Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

North River Boats Delivers New Bristol Bay Gillnetter


August 1, 2018

The owner says one of the great things about this design is the distance between the roller and drum wheel, which offers plenty of space for round hauling and picking fish. Photo courtesy of North River Boats.

Roseburg, Oregon-based North River Boats completed and shipped its first ever Bristol Bay gillnetter in April. North River, previously known for their recreational and commercial heavy gauge aluminum boats, teamed with respected Bristol Bay boat builder Dick Smitha of Norcraft Marine for the initial design. The combination of North River's years of boat building experience, a highly-skilled team, Smitha's technical knowledge and support from vendors led to a well-executed new Bristol Bay boat.

North River was first approached to build a bay boat in November 2016. While the company had not built a bay boat before, the company counts diversification as a large part of their successful business model. With huge fish runs and an aging fleet, this was a great opportunity to break into a new market.

The company contacted Dick Smitha, who was preparing for retirement, to discuss the design and licensing options, and the parties worked out a satisfactory arrangement.

North River Boats is known for their custom built recreational boats, but they also have a diverse commercial boatbuilding division and produce more than 60 commercial boats and 240 recreational boats every year. These vessels include law enforcement boats, pilot and crew transfer boats, fireboats, charter fishing boats and now Bristol Bay gillnetters. North River builds keel-up custom designs and has more than ten thousand boats on the water today.

As important as building a good boat is having the right customer. Marty Stevens is a Bristol Bay veteran of more than 30 years. His son Wyatt, now 20, has been fishing the bay with his dad since he was 12. Marty's last boat was custom built for him and he was ready for an upgrade. He sold his boat right after the 2017 season and was determined that his next boat should turn out exactly how he wanted it.

Marty's parameters were well laid out. He wanted a heavy-duty prop boat that would last him the rest of his career and be passed down to his son. He wanted strong hydraulics, a huge thruster to turn quickly, a massive refrigeration system and fish holds that can not only take a whopping 16,000 lbs of fish but also have the ability to cool them quickly. These boats are about making money, plain and simple. Going light and running fast with a jet boat is what most people strive for, and North River offers that, but that's not what Marty wanted. He fishes the line and consistently puts away 4 to 6,000 pounds at a time to make his goals. The key is to get the fish you bring in down to that magical 34 degrees so that you get paid top dollar. At an average of more than $1.60 per pound these boats pay for themselves in just a few years.

North River's new gillnetter is a 32-foot by 14-foot, 6-inch single John Deere 575-hp diesel with a 26-inch by 26-inch Pac Master prop (North River also offers a 15-foot, 6-inch wide version of this boat). The keel cooling system is rated for more than 800 hp so it provides ample cooling for the 575-hp Deere. A 10-inch hydraulic thruster turns this boat sharply, but the thruster is just an added bonus since the massive rudder and stand-alone steering system will turn the boat on a dime. The IMS refrigeration system is a 10-ton hydraulic re-circulating seawater system that will cool even late-caught fish before the tender is done offloading the rest of the catch.

The hydraulic system is robust and consists of 4 hydraulic pumps supplied by SeaMar. North River selected vendors based on their quality and the ability for service and repair in Naknek, Alaska. The 10-inch hydraulic thruster requires an 8-cubic inch per revolution (cube) displacement Hawee hydraulic pump. The deck gear and washdown pump are powered with a 6.7-cube Hawee pump. A 4.8-cube hydraulic pump powers the IMS 10-ton refrigeration system and a stand-alone 4.8-cube Hawee pump powers the independent steering system. This means that if there is ever a failure of the hydraulic system, steering is maintained. Load sensing valves make sure the pumps provide the appropriate power where it is needed.

The hydraulic system, noted as a being a work of art by the engine manufacturer, is complete with stainless steel hydraulic lines beautifully laid out in the engine room and creates a system sure to last many years. The IMS refrigeration system has three separate zones for proper loading and efficient cooling. The spray rails were designed for the perfect amount of water to cool down the entire fish hold evenly so fish cool quickly to the required temperature.

North River offers multiple cabin styles depending on the type of fishing. Marty wanted excellent visibility, good crew communication and the ability, after all of these years, to be out of the elements. The top house Smitha design was the ticket. The top house has three large front windshields, two large sliding side windows and sliding aft windows. A comfortable Shockwave S5 shock-mitigating seat will be Marty's main operating station for the season, while the 5-inch memory foam day bunk provides a great place to take a nap between openers. The dash was laid out exactly how he wanted it. Blue Sea 360 breaker panels, Garmin electronics suite, John Deere digital gauges, IMS control system, and Hawee drum control are all conveniently located for optimum use.

Down below is a complete galley with a Dickerson stove, custom sink, faucet and hot water system. The settee is an L shape wrap-around. Lots of storage for dry goods and gear is integrated into the design. Four bunks with 5-inch memory foam mattresses complete the lower cabin. The engine room access from the cabin is through a Diamond Seaglaze door complete with a full window so you can visibly see in the engine room before entering.

The deck gear was provided by Kinematics Marine and consists of a 42-inch wide stern roller, 22-inch wide 4-shackle drum (D permit) with upgraded wheel drive and a Kinematics anchor winch. Marty says one of the great things about this design is the distance between the roller and drum wheel. There is a ton of space for round hauling and picking fish.

At 1,650 RPM the new boat, equipped with a single 575-hp John Deere diesel engine, steadily made 8 knots upstream, into the wind while burning less than 15 gallons per hour. Photo courtesy of North River Boats.

North River knew going into this that the boat was going to be heavier than some existing vessels because of what Marty wanted. He requested a full complete doubling plate at the bow, extended rub strakes, beaching plates, plus all of the upgraded systems mentioned. North River knew this boat would weigh in around 24,000 pounds dry. With a full tank of 400 gallons of diesel, she still ran an astounding 19 knots at light ship. North River filled the boat with 13,000 pounds of water to simulate the 10,000-pound limits that were common last year. At 1,650 RPM she steadily made 8 knots upstream, into the wind while burning less than 15 gallons per hour. At a total weight of 39,000 pounds the John Deere engine was run at a whopping 2,085 RPM and 97-percent load. Even with all of this weight, the boat was able to make full "S" turns at full RPM with minimal heeling.

North River Boats was on hand in Bristol Bay in early June to see the first fish being pulled on board. The company anticipates building two to three of these bay boats for the 2019 model year.

Mike Blocher is director of sales for North River Boats in Roseburg, Oregon.


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