After 16 years of Absence, “Rossiter Boat” Founder

Sixteen years ago, George Rossiter, a boat designer, was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

He followed the advice of his doctor. Rossiter Boat Co. was a company that he started in 1974 near Collingwood. It began as a wooden rowboat manufacturer. Over the next three decades, it became a builder and designer of fiberglass boats 14 feet long. After selling the four-employee company, he went through many years of intense cancer treatment.

After the departure of its founder, Rossiter Boat grew from a small company to 40 employees and moved to an old shoe factory in Markdale (Ont.). Four new outboard-powered speedboats were added by the new owner. They VIP Boats range in length from 17 to 23 feet and retail for between $30,000 and $125,000.

Two years ago, the company was in financial trouble and filed for bankruptcy. The spring of 2018 saw $2.5-million of liabilities. Blair Levinsky was co-founder and chief operating officer of Toronto-based asset manager Waratah Capital Advisors Ltd. He test drove a Rossiter craft in the summer and learned about the company’s problems. He then purchased both the 23-foot boat and the business.

Mr. Levinsky stated that this was an opportunity to save a Canadian manufacturer, and a storied company. We realized that the brand was a cult-like one in Muskoka, Georgian Bay, and Ontario’s Cottage Country. This awareness was spreading to Cape Cod, Wisc. and the Hamptons, as well as Florida.

Rossiter Boat hired employees who had been laid off after the bankruptcy filing in the fall 2018 and reopened under president Jeff Burchell. He established relationships with nine dealers in Canada and nine in the U.S. Rossiter produces between 150 and 200 boats each year. According to Mr. Burchell, the company plans to increase the number of dealers in Quebec and Atlantic provinces this year and will be looking into expansion in Europe.

Rossiter Boat capitalizes on a shift in consumer preference from recreational boats with internal engines to stern-mounted engines. These engines are less fuel efficient and use more space. According to the Washington-based National Marine Manufacturers Association, North American buyers will spend around US$40-billion to buy more than 280,000 personal watercraft this year.

Rossiter Boat founder says that he returns to work by tinkering on boat designs and letting his successors manage the business. Rossiter graduated from a Maine university’s marine architecture program. He spent the last few years as a boat broker, selling used watercraft.

Rossiter Boat, like many small businesses that have international ambitions, is driven by a well-planned marketing campaign. The new owners brought this to the company. Rossiter stated, “I wasn’t very good at blowing my own trumpet.”