A Racine County plant that once made Evinrude outboard boat motors has been repurposed to build a line of pontoon boats with a customizable deck and controls similar to a Sea-Doo personal watercraft.
The BRP Sea-Doo Switch, a tri-hull boat that comes in three lengths from 13 to 21 feet, has seats that can be rearranged into sofas. Deck furniture, such as tables with integrated speakers, can be moved around as needed. To change the setup, you just pull a T-shaped handle to release the lock.
Only the helm is stationary, and there are dozens of options to add or remove seating, rearrange furniture, and much more.
“The designers’ main inspiration was Legos,” said BRP spokesman Tim McKercher.
The Switch has clear vinyl sides, rather than aluminum panels, to increase visibility around the boat when approaching a swimmer, a dock, or another boat.
Powered by a jet propulsion drive rather than a propeller, the largest Switch has a top speed of 44 mph, according to the company. Not having a propeller makes it easier to take the boat into shallow water and other places where stumps and rocks could cause damage.
“It’s not something we would want to encourage, going over logs and things, but there are advantages of getting into areas where a propeller boat may have trouble,” McKercher said.
All the controls are on Sea-Doo-style handlebars at the helm.
“However it’s the right choice for a jet drive,” Boating Magazine said in a review of the Switch.
“With minimal practice, you’ll find yourself quickly toggling between forward, neutral and reverse to pull in and away from a dock, and even spin the boat almost within its own length,” Boating Magazine said.
While the Switch is called a “pontoon” boat, it doesn’t have the aluminum tubes found on most pontoons. Instead, it has three distinct hulls made from a proprietary mix of polypropylene and glass fibers used in the Sea-Doo personal watercraft lineup.
“The intention was to modernize what a pontoon could be, making it more attractive to new boaters,” McKercher said.
Pontoons, once considered an ugly duckling by some boating enthusiasts, led the recreational marine industry out of the Great Recession and the worst slump in decades. Suitable for many purposes including fishing and scuba diving, the versatile boats are very popular with families wanting to get on the water.
“It’s definitely one of the fastest-growing and biggest segments of the marine industry,” McKercher said.
The Switch simplifies some things, like docking, that intimidate first-time boaters.
“It’s designed to be easy...when things are easier, they’re more fun,” McKercher said.
At the Sturtevant plant, the different models are assembled in three-foot sections depending on the boat's length. The bigger models have a swim platform that extends them another couple of feet.
Canadian-based BRP had made Sturtevant its world headquarters for the Evinrude brand which was founded by Ole Evinrude in Milwaukee in 1907.
The company, previously known as Bombardier Recreational Products, bought the Johnson and Evinrude brands in 2001 from bankrupt Outboard Marine Corp. That company once had plants in Milwaukee and Waukegan, Illinois, with a combined 800 employees.
When BRP dropped Evinrude in 2020, the Sturtevant plant employed around 400 people making outboards. It has since been repurposed to assemble the Switch and other products not yet named by the company.
The boats, with a starting retail price of around $18,000 for the smallest model, have been in short supply as the result of strong demand and production that's limited by supply-chain constraints.
Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.
DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Racine County-made pontoon boat Sea-Doo Switch is a hot seller