From a three-man operation to one of the most important shipyards in the world. In 1959 Ray and Michalak started with the first prototypes …
The mood was good in the late 1950s. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the misery of World War II appeared to have been overcome.
New shipyards shot up like mushrooms, only to disappear a little later from the still unstable market. The then 34-year-old Cornelius Nathaniel Ray III was also one of those boat enthusiasts who believed in the boom in water sports.
So in October 1959, the scion of an entrepreneurial family bought the remains of Carr-Craft, a struggling company in Detroit with some molds for fiberglass boats, golf carts and coffins.
On this basis he founded Sea Ray. With no experience in boat building, production began with three employees. Including his friend and business partner Arch Mehaffey and Carr-Craft fiberglass specialist Jerry Michalak. Just months later, the shipyard moved to Ray’s hometown of Oxford, Michigan.
The young entrepreneur relies on quality right from the start and immediately starts developing his own line. The design legend Harley Earl is committed to this.
Earl founded General Motors’ design department in 1927 and was responsible for designing the cars until he retired in 1958.
After a labor-intensive winter, the first sports boats for outboards between 13 and 17 feet are presented in April 1960. Among them the Sea Ray SR600 with tail fins, the style of the road cruisers of this era.
In 1962 the first boats with inboard engines came, and just two years later production capacity had to be doubled. 1964 appeared with the SRX 17 and the SRV 230, the first boats with V-hulls and a steep rise, which improved the sailing characteristics in waves.
In 1971, Sea Ray relocated to Phoenix, Arizona. A year later, a larger yacht factory follows in Merrit Island, Florida. A decade of expansion and model diversity is on the horizon.
The SRV 240 is the first Sundancer model to hit the market. The line still exists today. After steady growth, a plant was added in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1978. At the end of the decade, Ray resigns as president and hands over to his partner Mehaffey.
By the mid-1980s, further plants were built near Knoxville and in Palm Coast, Florida. In 1984 C. N. Ray took over the helm again. During the restructuring, the headquarters moves to Knoxville.
1986 Sea Ray is the second largest pleasure craft shipyard in the USA. A plant in Tennessee and the first overseas production in Ireland are added. Since competitor OMC is now also keeping an eye on Mercury’s largest customer, the parent company Brunswick strikes quickly. 350 million dollars change hands.
Sea Ray is now owned by Brunswick and Mercury is keeping its customer. The rapid expansion continues with a new plant in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
Many new models such as the Pachanga II or the 1987 Laguna series are added.
Problematic years with enormous sales slumps and plant closings in Tennessee, South Carolina and Oxford, Michigan follow. But success comes back. In 1995 Sea Ray took over Baja, followed by the Boston Whaler a year later.
The new millennium brings restructuring. After the Sea Ray Boat Group and the Brunswick Boat Group were combined in Knoxville, the Brunswick Group became the world’s largest manufacturer of leisure boats and propulsion systems.
In 2009 the shipyard was hit hard by the financial and economic crisis after numerous new products such as the Sundancer models 235, 265, 285, 475 and 540. Sea Ray relies on large yachts and is launching the luxurious L-Class in 2014.
Sales are sluggish. Plant closings follow. As of 2016, the Sundancer 350, SLX-W 230 and SLX 400 will again be smaller units. In 2018 the news came as a surprise that the brand was for sale. There are interested parties, there is no trade agreement.
Six months later, Sea Ray’s whereabouts at Brunswick is announced. Yachts over 40 feet are disappearing, followed by the closure of the Sykes Creek and Palm Coast plants in Florida, with 825 laid off workers.
Parts of the development are taken over by Boston Whaler, where new Sea-Ray models are also being made today. Thanks to the production of smaller boats in Poland, the shipyard is not affected by the punitive EU tariffs with these units.