In Focus: Ovington Boats completes its 1,000th ILCA

shipping Ovington Boats ILCA

Just over 12 months from doubling its factory size, Ovington Boats has completed its 1,000th ILCA dinghy. The British boatbuilder made the prototypes for approval in August 2020, building ten to get its licence, and says it hasn’t looked back since.

The ILCA is a single-handed racing dinghy, which sits among a further thirteen dinghies and keelboats that Ovington produces at its facility in North Shields.

Chris Turner, Ovington’s managing director, says one of the step-changing factors in the business has been tightly focusing on quality control. In 2012, Turner appointed an operations director to run the factory from an automotive background.

“We had all the control processes in place for how to build the boats,” Turner says, “but we didn’t have the ‘captain’ of the process.” Now, with operations director Nigel Carruthers in place, and an apprentice onboard understudying the flow, Turner can ascertain the weight of gel coat applied, how much resin is used in each boat, as well as the cure temperature, vacuum, the weight of the components and the completed boat. He can — from 400 miles away — also track the mast rake and other key parameters for each class.

“We have a lot of data from before Nigel, but it was quite basic. Now we can go back and track what may have changed in the process if we have an issue. From a customer point of view, this offers even more peace of mind that Ovington is building quality products and any issues can be resolved in a timely manner. We don’t want to be replacing boats or repairing them; we want them all to be right. Every boat is a ‘special’.

“It’s a huge step change to business practice. Quality is something Ovington always held very important. It counts. We have bought as much of our supply chain either in-house or close by so we can control the outcome.”

Ovington Boats has been exporting globally from its base in North Shields for 47 years. It sells racing boats and spares to dinghy sailors, Olympians, Member National Authorities, governments and more. Turner describes the product mix as being “fairly niche.” He says the company is “quite specialist by having the mix we have.”

Turner believes it’s ongoing innovation which has kept Ovington at the top of its game. The company has an ethos of continuous development, always seeking quality and consistency and it constantly questions what it is doing.

“With Nigel and now Bill coming onboard, to run the production lines, it has freed up my time for development,” Turner says. “As well as developing the products we also do a lot of process and materials development, we are grateful to Wessex Resins and the use of their lab technicians in developing our production materials. We are also working closely with them on the use of Pro-Set bio-based epoxies for an injection process we hope to use in the future.”

In April 2022, Ovington finished its factory extension, doubling the size. It’s air-conditioned, temperature and humidity controlled, specifically designed to enable consistent quality results in its glass fibre and carbon fibre moulding. In terms of sustainability, it’s switched from gas to air source heat pumps to heat the factory. Turner explains that the grand plan is to solar panel the roof and is looking at options to install within the next 12 months or so. “The reality is that it’s cheaper in the long run, if you can afford to do it. The sun is free and with solar power we can run our whole factory including our air source heating and cooling system. It’s a no-brainer.

“We have led development in a sustainable manner; by that I mean within the ‘business plan’ not overreaching and simply re-investing where we can. I am sure we could do more if funding were available, but we are happy doing it our way.”

Plus, Turner says that Ovington will take back any of its products which someone has deemed ‘end-of-life’ and repurpose, but bemoans the number of companies who insist on talking about their green credentials.

“There is a lot of ‘green washing’ in industry and some of the newer ‘green materials’ are not so green. You need to be very selective and there needs to be a lot more testing and not just jumping on a bandwagon,” he says. “It depends on how you wash it.”

Aside from sustainability, he believes one of the main challenges for the industry – across all industries – is the supply chain being overstocked.

“Supply chains were ridiculously slow during covid,” he says. “A lot of businesses are now overstocked because of that.

“We had a period of high demand through covid — anything you could do on your own was thriving — like singlehanded sailing. Because of the slow supply chain, for example in the wetsuit industry, companies were ordering 6-12 months in advance. Everyone put orders in, but it’s boiled over, the demand is no longer there – people are not spending the money now as they’re allowed out and can do different things. The bubble was always going to burst at some point.

“At Ovington we’ve been steady with a broad range of boats – we’re not reliant on one thing. Supply chains are getting back to normal now, so it is easier to access parts.”

Ovington Boats, alongside epoxy brand Pro-Set, recently sponsored the International OK Dinghy 2023 World Championships, held at Lyme Regis Sailing Club, UK, in June 2023. Pro-Set formulations have been used in each Ovington OK Dinghy since 2020.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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