River Raptor Jet Boats make debut at show

REEDSVILLE — Two local men are working at transforming their passion into their profession.

With a love of fishing on the river together for many years, Jeff Kanagy, of Reedsville, and Robert Plank, of Allensville, are debuting a project they two have working on for several years, building boats.

Kanagy, who was in the market to purchase a new boat several years ago to use for fishing, visited many local boat dealerships to see what was available. He said many of the boats for sale were outboard jet boats and he only found one inboard jet boat at a dealer. Kanagy explained inboard jet boats are considered high-end for river boats and notably the cost reflects that too. For fun, Kanagy and Plank looked over the inboard boat and found many details that they would do different and better.

“That got the wheels turning a bit,” Kanagy said.

With Plank’s background in engineering and Kanagy admitting he has a technical side too, the two started kicking around some ideas and put them to paper. In July of 2014, Raptor Design and Engineering LLC was born. Approaching the business first as engineers and second as boat builders, the partners took their time to design, build and test the prototype.

“Everything we do is digitally drawn before we put it together,” Plank said. “The fit and finish on our boats demonstrates that. It’s all laser cut and fits like a glove.”

Kanagy added that all the preparation helps to ensure quality and also makes it easily reproducible.

The first prototype was built from the ground up and then tested sufficiently as the men spent numerous hours on the water to make sure it was viable for the market. Their hard work to ameliorate the design of outboard boats is reflected in the details.

To make their design stand out in the market, the 18-foot long River Raptor has several key features. With inboard jet boats, the engine is moved inside and toward the front of the boat, this keeps the center of gravity low in the boat, which in turn distributes the weight better, keeps drifting to a minimum and improves handling. Most inboard engines are vertical in design which causes the flat platform on top of the engine to have a “hump” protruding up, thus making hard to stand on the platform to fish. To alleviate this issue, River Raptor uses a Textron pump motor, where the engine sits in front of the pump, not on top, which creates a less vertical profile and allows the men to build a totally flat platform over the engine making the back deck space of the boat more functional and stable. The 155 horsepower Textron motor is also 100 pounds lighter than its counterparts and is a four-stroke engine so it’s quieter, has less emissions and has better fuel efficiency.

“This distinguishes us from other boat builders,” Kanagy said.

Other features include a handle under the driver’s seat to clear any debris from the pump, which keeps the driver in the seat instead of walking to the back of the boat to clear the pump. The hull of the boat is coated with a K-5 polyurea coating to protect the bottom of the boat from impact and abrasion from the rocks in the river. Plank said it’s an anti-shrapnel coating that is permanently bonded to the aluminum hull. Dedicated seats for adults are also standard.

After getting the first boat under their belts, the second prototype was a nod to the ever growing popularity of mini jet boats. This small two-to-three man boat is meant to explore and have fun in shallow water. The Talon is a ten-foot long boat that has a 120 horsepower engine and can run 43 miles an hour and in four inches of water.

“It’s pretty exhilarating,” Kanagy said.

The Talon has an automobile style engine that is smaller, lighter, fuel efficient and when you want power, the turbo kicks in. While making this boat, the men started working on what business model to go with.

“We knew the first boat was marketable,” Kanagy said. “We wanted a retail model instead of direct sales to get started and get our boats on the water so people can experience them.”

They approached Lakeside Marine in Harrisburg after vetting many marine dealers in the Harrisburg area and took the first prototype down to owners J.C. and Barbara Nuss.

“They liked what we were doing and believed in us,” Kanagy said. “They saw potential and agreed to retail.”

The third boat the men built is now exclusively for sale at Lakeside Marine and was on display at The Great American Outdoor Show in February at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Building in Harrisburg.

“The response (at the show) was overwhelmingly good,” Kanagy said. “Even though we’re brand new and people are not familiar with us.”

The dealer is possibly thinking of making the third boat into a demonstration boat so buyers can try it out and see how it performs. This spring, Kanagy and Plank are hoping to do some demonstrations in Harrisburg with the boat.

“Harrisburg has the biggest jet boat enthusiasts on the East Coast,” Kanagy said. “The Susquehanna River is a world-class small mouth bass river. The jet comes in handy to get into a lot of places on the Susquehanna.”

In the future, they would like to expand their retail business, but it takes time building and selling the boats. Currently, the business utilizes skilled craftsmen from the community to build various parts of the boat.

“Right now, local shops do the welding and fabrication,” Plank said. “This keeps our overhead low. This is more than a hobby. Our goal is to have manufacturing facility of our own and have boats rolling out the door each week. We would like to do this full time, but it will take some time.”

By using a smattering of local people for the production end, they are pleased that they are doing something good for the local economy. As they grow, they are working to get a feel of what the capacity is to build and will scale accordingly. Once able to add more retailers, then it will make sense to bring everything into one facility.

“We are cautious and thoughtful how we do this,” Plank said. “We don’t want to make promises we can’t keep.”

As far as enjoying the fruits of the labor, they are finding time to fish to be a challenge, but hooking and reeling in customers and improving their designs is what keeps them cruising along.

For more information, visit www.riverraptorjetboats.com, call (717) 994-2288 or email info@riverraptorjetboats.com.

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