SAFE Boats International – Bremerton and Tacoma, Washington

March 4, 2024

SAFE Boats

The International Captains of Industry


Pioneering innovation and employee ownership for rapid growth

For the best players in the boat manufacturing industry, pioneering innovative solutions in an often competitive industry steers a company into a leading spot as it navigates the right course forward.

When it comes to these kinds of operations, resourceful leadership must take the helm. Constantly staying ahead of the technological curve, incorporating sustainable practices, and diversifying product lines are also key.

To truly stay the course long-term, strategic partnerships—especially in emerging sectors that rely on boats to conduct procedures—can also open new horizons. One organization, in particular, has managed to establish all of this for itself while simultaneously fostering a workforce that is fueled by a pulse of ownership.

SAFE Boats International has carved its legacy in the picturesque landscapes of Bremerton, Washington, for over 27 years. Established in 1996, this company specializes in designing and manufacturing aluminum boats, primarily catering to military, law enforcement, and first responder agencies worldwide.

With a humble beginning, SAFE Boats now exists as an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) that stands at the helm of a unique position within the vast seas of its industry. The company has delivered over 2600 boats deployed in approximately 70 countries—a testament to its global influence.

As an ESOP, SAFE Boats has made investing in team member development, attracting fresh talent, and nurturing a culture that echoes the company’s core values the bedrock of its growth strategy. For the employee-owners here, the ESOP is not just a financial concept but a mindset that fuels commitment and loyalty.

Operational challenges are conquered, and a strong employee ownership culture permeates every aspect. Success is a harmonious blend of technological prowess, a thriving workforce, and a global reputation that echoes the commitment to keeping waters safe.

The organization has not only grown as a brand but has become a beacon in the industry, showcasing the blueprint for responsible, innovative, and employee-centric boat manufacturing.


Setting Sail on an Innovative Market Approach

SAFE Boats envisions a future where innovation meets tradition, a sentiment reflected in the very manufacturing process that has earned it such credibility.

Cutting-edge autonomous boats and the first-of-their-kind all-electric patrol boats are skillfully crafted in this busy yet professional environment.

SAFE Boats embarked on its journey with a distinctive strategy—introducing groundbreaking designs, patented features, and foam collars that revolutionized the market in the early 2000s. The company had secured its corner of the market by adopting a very focused approach to the customers it serves.

CEO Richard Schwarz explains this approach in practical terms, saying, “We have a pretty global footprint, and that’s always been part of the SAFE Boats strategy, to focus on domestic U.S. customers as well as international customers both directly and through foreign military sales.”

In simple terms, the company largely contracts with domestic and U.S. military organizations but also assists foreign organizations and countries that partner with its primary clientele.

The pivotal moment in the company’s growth came after 9/11 when the U.S. Coast Guard recognized the need for a standardized platform for coastal patrol, security, and search and rescue. SAFE Boats swiftly responded, delivering close to 600 boats to the Coast Guard, catapulting the company far into both the international and domestic markets.

Coming to the Coast Guard’s aid proved to be the right choice, as it was a move that allowed SAFE Boats to become a new industry standard in boat manufacturing, which was largely inspired by the company’s incredibly efficient designs.

According to Schwarz, the company’s innovative boat designs combined with its fast response to the Coast Guard’s dilemma is what ultimately “helped aluminum replace composite and fiberglass boats as the standard for law enforcement, military, Homeland Security, and around the world.”

The acronym SAFE encapsulates the essence of the company’s designs—Secure Around Floatation Equipped. What sets them apart is their innovative use of foam collars instead of traditional air-filled ones.

This choice not only ensures robust flotation, but the specific weight measurements of the floatation devices also contribute to the unique performance characteristics that distinguish SAFE Boats in the maritime industry.

The philosophy of the company’s design method is centered around providing safety and durability beyond the normal standard one would expect for the average boating enthusiast.

The company emphasizes creating vessels for professional mariners undertaking inherently perilous missions. Whether it’s saving lives, patrolling coastlines, or executing military operations, SAFE Boats are designed with the operators in mind. The focus extends beyond profit, aiming to provide a reliable platform for those who navigate treacherous waters.

Due to the nature of the work these boats are involved in, “delivering the highest quality boat with the best performance is the kind of strategy [SAFE Boats] has pursued, and I think it will always be that way,” Schwarz says.


An Overview of Operations and Ownership

The company has 2 manufacturing facilities, one in Bremerton and another in Tacoma, just 45 minutes apart.

The Bremerton site has acted as the SAFE Boats headquarters since the early 2000s, while the Tacoma site was opened up down the line to allow the company to build larger vessels. Currently, the Tacoma site handles the manufacturing of the 85-foot Mark VI Patrol Boats under a contract with the U.S. Navy.

“We essentially do almost all of our designs. There are a few exceptions where we have some agreements with other companies. But by and large, 98% of the boats that we’ve built are fully designed by SAFE boats,” Schwarz explains, noting the extent to which the company directs and guides the manufacturing process.

It’s also responsible for delivering boats to customers both domestically and internationally. However, if it’s a foreign military sales contract through the US Navy or Coast Guard, those respective organizations handle the logistics of getting the boats to the end users.

