READING TIME: 5 MINUTES
This summer Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, a longstanding local adventure tourism and entertainment company in Niagara, launched the first commercial passenger vessel manufactured in Niagara in over 50 years. Designed and built in partnership with Hingston Metal Fabricators, the Niagara Sunset Queen first began production in October 2011. The two companies have worked together for years with Hingston supplying small fabricating and marine maintenance. Fixing boats and making them are a very different matter though and when Jet Boats owner John Kinney approached the Hingston brothers Matt, Dave and Randy, they were more than ready to take on the challenge!
“Whenever you take on a new project that’s not what you usually produce there is a learning curve. We saw it as an opportunity to combine the things we’re great at with the chance to learn about things we hadn’t done before” Randy said.
The initial plan was for the ship to be 85 feet in length but new ideas emerged throughout the project to include amenities that would allow the vessel to accommodate things like cruises and weddings, and in the end extended to a full 100 feet. Each time the uses evolved the boat’s requirements and specs had to change with it. A new and evolving project would be a challenge for many companies, but Randy saw the upside of it.
“It’s a great opportunity for us and for our employees and they showed a real excitement and interest” Randy said, “You can see the pride and the passion for it. Some employees even brought family members to visit to see what they had been working on.”
What they had been working on has some impressive specifications. The ships capacity will comfortably accommodate 325 people. At 100 feet long and a 36 foot beam, it will offer 3 decks, the main, the lido and the sky deck. The hull currently in the water is 335,000 lbs with the engine module (1 of 8 modules making up the hull) accounting for 65,000 lbs on its own. Hingston is currently building the boarding ramps and the next phase of the project is to complete the drawings for the lido and sky decks. It is hoped construction of the remaining decks will start this winter.
When it’s completed it will be a proud moment for both companies and for Niagara’s marine heritage.
“To create something that hasn’t been done for so many years here shows the ability and ingenuity of our manufacturing companies. Many local companies were involved in different parts of the project and companies like ours are doing great, innovative things. It’s a great community to be a part of.” said Hingston.
John Kinney’s inspiration was twofold.
“Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours is a great seasonal business, but there is so much happening in Niagara between October and April. We have fantastic wine events and festivals that attract people from all over and the rivers I grew up on in Pennsylvania had dinner cruises operating on a year round basis. The Niagara River is an amazing waterway with currents that allow for cruises at least 10 months of the year. People should be able to take in the sights and sunsets and enjoy it all year round. The Niagara Sunset Queen will make that possible. “
“We also have 100 of our 125 total employees that are seasonal. We have so many great people that make us a great company and we want to be able to provide good jobs for them on a permanent basis. Broadening what we do beyond the success of our jet boats makes that possible.”
When the Queen is finally completed Whirlpool Jet Boats will have a great new offering, Hingston Metal Fabricators will have a showcase project and a host of new skills, and Niagara will have a fantastic year-round dining and cruise destination to enjoy.