We recently had the opportunity to have a chat with New Zealand’s kit-set jet-boat builder, Henry Wadworth-Watts of WattsCraft.
We started business around about the same time and have always stayed in touch and helped each other out along the way. He’s one of our favourite Instagram accounts to follow and thought you might enjoy learning a bit about another epic NZ business who loves a bit of DIY.
How did the WattsCraft idea arise?
We were watching videos of little jetski powered “jet dinghies” on youtube like everybody else. My brother George built one, I went for a few trips in it up the Dart and I had to build one too.
After our first two, I got into CAD design of the hull more seriously. That experience was really exciting for me and the hulls were rapidly refined. I decided that they were worth selling so set up in Dunedin to build a few as a business.
The kit-set hulls where always on offer but after a couple of years I decided to focus on selling kits for customers to build their own. At the time the number of small boats being home built was increasing rapidly.
WattsCraft now focuses solely on hull kit-sets covering the normal range of river jet boat sizes. We also provide components and information to help customers complete the jet boat.
What does your creative process look like between idea conception and the final product?
I start with an idea or a customers suggestion and model it on solidworks after a quick think about how it will work. Once its a 3D model I can see if it works and fine tune it to suit, or sometimes a better way will emerge. The parts of the design/hull/whatever are "flattened" into 2D cut files for a CNC router. Outlines are cut and bend lines are marked at the same time. The parts are then bent in a press brake or rolled as required.
That's how it comes to me or the customer, all cut bent and on a pallet. From there, its welded together at the seams and our designs are normally self-forming. It just turns into a boat shape by itself as it's welded up. That's when you first get to see the design in the real world. Curves and proportions are pretty hard to judge until you get to that point. From there its just weld and grind till the bare hull is done.
Nowadays the customers pretty much take over at that point and add the engine, jet unit and controls. Most of the time it's just the classic bare aluminium outside but lots of creativity happening with deck tread, paint and decal wraps depending on customer taste. The hull is a blank canvas and there are so many ways to finish a boat that would never happen if we were just pumping out finished boats for people.
Did you always have a passion for boats?
Yeah, I had built a few little plywood boats before and we have had a series of dodgy boats as a family. I think the passion to just build things was also a big part of it.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting this business?
I am able to keep the company running and work on boat designs from anywhere. That's a pretty sweet reward. That freedom is also very handy when you have a small child to wrangle for most of the week. Seeing all the WattsCraft designs out there on rivers is also amazing.
What motivates you?
I have a long list of ideas for boat designs that should keep me motivated well into old age. There is always something new to try. This isn’t actually the best when it comes to finding time to work on the company itself.
Your boats are now available internationally, how did that come about?
WattsCraft always received lots of emails every week from odd places around the globe. It’s just been a matter of slowing working on ways to get a large awkward shaped product out to customers internationally.
What do you believe contributes to being successful in business?
A big part of WattsCrafts success is timing. Small home built jet boats have exploded in number and it started growing just before we started. I didn’t really do that on purpose but it has definitely worked in our favour.
I have also tried to focus on hull design because that seems to be in short supply outside of companies designing their own to sell only as finished boats. Everything else we outsource to specialists. This allows WattsCraft to grow without being limited by physical facilities. We also work with a lot of other companies who are the best at what they do to provide jet boat components rather than try to do it all ourselves.
What is it like working alongside your brother?
Haha, that's a bit of a myth, George is actually a landscape architect. He isn’t officially part of the WattsCraft business. However, he has always been around to support me with good-natured advice and abuse. WattsCraft is still a one-man operation with some great help from some part-time staff, friends and partner companies.