Behind The Scenes – Building Big at Titan Boats

by Deborah Rogers | photos by Janis Jean Photography

From the second floor of their large new facility, Jen Michell can see out across the airport, and towards the water to the east of Sidney. She’s visibly, understandably, proud to be showing someone around the building – a long-term vision made real during a period of time fraught with difficulties. But why does this locally-owned business need such an impressive new space? And what exactly do they do in there? I went Behind the Scenes at Titan Boats to learn the whole story.

Jennifer is the Organizational Development Manager (she’s also the daughter of John Stanners, Titan Boats’ founder) and she is deeply involved in the day-to-day running of the business. As we moved through a newly painted lobby, past staff working at computers, she told me that the impetus for the new home for Titan Boats was efficiency. Since their start over 20 years ago this metal fabricator and custom boat building company has expanded and outgrown its previous space. What was literally a home-based business at the outset expanded to fill several buildings, with room needed for metal fabrication, boat building, fitting and rigging. They had gotten to the point where a single custom facility was the obvious solution.

Building that new home during a pandemic was never on the cards, but amazingly they have managed to maintain production throughout, at the same time as completing construction of the new building on Beacon Avenue West. Now the crew has moved in, and although there’s still work to be done on the office side, the shop floor is open and in business! It’s a large space, deliberately chosen to be future proof.

John, a metal fabricator, first started the business building boats for the whale watching industry. He’s still hands-on every day. It’s a niche industry and has led to a specialism in highly-sought-after rigid hulled inflatables often used by police, search and rescue organizations, coast guards and the military, in North America and globally.

To make these specialist vessels takes a team with specialist skills. Titan has many long term staff – including several generations of John’s family. Aluminum welding is a hard-to-find skill and something of an art form, and Titan have been proud to mentor and train from shop-hand up to ensure they have the right people in place.

In the last five years they have brought the modelling in-house in conjunction with the huge CNC waterjet machine – incidentally, that machine is the largest on the Island – adding engineers to the team, who manage the design and CAD modelling. This has streamlined the ability to change things on the fly and is another of the moves to greater efficiency.

As we move up to the mezzanine overlooking the shop floor I suddenly get a glimpse of the scale of this operation. The new space has oversized hangar doors, overhead cranes to move pieces from one section of the shop to another, the aforementioned waterjet machine, plus it’s light and bright. Below us were several boats in various stages of completion.

A typical project might take three to four months from start to finish (if there are no supply chain issues – sadly not always the case currently). Whilst the metal frame of the boat is cut, formed and welded in place, the rubber collars are built in Quebec and shipped over for installation. All the ancillary “bits” like the motors, electronics and rigging are sourced and installed in-house. These boats are the real deal: with a reputation for durability and seaworthiness, they look sleek and steely, kitted out with high-tech gear and clearly not for messing around in!

Before each boat leaves for its new home it must pass sea trials. You might witness them out in the Haro Strait putting all systems through their paces. Then, of course, there’s training for the new operators and production of all the necessary manuals and documentation. There’s a big focus on after sales service and support.

At this new facility Titan will have the capacity to build up to 20 vessels a year. In the past when international customers would come to visit they would be overwhelmed by the product, but underwhelmed by the venue. That will all change now.

How exciting to think of boats built right here on the Peninsula being used all over the world, and staying in use over many years. Congratulations to Titan Boats on their new home and plans for the future, and from Jennifer, kudos to the whole team for keeping everything going through the build and through Covid!

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