, became a 50 percent shareholder in the company.

"We were able to develop the Haines Hunter brand in New Zealand as we saw fit, and we immediately introduced our own designs. The first was the SF700 in 1986. It proved very popular and we built 50 a year for the first two or three years. We were doing about 150 boats a year then. And thankfully, because we had become a manufacturing wholesaler with an extensive dealer network, the demand for the boats climbed quickly."

By 1994 – when Trade a Boat was launched – the company had 30 full time staff. Ability to increase production has been hindered by the physical size of premises. The company was able to gain significant efficiencies through new processes and technologies.

"As part of Denis Kendall’s production strategy, this mainly involved better scheduling and tackling production runs rather that one-offs. We also upped the integrity level of the staff to promote loyalty and commitment. We have a dedicated team – who perform exceptionally, and the average staff tenure is 15 years."

Another "integrity-building" strategy was introducing a policy of one-man-per-boat on the production line. "Every builder is allocated one boat. He sticks with that boat throughout the build process, and is ultimately responsible for that boat, its quality and its finishing. It creates a sense of ownership, and helps to maintain the integrity of the build process."

Sands responds to the industry’s boatbuilding needs by training apprentices. "Our apprenticeship scheme has operated for 60 years. I think the apprenticeship scheme is vitally important, it’s a huge responsibility. It boatbuilders don’t actively promote our industry, who will?"

Today (2016) Miller Moyes produce around 12 different models, the SF486, SR535, SF535, SF545,, SF600, SF600 Limited Edition, SF650, SF660, SS660, SP725, SS725, SF725, and SE725. They have survived a massive factory fire, a change of premises and the Global Financial Crisis, and continue to deliver excellent boats that retain strong value in a competitive marketplace. They’ll be around for good while yet.

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