A Behind The Scenes Look At How Fishing Kayaks Are Made (Video)

Gatewood Brown shares a tour of the Old Town factory.

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Have you ever wondered how fishing kayaks are made? There may be no better example to look to than a 124-year-old boat manufacturer. Old Town has been building canoes and kayaks in the state of Maine since 1898. In this video Gatewood Brown takes us along on a behind the scenes tour of the Old Town factory, so we can see just how these fishing kayaks and canoes are brought to life for our outdoor pursuits.

Behind The Scenes: How Old Town Fishing Kayaks Are Made

The process and materials used to manufacture paddling crafts have changed considerably in more than a century. Wood and canvas were the materials of the day when Old Town started offering canoes to outdoor enthusiasts. Compare that with the high-tech plastics of today. In Brown’s video, Ryan Lilly, Old Town’s brand manager, walks us through the number of steps and tests it takes to produce the fishing kayaks we enjoy.

old town fishing kayak
Image: Gatewood Brown/YouTube

One of the industry standards in building kayaks today is rotational molding, or what we regularly call rotomolding. Old Town’s Sportsman line of fishing kayaks for example are made using rotomolding.

The core of building a kayak is shaping the plastic hull. For rotomolding, a hollow mold is filled with plastic pellets. Then it spins inside a huge industrial oven, pushing molten plastic to the wall, and creating the plastic hull. The kayak pops out of the mold in one piece. After it cools, outfitting and hardware are installed.

“Rotomolding kayaks actually is a half cooking, half cooling, process. The plastic has to set up and cool for just as long as it’s cooking and melting in the oven,” Ryan Lilly explains in Brown’s video.

Ryan Lilly gives tour of how Old Town kayaks are made.
Feature Image: Gatewood Brown/YouTube

Lilly is standing in front of what they call their turret oven. Capable of producing 12 kayaks at time. “We can run 12 molds simultaneously. Four that are getting loaded and prepared. Four that are getting cooked. And then four that are getting cooled,” Lilly points out. Its a gigantic, kayak-churning machine, but just one piece of equipment in a facility running 24 hours a day to produce tens of thousands of kayaks and canoes a year.

A Legacy Of Building Kayaks In Maine

Lilly shares that Old Town only moved to its current facility in 2008. Prior to that, the factory was housed in a historic, red, multi-storied building downtown. Materials would have to be brought from the basement for kayaks to be made in ovens on the top floors.

In today’s factory, Old Town employs 200 people in its namesake New England town. A tie to the community stretching generations.

Former Old Town factory
Image: Gatewood Brown/YouTube

“We’ve got people that have put in 15 or more years. We have a handful of people that are multi-generational. Their aunts, uncles, moms, dads, grandparents have worked in our facility,” says Lilly. “It’s a serious sense of pride for our community. This is the largest employer here in town. Many families in the area work here seasonally for several years before they get a shot at second shift, and then they’ll work second shift for five or six years. Somebody will retire off the first shift, and they’ll get their shot,” Lilly adds.

Over a century of modifications, and generations of families later, that’s how Old Town fishing kayaks are made.

 

Moments in this video depict paddlers not wearing a life jacket. Here at Paddling Magazine we advise always wearing a Coast Guard approved life jacket or PFD while taking part in paddling activities.

 

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