Yamba Welding and Engineering owner Bill Collingburn in front of one of the new boats under construction in the workshop.
Yamba Welding and Engineering owner Bill Collingburn in front of one of the new boats under construction in the workshop.

BRIGHT FUTURE: Yamba boat builder bought out

YAMBA Welding Engineering has announced today an exciting new chapter in its enduring regional history with the family-owned boat manufacturing business to be acquired by cutting-edge Australian watercraft company The Whiskey Project Group.

The group, which is led by two former Royal Australian Navy veterans, joins YWE and naval architecture firm Naiad with sister company The Whiskey Project.

The group is a 100 per cent Australian owned watercraft design and manufacturing company which they say is committed to safeguarding the region's contribution to Australia's sovereign manufacturing capability through the continuation of YWE's local boat building legacy.

Named after the military call sign 'Whiskey' which denotes specialist water operators, The Whiskey Project Group will expand an Australian sovereign end-to-end maritime design and manufacturing capability into the heart of regional NSW.

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With YWE one of the largest employers in the Lower Clarence region, the group say the acquisition is a commitment to securing local jobs and boosting the region's COVID-19 impacted economy.

Founded by Bill Collingburn in 1974, YWE has become a thriving operation employing 36 locals, numerous apprentices and a trusted local supply chain.

The company has forged partnerships with Australian and State law enforcement and maritime agencies, delivering more than 200 watercraft in the past 10 years for police, Marine Rescue, Coast Guard, VMR, other government agencies and more recently, the Australian Defence Force and Australian Border Force.

The launch of a new $4m Fisheries patrol boat built by Yamba Welding and Engineering.
The launch of a new $4m Fisheries patrol boat built by Yamba Welding and Engineering.

"This could not come at a better time for the Clarence Valley. At a time when economic uncertainty is high, government investment in our local Defence industry and the manufacturing sector is robust," Mr Collingburn said.

"YWE are now in a unique position to be talking about growth opportunities, creating jobs, and developing long lasting training and skills programs for the people of this region and their children."

Bill and his partner Kathie are keen for their legacy to continue in Yamba, with a commitment to an investment in their people, their community, and the region's future.

"I'm in my seventies and I wanted to hand the reins to people I like and trust," said Mr Collingburn.

Yamba Welding and Engineering's Bill and Kathie Collingburn at the launch of the NSW Fisheries boat, Solitary Ranger at Coffs Harbour Marina. Photo: Tim Jarrett
Yamba Welding and Engineering's Bill and Kathie Collingburn at the launch of the NSW Fisheries boat, Solitary Ranger at Coffs Harbour Marina. Photo: Tim Jarrett

"The Whiskey Project Group are experienced maritime operators, they share my vision for the future, and they are wholeheartedly committed to the continued growth of YWE and the Clarence Valley's maritime industry," said Mr Collingburn.

Mr Collingburn, now a shareholder in The Whiskey Project Group, is staying on with YWE as a technical adviser as the business moves into its next phase.

"The local community has supported YWE for many years, and we in turn, need to keep supporting them," he said.

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"I have no doubt that under the guidance of The Whiskey Project Group, YWE will continue to play a significant role in seeing this region prosper as it deserves to."

The deal also includes Naiad, the New Zealand based naval architecture business which YWE itself acquired earlier this year.

Naiad boats, renowned as the "4WD of the Sea" and for their aesthetic appeal, are built under license around the world. Naiads are popular for a wide range of Federal and State Government military, law enforcement and rescue agency vessels, as well as commercial, tourism, recreational and Superyacht tender applications.

Navy Veterans Darren Schuback, Managing Director, and Ryan Carmichael, Chief Operating Officer, from The Whiskey Project Group with their Whiskey Alpha
Navy Veterans Darren Schuback, Managing Director, and Ryan Carmichael, Chief Operating Officer, from The Whiskey Project Group with their Whiskey Alpha

The third business of the group - The Whiskey Project - launched its next generation tactical watercraft - Whiskey Alpha - to great acclaim at Pacific 2019 International Maritime Expo.

