‘Swift water adventure craft’ designed to get riders through a variety of waterways
The AlumaSki is not your average modern personal watercraft.
Sure, it has a jet pump and PWC-style handlebars, and the rider straddles its seat, but from first sight, it’s clear the AlumaSki is different. Most noticeable is the nearly flat, but thick, aluminum hull and its 5-foot width. Those differences are purposeful, however, as the AlumaSki has been designed as a “swift water adventure craft for use in shallow and hazardous water conditions,” according to AlumaSki developer Mackinnon Marine Technologies.
“We have a one-piece pre-stressed and bended aluminum bottom,” said Slavik Lund, who works in operations for Mackinnon Marine. “With a near flat bottom to it, this allows it to ride on top of the water and not through the water. It also gives our craft incredible shallow draft capabilities. We access parts of lakes and shallow water streams that no one else can come up to because the water levels are too shallow.”
The AlumaSki has been developed as a go-anywhere machine, especially for the outdoorsmen of Mackinnon Marine’s home state of Alaska. But with its versatility, Lund believes the PWC has endless potential throughout North America and beyond, in challenging swift and shallow water and in search and rescue operations.
Quick to market
The AlumaSki started as a personal project for company founder Brian McKinnon. He built the first version in his garage for fun.
However, he soon drew attention as he began taking the prototype out of his garage and using it in public. A discussion quickly popped up on Alaskan Outdoors Forums, with the author asking if anyone knew anything about the aluminum PWC he had seen being trailered behind McKinnon’s truck.
“Everyone was talking about him driving down the road or whatnot, and he had interested parties knock on his door, saying, ‘We think you have a fine toy there, and we think you should really pursue it, Brian.’ And so he took off,” Lund said. “He got a business team together of advisors. They coached him on where to go, and along came business plans and investments.”
Mackinnon Marine and the AlumaSki launched in March 2014. It was then that investors came into the project. In April 2014, AlumaSki created a second prototype, but the new vehicle didn’t fit McKinnon’s original vision, so a third prototype was developed, and that vehicle became the production model.
Though Mackinnon’s first plan was to have the AlumaSki on the market throughout last summer, because of the snag with the second prototype, the AlumaSki wasn’t available until August.
AlumaSki’s first dealer
August is not an ideal time for a PWC to be brought to market in Alaska. By then the hunting season is winding down, and September brings rain that eventually turns to snow, explained Don Rathbun, who works in sales at Marita Sea & Ski/Alaska Power Sports in Anchorage. But the dealership was glad to sign on with and become Mackinnon Marine’s first AlumaSki dealer.
“It was about time somebody made it, and it was the right project at the right time, so we actually got involved because we know we can sell it. It’s made by Alaskans for Alaskans to do what you could never do before on this type of machine,” Rathbun said. “It was an opportunity for us to have an exclusive piece of a brand new product that we think is going to be a hot seller.”
Though Marita Sea & Ski had little expectation for AlumaSki sales before this spring came, the staff was soon surprised. Rathbun sold two units by the end of August, and a third has sold since.
“Honestly, considering the fact that when the prototype became the production model, it was so late in the season, we honestly didn’t figure that we would sell really any over the winter,” he said. “The fact that we’ve sold three of them in essentially Alaska’s winter is phenomenal for us, so the sales have exceeded where we thought they’d be.”
A unique machine
What’s driving customers to the AlumaSki? Rathbun says it’s the versatility of the PWC and the fact that it takes the place of so many boats.
“It’s just a phenomenal machine. We saw the potential for this very early on because we saw the prototype, and we saw what this could be capable of,” he said. “It can really do anything. In Alaska, you need such a variety of boats — you need a riverboat; you need a shallow water boat; you might even need a lake boat. This kind of does all of that. It does all of those things so well while being a personal watercraft-style machine. You can get to those hunting grounds, or you can get to those fishing grounds. You can get to those places that you couldn’t get to before.”
Mackinnon Marine sees outdoors enthusiasts as one of the AlumaSki’s primary customer bases, with its early customers falling into that demographic.
“This is the guy that he comes back from work; he grabs his boat, and he just wants to go up river to either catch some fish or shoot some animals and bring them home. And with this boat you can do it with plenty of payload to take a friend, and a pile of gear in the front or side holds or strapped to the rear deck. It loads on and off a (PWC) trailer just exactly the same. You hop on; you go, and you go until you want to stop. It’s that last-minute, go-anywhere boat,” Lund said.
Also expected to be key customers are powersports and boating enthusiasts who appreciate customization. Though an AlumaSki can be bought off a showroom floor at a starting price of $24,995 for a base model, AlumaSki offers a barrage of customization options. The company expects most models will leave the factory with one of 5,000 custom powder coat colors and a number of accessories.
“Everything’s customizable, from fishing pole holders to racks to gas cans to storage compartments inside. It’s really the boat that we’re building for the customer to match their personality,” Lund reported.
AlumaSki also expects to sell well commercially among companies that need it for hauling, as it has a 1,000-lb. capacity, or for safety reasons, as its near-flat hull offers more stability than the average PWC and only a 2-inch draft. The vehicle can also be outfitted for use by government search and rescue teams.
“If a place has rivers, shallow water, search and rescue organizations that struggle with water in getting to certain locations, problem solved,” Lund said.
Communities that frequently have to perform switch water and dangerous tidal inlet rescues where 30-foot tides are typical have found traditional PWC don’t have the capability to survive the rough glacial feed waters, or offer the stability for side loading and personnel rescues.
With the AlumaSki’s thick marine-grade aluminum hull, customers of all types won’t have to worry about what underwater obstacles lie around each bend.
“You hit a rock, no problem. The bottom of the AlumaSki’s 2014 model is quarter-inch marine-grade aluminum, and that’s tough,” Lund said.
AlumaSki’s biggest competitors are the Sea-Doo SARs search and rescue model and SJX Jet Boats, however neither have the same aluminum construction and cargo carrying features features as the AlumaSki.
With Mackinnon Marine entering its second year in business, the company is optimistic for 2015.
Among its first plans for this year are to expand its dealer base. Marita Sea & Ski remains its only dealership to date, but AlumaSki wants to expand throughout the U.S. and Canada. Its primary areas of focus include Oregon, Idaho and California because each has certain markets in which AlumaSki could have success. The company has also received an inquiry from a dealer in the Bahamas, who is interested in the AlumaSki’s use near coral reefs, and several Alberta-area dealers contacted the company after the AlumaSki appeared on Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet,” which is shown primarily in Canada.
“There is interest. We’re just trying to establish all the interested parties right now and release this information all at once and hopefully get this moving,” Lund said.
Mackinnon Marine also has to budget for trips to the Lower 48 and Canada, as making a trek from Alaska with units can be costly. However, the company believes it will be able to grow its dealer base throughout 2015, as it gains ground further south and east. Mackinnon Marine is seeking strong dealer partners who already sell PWC and/or boats.
Current turnaround times for customized units is two weeks, as Mackinnon Marine’s Anchorage manufacturing facility can bring the AlumaSki to a certain point of production before shelving it in anticipation of custom orders. The company already has a couple units that have started along that process and are waiting for new orders, in addition to standard stock units for sale.
As spring hits in Alaska and the rest of North America, Mackinnon Marine expects this year to be big for AlumaSki in terms of sales, dealer growth and brand recognition.