The company has a team of boat operators, trainers, and service technicians that it sends all over the world to support its customers. That includes staff that will do operational training for the customers when they receive their boats, as well as basic maintenance, warranty coverage, and systems training.

“So we’ll provide lifetime service and support to our customers… if they have an accident, we have teams that can go out and do basically anything anywhere in the world,” Schwarz explains.

Perhaps this level of autonomy and competence was the inspiration for the recent turning point that the company has reached in its organizational structure.

In 2023, SAFE Boats took an unexpected yet monumental step—transitioning to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Unlike the traditional ESOP path, where businesses gradually shift ownership as part of succession planning, Safe Boats experienced a unique journey.

In 2010, the majority ownership was sold to a private equity firm. However, recognizing the value created by their dedicated team, the founders and investors chose a different route in 2023.

The result: SAFE Boats became 100% employee-owned essentially overnight, aligning ownership with the workforce’s commitment to the company’s mission. Interestingly enough, despite this drastic change, the SAFE Boats company culture hasn’t changed nearly as much as its financial structure.

“We’ve always cared and done our best every day because we’ve always felt connected to the company and its mission and purpose. So we’re not behaving any differently,” Schwarz explains.

Navigating the ESOP transition at an unprecedented pace, SAFE Boats stands as a beacon of how ownership aligns with purpose. While the ESOP model focuses on long-term retirement benefits, SAFE Boats emphasizes the immediate benefits through profit reinvestment.

In an effort to promote education and ownership, the company has established an Employee Owners Advisory Committee.

Composed of key employees, both old and new employees, this committee ensures inclusivity in decisions on how profits are utilized, bridging the gap between management and the workforce.

Charting the Waters of 2024 and Beyond

As SAFE Boats sails into 2024, the focus is on growth, innovation, and workforce development. The company plans to grow its workforce by 25-30%, emphasizing team member development, recruitment, and retention.

Amidst the challenges of the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and inflation, 2023 has served as a transition year. Now, with positive momentum, SAFE Boats is set to explore new technologies, such as autonomous operations and electric propulsion, reflecting its commitment to innovation.

Beyond the traditional patrol boat market, SAFE Boats envisions a future in industries like offshore wind. The demand for vessels supporting offshore wind implementation in the United States aligns with SAFE Boats’ capability to adapt and innovate.

The company’s goal is not only to build robust boats but to pioneer solutions that shape the next 25 years of success.

In conclusion, SAFE Boats’ journey encompasses more than maritime innovation; it signifies a commitment to its workforce. The ESOP model has not only aligned ownership with purpose but has set the stage for a future where employees actively contribute to the company’s direction.

As SAFE Boats navigates the horizons ahead, it stands as a testament to how innovation, global impact, and employee ownership can converge to create a thriving and purpose-driven enterprise.

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SAFE Boats International

What:  A global leader in designing and manufacturing aluminum boats, specializing in serving military, law enforcement, and first responder agencies worldwide.

Where: Operating out of Bremerton and Tacoma, Washington, delivering boats to customers globally.



American Honda Motor Co., Inc. –

From automobiles and motorcycles to power equipment and outboard engines, the Honda name is synonymous with a proud legacy of technological innovation, proven product performance, and unparalleled reliability. In 2024, Honda Marine, a business division of Honda Power Sports & Products, celebrates its 60th anniversary, committed to the development of advanced, fuel-efficient four-stroke outboards known for exceptional operation, outstanding quality and low emissions for wide ranging applications from pleasure boating to the toughest of commercial, utility, government and rescue scenarios. By capitalizing on the technology of Honda worldwide and further developing strategic partnerships, Honda Marine offers integrated solutions, propelling power to the next level for maximum time on the water.

Honda Marine outboards include technologically innovative features found in the company’s most popular automobile engines, including the Honda Accord, Odyssey, CR-V, and Civic. The remarkable reputation of Honda Marine outboards—from the BF2.3 to the all-new BF350 V8—is attributed to exclusives such as VTEC® for peak performance at all speeds, BLAST®, Dual-Stage Induction, Lean Burn Control, and 3-Way Cooling. The Honda Marine power portfolio also meets the rigorous California Air Resources Board (CARB) 3-star standards, enabling availability and regulatory compliance in all 50 states.

Yamaha Motor Corporation

Founded in 1996 and inspired by the rough waters and rocky shores of the Puget Sound of Washington State, we wanted to completely rethink boat design from the human experience, because the most stressful part about a boat is actually being on the boat. Ultimately, we wanted to ensure that any boat we built would take the beating of the water, protecting its operators.

Headquartered just outside Seattle, Washington in the city of Bremerton, SAFE Boats is 100 percent employee owned. We design and build highly reliable and extremely durable vessels that help keep military, law enforcement and fire professionals safe as they carry out their duties, protect citizens and work to save lives.

To let you in on a not-so-well-kept-secret, the company was named for its pioneering wrap-around collar design: Secure Around Flotation Equipped.

It is our mission to provide professional mariners with the most capable boats, allowing them to complete their mission, save lives, and protect freedom around the world.


February 2024 Business View Magazine cover

February 2024

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