The Whiskey Project Group co-founder and managing director Darren Schuback said the acquisition of YWE and Naiad marked the coming together of three great Australian and New Zealand businesses and heralds an exciting future for Australian watercraft design and manufacturing in the northern NSW coastal town.

"Bill has created a legendary legacy as an Australian maritime manufacturer, and as a passionate champion of this region, its industry and its people," Mr Schuback said.

"It is because of these things that we knew bringing our businesses together, and all that we can achieve together, will make a significant mark here in Yamba and in the Australian, New Zealand, and global maritime industry."

Yamba Welding and Engineering recently launched a 21-metre, $4 million vessel built for NSW Fisheries which Mr Collingburn said was the biggest the firm had taken on in its 46-year-history.

The firm has had plans for a large-scale expansion to a site at Palmers Island. However an application to rezone the land was rejected by the Department of Planning Industry and Environment.

Responding to questions from The Daily Examiner, a spokeswoman said their priority was to optimise the YWE operation where it stands today, and in doing so help secure the future of the region and their new Yamba family.

"We will work hand-in-hand with our local Yamba community in everything we do and are incredibly grateful for the support that has already been shown to us," the spokeswoman said.

Local NSW Member for Clarence and Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Roads and Infrastructure Mr Chris Gulaptis MP, welcomed the acquisition.

"I would like to congratulate the Whiskey Project Group on its strategic acquisition of Yamba's iconic boat building business, Yamba Welding and Engineering," Mr Gulaptis said.

"(They) have delivered hundreds of top quality vessels for the Australian, state and territory governments as well as watercraft for mining companies and private individuals," Mr Gulaptis said.

Bill Collingburn at the launch of a new $4m Fisheries patrol boat built by Yamba Welding and Engineering.
Bill Collingburn at the launch of a new $4m Fisheries patrol boat built by Yamba Welding and Engineering.

"Bill has left a long lasting legacy in Yamba, one which I feel confident will be enhanced by the expertise of a well reputed maritime operator such as The Whiskey Project Group.

NSW Minister Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said it was great to see a veteran-owned NSW company like The Whiskey Project Group scaling up operations and safeguarding watercraft production and jobs in NSW.

"We've seen cutting-edge technology like the Next Generation Tactical Watercraft from The Whiskey Project Group and it's great to see them involved now with a long-established NSW business - YWE - that's been around since 1974," Mr Ayres said.

"Watercraft are an important part of NSW industry, especially in the regions, and we are determined to maintain this sort of manufacturing capability.

"Defence NSW assists NSW SMEs such as The Whiskey Project Group to access federal and state government programs to stay closely involved in the development of industry capability and export opportunities."

The Whiskey Project Group co-founder and chief operating officer Ryan Carmichael acknowledged the natural synergy between YWE's proven 40-year regional history of building specialist boats for the most challenging seafaring tasks.

He said The Whiskey Project Group's vision was to create operator-focused watercraft that provides optimal performance and protection for those who risk their lives in the strategic maritime environment.

Whiskey Alpha boats are part of the new technology shown by the Whisky Alpha Group. Photo: Salty Dingo 2020
Whiskey Alpha boats are part of the new technology shown by the Whisky Alpha Group. Photo: Salty Dingo 2020

"All three of The Whiskey Project Group's businesses are committed to providing the highest level of performance and protection to the end-user," Mr Carmichael said.

"We are building the boats we wish we'd had when we were in uniform, and genuinely believe that the Yamba community, the Australian maritime industry, and the Australian economy will all benefit from our focus.

"Yamba is the home of YWE and will continue to be so. We are committed to investing in Yamba's community, securing local jobs and apprenticeships, and we're thrilled to be helping to future-proof this vibrant community.

"At a time when COVID is taking its toll on regional communities, the future of YWE is bright."

The contract was announced today, with transaction completion scheduled for Q4 2020.