I have been to most of the top boat builder’s factories and have watched the care and precision in building Ranger, Skeeter, Bass Cat, Triton and Phoenix. I have been to all of the aforementioned facilities at one time or another over the last few years and it is neat to see how similar they actually are but each has things that make them unique. Materials, hull layout, level flotation, colors and how they are put together are similar but each has specific differences that make their brands stick out. Performance is important to each too but ride and features can be the real difference noted by the buyer first.
Looking deep before buying
When most inspect the outside of a boat, they look at the cosmetics such as fit, finish and color; I tend to look at stringers, strakes, gussets and transoms. If you are in the process of buying a new boat, taking a tour of the manufacturing plant isn’t mandatory but can be a huge differentiator. It can solidify your thoughts about the purchase or change them.
Spending hard-earned money on a boat is much more than features, seats, sparkle and how it looks pulled down the road or across the water; structure and durability have a lot to do with it as well. Just about all of today’s boats are built well, ride nice and look good but determining “how good” can be significant.
I am a DIYer and tinkerer. I read every manual, rig my own boats and some say I would rather work on them than fish out of them. Some collect cars, motorcycles or antiques, but I would rather work on a boat. I like to dig deep into how each boat is built and know them inside and out.
Xpress Boats tour
A couple weeks ago I toured the Xpress Boats/Veranda Pontoon plant in Hot Springs, Arkansas and was blown away with the detail and precision of the boats. They are the original all-welded boat and have been building them for 50 years. Their aluminum boat lineup has a size and application-specific boat for just about every hobby and activity.
The attention to the little things in welds, parts and structural integrity impressed me and the hull design of the flagship Hyperlift hull is taking aluminums a step forward in pad-style performance too. They are not just building fishing boats but rather high performance aluminum bass boats that provide superior hole shot, stability and big-water flexibility that was once only the home of fiberglass. They build each boat like they are building it for themselves and I have never seen a happier crew of builders who were proud of what they do.
I got the feeling early on from talking to Clay Connor, their head of marketing, and President Rory Herndon that they don’t just want to be called a great aluminum boat but rather high performance bass boat that doesn’t take the back seat on any material and provides feature richness and top end that is unmatched.
“We have built durable high-performance bass boats for a long time,” Herndon said. “We feel our hull design is second to none. We continue to look for better ways to increase the performance yet keeping the soft ride and durability in every boat we build”.
High performance, quiet ride and innovation
The Xpress build process is all about details and workmanship and every part is precision built by the best equipment available by skilled aluminum craftsmen. Aluminum enters the plant on large rolls and is precision cut into parts along the line. I noticed very little waste and also was impressed with the cleanliness of the line.
“We continue to innovate at Xpress,” Connor said. “We do things right but more importantly we look for scale in our process to be able to build the best boat possible at the most affordable price. The ability to streamline every process for every boat we build is always our goal. Customers want the best and it’s our goal to give it to them whether for a duck boat, a high-performance bass boat, bay boat or our pontoons. Our experience tells us we build the best boat for hunters, bass anglers and recreational boaters alike, bar none.”
The innovation of jigs used to get a precise running surface with exceptional lift is a closely guarded secret at Xpress.
“Consistency is the key for an aluminum running surface in a high-performance hull design,” Herndon said. “We make sure that they are perfect so the pad style of the Hyper Lift performs as designed.”
From the welders to the shapers and builders, the attention to detail for a blended single component feel differentiates Xpress from many others.
“We don’t just slap parts together but unify each component with welds then add a foam cavity fill to give our boats a sound, quiet, stable ride that is safe. A lifetime hull warranty backs that up.”
As we traveled the plant we visited everything from part building, to painting, to finish work and even watched their rough surface Xtreme coat getting applied to the gunnels and splash wells. This year they added an entire deck surface of Xtreme coat that is easily maintained and wears like iron.
Many of the boats come equipped with fiberglass consoles that increases functionality plus reduces weight and sharp surfaces. They also add to the attractiveness of the cockpit over aluminum or plastic-style consoles seen on other boats.
Pretty much everything that goes into an Xpress Boat or a Veranda Pontoon is made at the plant and each is built with minimum waste. The use of just-in-time ordering for accessories for each boat also works well and cuts storage and overhead costs. Lead time for a new boat to the consumer depends on time of year and what model is planned for from dealer orders. We saw XP7s, X19s, X21s, Utility Series and several pontoons in various stages of completion.
The all-aluminum trailer is an added plus for Xpress. They are super durable, lightweight and offer both single and dual-axle models. Custom wheels, brakes and swing-away tongues are also offered on the trailer.
The final stage of the build at Xpress is the rigging and inspection area where a team of seasoned riggers and quality assurance personnel go over every detail, add ordered options and inspect each boat before it leaves the plant. Adding serial numbers and checking the proper paperwork had to be signed off before they were loaded onto a truck for shipping.
A boat is a boat whether wood, fiberglass or aluminum but the pride and attention to detail separates the good ones from those not as good. Cutting a swath in a category reserved for one material and bringing it to another was noted and appreciated. Xpress clearly is about building the best all-welded high performance, cost effective, feature-rich aluminum bass boat that exceeds what many thought of as doable only a few years ago.
Aluminum was relegated to lower horsepower boats until a few years ago and now 250 horsepower and over 70 mph with a great ride is possible too at Xpress. From the clean up lady to the head engineer, the employees take a lot of pride in that. Quality and pride of ownership for the buyer and workmanship for the builder seemed equally important to the employees at Xpress. I could see the pride from those folks working in the plant and the engineers and designers, too. For over 50 years Xpress has built welded boats and it looks like another 50 won’t be a problem for them moving forward either.