Ranger Boats have always been fiberglass. When I think Ranger, I see their sprawling fiberglass boat building facility in Flippin, a small Arkansas town just off Bull Shoals Reservoir.
I definitely don’t – or didn’t- think of aluminum. Now, seems it’s time for me to think again. Just down the road from the main Ranger assembly facilities, a new Ranger/Triton boatbuilding facility is online. And it’s cranking out as many as five shiny new aluminum boats every day. Yes, aluminum.
Walking through the facility with Ranger’s VP of sales Keith Daffron, it was easy to see he didn’t consider the new aluminum as strange or anything except a logical expansion of the Ranger brand to both new customers and those who may have been Ranger customers in the past.
“The aluminum boat is how lots of people get into fishing,” Daffron explained, “but it’s also a line we’ve found some former Ranger owners will buy.”
So who’s this former Ranger owner? “Older anglers,” Daffron explained, “the baby boomer who’s been a tournament fisherman, but has grandkids – and maybe a deck boat to play on- but wants a boat he knows will work for fishing.”
For those anglers, Daffron says, a Ranger in aluminum makes sense. “They know Ranger quality ” he explained as we walked through the new facility, “but they want a boat they can put in the garage and when they decide to go fishing, they know all the have to do is hookup to the trailer and go fishing in a solid boat that’s designed by people who know fishing boats.”
Watching the assembly process, it was easy to see what he meant. Like their fiberglass counterparts, the Ranger and Triton aluminum boats are designed to be angler-friendly and durable.
There are no wooden elements. Instead, aluminum stringers are welded into place into a hull hand-welded hull that gets basic assembly and then something Daffron says many other aluminum boats don’t get: leak testing for pinholes. “Not everyone who builds an aluminum boat takes this step,” Daffron said, while we watched workers testing a hull, “but it makes sense to leak-test before there are any structural elements over the basic hull. We want it sound and leak-free before we start building on top of it.”
From that point, the assembly looks a lot like a Ranger fiberglass process. There are three elements of the aluminum boats, but there are common elements Ranger owners will recognize: extensive use of foam (to cut down on noise and makes the boat feel more solid), and angler-friendly rod storage, locker and live well configurations to make the boat easy to use when fishing.
“We’re not in the party boat business,” Daffron said, “We don’t build those kinds of boats because that’s not our history. We want everything on our boats to make fishing simpler for the angler. The layout has to be logical for fishing.”
Up until the basic boat is assembled, there’s no way to tell the Ranger and Triton models apart. At that point, different types of details, from the type of paint to the trailers, separate the two lines.
While both boats use a clean-room baking process for paint, but the Ranger models get a few more goodies, including a Ranger-built trailer with special coatings to prevent paint chipping among other features. Triton trailers are built by a Tennessee supplier and are more basic in their construction.
“We think the angler who’s looking for features and benefits can see the difference in the two boats,” Daffron explained, “but the value-conscious angler will see the quality in the Triton as well.”
Today, the new facility is still in the shakeout phase, despite having already delivered more than 150 boats to dealers. Currently, they can finish five boats a day, but one look at the wheeled storage racks and other movable parts in the assembly process make it easy to see assembly is still an evolving process.
“We’ve done lots of adding on and expanding at our main facility,” Daffron explained, “this is pretty much the first time we’ve ever done a brand-new facility. It’s like a new house. We’ve gotten everything unpacked and moved in-but we’re still working placing the furniture.”
Ranger’s expansion has grown the workforce to around 800 people. Judging from the expansion plans I heard mentioned for the future, it doesn’t appear that Ranger sees itself shrinking anytime soon. That’s good news for Flippin, and the boat industry.