Sheriff's office will be equipped the next time it floods

Companies pitch in to build custom search, rescue boat

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Bob Brunson is emphatic that the Wilson County Sheriff's Office should have a boat that is made in Wilson.

Brunson is owner of KenCraft Boats, Wilson manufacturer of V-bottom boats, skiffs and bay boats that has been in business since 1975.

"We do most all of the law enforcement boats for the state of North Carolina," Brunson said. "The sheriff's department needed a search and rescue and swift water rescue boat and came to us, and we basically special-built the boat."

This week, the Wilson County Sheriff's Office will take the keys to a new 18-foot custom Bay Rider power boat made in the company's Wilson plant.

Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard asked KenCraft to quote the department a price.

"They were looking at aluminum boats, which are not quite as stable as a fiberglass boat," Brunson said. "And they said 'We have only got this much money and can you build a boat for us?'"

Brunson told Woodard that KenCraft would make it work.

"We are a Wilson-based company. The Wilson County sheriff doesn't need to be in somebody else's boat, so that's why our decision was that we are going to make this work whatever we have to do," Brunson said.

According to Assistant County Manager Ron Hunt, the cost of the boat was $13,295 and was included in the 2017-18 budget approved by the Wilson County Board of Commissioners.

"This was not a boat that we made a lot of money on, but it was a boat that we felt compelled to build for the county," Brunson said. "Suffice it to say it would be a real steal on the open market, but we did that for the county."

"It is truly a blessing that we were able to receive this law enforcement tool at the business cost," said Sheriff Woodard.

There are a lot of things on the boat that wouldn't ordinarily be found on a production boat.

"We've kind of built the boat to the sheriff's specifications," Brunson said. "We've got tank racks in there for the dive tanks for the divers. You've got rescue rings built into it. It's just designed so they can put a lot of people on the boat and do their job. 

"It's a real maneuverable boat and a real wide boat. Being a wider platform, it's very stable, so if the officers are having to retrieve someone in the boat from the side of the boat, it's a very stable platform. You could have several officers walk to the side and they could retrieve the person from the side of the boat and not worry about the boat tipping. It's a safety thing for them."

The design incorporates flotation built into the hull, and it is unsinkable.

"It's a pretty stout-built boat," Brunson said. 

The boat floats in shallow water if that is what is required.

"They will ride in 10 inches of water all day long," Brunson said.

The vessel is powered by a 50-horsepower Yamaha outboard motor.

"We built it to his needs, everything down to the lighting, the search and rescue lights," Brunson said.

Brunson is proud of the fact that other Wilson-based companies had a part in building the boat.

Down East Offroad made the aluminum structure surrounding the center console of the boat.

A+ Graphics applied the all-reflective graphics on the hull. 

"We painted it to the sheriff's color specifications," Brunson said.

The boat is black with gold lettering, similar to the fleet of deputies' cruisers on Wilson County streets.

"It absolutely can be seen in the dark," Brunson said. "It's an all-out Wilson effort here."

"I truly thank the county leaders that made it possible but definitely the businesses that made it a reality," Woodard said.

Wilson County has been affected by two major flooding events in the two years.

"We had a boat that was in extremely poor condition that posed a hazard for the dive team,"  Woodard said. "With the many storms and high water rescues and recoveries, the older boat would have been detrimental for this office."

Brunson said he and the KenCraft workers are proud of what they have done for the county. 

"We got them a boat and we saved them some money too," Brunson said. "We broke even on this boat, but we more or less lost money. For us, we had to build it."

KenCraft has 23 employees and builds about 150 boats a year. Many are purchased by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.