Ensign Boats

A new Devon business is aiming to convert British boat owners to aluminium. Chris and Sam Starkey, who live in Holbeton in the South Hams, are now ready to launch the first range of aluminium boats from their new business – Ensign Boats Ltd.

Aluminium is rarely used in UK boats, but is popular in Australia and Canada. As well as being lightweight, it withstands wear and tear much better than most materials, so gives good value for money. Chris Starkey’s background as a marine engineer has included working on vessels ranging from luxury superyachts to small day boats. His ambition was always to design his own craft as he felt that there was a lack of practical, usable boats on the market.

Chris became familiar with aluminium boats by working with boat builders in Australia. After learning their craft, he was keen to work with Sam to build an aluminium boat back in Devon. 

After months of design and development, Sam and Chris were satisfied they had created a high performing vessel that could fill a niche in the UK market, and decided to set up Ensign Boats. Their latest prototype, the Ensign 4.8, has excelled in testing and is a low maintenance, versatile utility craft.

When they were starting out, Chris and Sam sought advice from the Marine Innovation Centre (MARIC), which was set up with support from the European Regional Development Fund. Based at Plymouth University, MARIC works with inventors, entrepreneurs, new and existing marine businesses, helping them access expertise, facilities, networks and funding. MARIC aims to make the South West’s marine and maritime businesses globally competitive.

The MARIC team connected them with marine consultant David Hull from Safeguard Nautica, who they commissioned to support them with compliance testing, and to carry out research into potential markets. This resulted in the development of a new Ensign model that will work for a number of sectors, including scientific research and the offshore wind industry. Chris and Sam are now getting ready to sell their boats to leisure and professional markets.

Chris Starkey said: 

“Aluminium is a great material for boats – it’s light but tough, as well as being incredibly versatile. Having researched the market, we are now confident that we can persuade British boat owners that our hand-built aluminium boats are the perfect choice. It would be great to see aluminium boats becoming as popular here as they are in Australia or Canada.

“As we’ve set up Ensign, MARIC have been enormously helpful in connecting us with other businesses as well as giving their own advice and support. Having MARIC’s support has been like having a business consultant – the team has helped us overcome a number of hurdles.”
Steve Rice, Knowledge Exchange Officer at MARIC, said: 

"Making the right connections is crucial when establishing a new business. Helping businesses connect with others in the sector is a key part of what MARIC does. I'm really pleased to see how the contacts Chris and Sam have made are really helping them take their aluminium boats to market."

Ensign is one of a growing number of South West marine businesses to benefit from working with MARIC through GAIN (the Growth, Acceleration and Investment Network), which connects Plymouth University with businesses.

Head of GAIN at Plymouth University, Adrian Dawson said: 

“This is another example of how the University can offer very practical advice to businesses. It is great to hear how MARIC has helped Sam and Chris turn a great idea into a promising business venture.”