PORT OF SONOMA -- Originally designed for the recreation and fishing market by Nicasio resident and industrial designer Roger Fleck, Moose Boats found its niche after Sept. 11, 2001, as a builder of high-powered aluminum patrol and security watercraft used by the military, harbor police, fire departments as well as parks and recreation rangers and search-and-rescue teams across the nation.

Moose Boats (mooseboats.com) was the name coined by the founder’s wife and company chief financial officer, Catherine Fleck, who described the original boat as, "Big and robust, like a moose."

[caption id="attachment_76691" align="alignright" width="346"] Abblie Walther, vice president and general manager of Moose Boats, stands beside one of the company's catamaran dual hull models ready for sea trials. (image credit: Gary Quackenbush)[/caption]

The company in 2003 moved to Port Sonoma at the mouth of the Petaluma River. The plant, located off Highway 37 at 274 Sears Point Rd., builds boats in three sizes, from 34 to 46 feet in length. While prices vary based on scale and complexity, these boats roughly sell for $425,000 to $1.5 million.

The M1 model is a diesel-powered water-jet catamaran 44--46 feet long and 16 feet wide, with up to 1,600 horsepower and a maximum speed of 40 knots.

The M2 catamaran can be equipped with either a diesel water jet or outboard motors. It is 33--37 feet in length and 13 feet wide with horsepower up to 850 (diesel) and 700 (outboard) with a maximum speed of over 40 knots.

The M3 is an outboard-powered monohull 34--36 feet in length and 11 feet wide with up to 900 horsepower and a top speed of 50 knots.

"After the USS Cole was bombed in a terrorist attack in 2000, the Navy knew that large, slow warships were vulnerable, especially when at anchor in port or when coming in or leaving harbors," according to Abbie Walther, vice president and general manager. "They searched for a new generation of fast, maneuverable smaller boats that could be used for high-value escort and 360-degree patrol duty."

[caption id="attachment_76692" align="alignleft" width="320"] Moose Boats have been customized to serve law enforcement, marine security, fire departments, search and rescue teams and the military.[/caption]

Mr. Fleck built his own sailboat in the 1970s and lived on this vessel in Marin. After selling his industrial design business in 1998, he designed an all-aluminum, twin-hull cruising catamaran and built a prototype to take to a trade show in New Orleans. At this show, his boat caught the attention of Naval officers, who came to him with a proposal to build a special class of Moose Boats for military applications.

In 2002, the Navy ordered a small fleet of Moose Boats, and that served as the catalyst for moving the company from Nicasio to the marina at the Port of Sonoma, where the firm could acquire additional manufacturing space.

"When Roger started building boats on spec in 2000 while living in Nicasio, he never anticipated the direction or the scale his business would take," Ms. Walther said. "From the beginning, his goal was to build pleasure craft in small volumes.

"We are still true to our initial vision. Because what we do is at the high-end of the niche market, we typically only produce from seven to 10 boats each year."

To date, the company has built 84 boats -- 38 for the Navy -- and now has five more in various stages of production, along with a 16-month backlog.

One boat in a final completion stage will be used by the San Francisco Marine Unit to provide security during the 34th America’s Cup yacht race on the bay this August.

This growth has forced the company to add more rigging and outfitting space.

Moose Boats realizes $5 million to $7 million a year in sales, a figure that has been rising due to increased demand for security craft, and also for boats to patrol public events on the water. 

In addition, the company’s boats are being used by the Oakland, New York and Los Angeles Police Departments. They have also been deployed with fire departments in Tiburon, Humboldt Bay, New Orleans and San Francisco, among other cities.

While a twin-hull design allows for greater stability from the usual roll produced by wave and wake action in the water -- ideal during missions to extinguish fires or board other vessels -- in 2011 Moose Boats began building a monohull version of its classic design, based on customer requests. 

"We are seeing other applications emerging for Moose Boats as we experience a decline in military orders -- our last Navy contract was filled in 2010," Ms. Walther said.   

Fire and rescue is a big market for the company right now. Some customers want a boat that can spread floating foam on the water in the event of a chemical fire, while others want to add sensing devices and radioactivity detectors for scanning arriving ships and cargo containers in the harbor.

Eighteen of Moose Boat’s 25 employees are engaged in manufacturing and rigging the vessels.