Viking Marks 60 Years With New Model

Founded by Bill and Bob Healey in 1964, the builder will launch the Viking 82 this fall at the Fort Lauderdale show.

Vincent Jackson - June 13, 2024

Patrick J. Healey, president and CEO of Viking Yacht Company in New Gretna, serves as the connection between the family businesses’ decorated past and its bright future as it celebrates its 60th year.

On April 1, 1964, Patrick Healey’s father, Bill Healey, and his uncle, Robert Healey Sr., bought Peterson-Viking Builders, a small, struggling New Jersey builder of 37-foot, wooden sportfishing boats. Sixty years later, Viking Yachts spans eight companies spread between New Jersey and Florida.

Bob Healey Jr., Viking’s chairman, is Patrick Healey’s cousin, and Healey’s three children — Sean, Justin and Kaitlyn — are involved with Viking in marketing and sales roles.

“We just do what we do. We pass down all these traits, work ethic,” said Patrick Healey, 65. “We keep pushing to build a better boat.”

Patrick Healey took the time to acquire the skills of his father, who was the boat builder, and the knowledge of his uncle, the money man, so that all of their wisdom could be combined in one person.

In 1976 at age 18, before heading off to college, Patrick Healey worked at Viking full time for three years, learning how to build boats. In 1979, at 21, he enrolled at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia — the alma mater of both his father and his uncle — and majored in accounting.

By the time Patrick Healey returned to Viking in 1983 after college, the company had two decades of accomplishments under its belt.

Viking had switched from making wooden sportfishing and cruising boats to fiberglass. The Viking 40-foot convertible had already debuted. Every Viking built since shared the basic hull design with refinements made to accommodate steadily increasing power.

Over the decades, Viking began to compete with other businesses making luxury and sportfishing yachts because of the consistent ownership of the company, Patrick Healey said.

“I’ve been here 44 years. I started at age 18. Fifteen of our managers have been here for 30 to 40 years. All of our competition has had mergers and acquisitions,” Healey said.

During the 60 years of the business, the most difficult period was the early 1990s, when there was an economic recession and the savings and loan crisis combined with a 10% federal luxury tax, Healey said.

“The boating industry went through a 1929 depression,” Healey said. “In 1992 and 1993, we kept our R&D (research and development) group going. Banks worked with us to make it through the luxury-tax period. Banks helped us tremendously with cash flow. ... All that time, we were designing and building new boats. You have to adjust to the cash flow that you have.”

Bob Healey’s leadership was instrumental in repealing the tax.

Viking now contributes to the New Jersey boating industry’s $6.6 billion in annual economic impact with 20,177 jobs and 1,193 businesses supported, the National Marine Manufacturers Association said.

“The nearly 1 million people who purchased a boat for the first time during the height of the pandemic continued to spend record time on the water in 2023, helping drive an economic impact of $230 billion (nationwide),” Frank Hugelmeyer, the association president, said in a statement.

While the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenging time for Viking, the company was fortunate because it brought many people back to their boats, Patrick Healey said.

“They rediscovered boating and fishing and its value to their families. It was ideal for spending time with loved ones while social distancing,” he said.

As a result, Viking experienced record sales, with former owners returning and new customers coming aboard, Healey said.

“One of the keys to enduring tough periods such as the luxury tax, the Great Recession and the pandemic has been consistent innovation and product development. Through those periods, we’ve continued innovating to have fresh new models ready for our owners. That’s all part of building a better boat every day,” he said.

Inflation has significantly driven up costs in all aspects of operating a boatbuilding business, which has unfortunately impacted Viking’s pricing, Healey said.

“However, we are doing everything in our power to maintain our pricing models on all boats while still delivering continuous product improvement,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have strong brand loyalty, and consistently coming to the market with innovative yachts has helped us continue to thrive through a very challenging period.”

The longest-tenured Viking employee, Rudy Dalinger, 80, of the Bargaintown section of Egg Harbor Township, was hired five months after the Healeys opened Viking Yacht. Bill Healey took Dalinger under his wing.

Dalinger - who stayed employed during the luxury tax crisis - was a carpenter, production manager, ran the R&D department and is now a custom production engineer.

“It’s been a blessing for me. ... I enjoy working,” said Dalinger, who added he will keep working as long as his health is good and he remains an asset to the company. “I’m a loyal employee. Bill Healey, he was dedicated. It was his life, his passion. It’s like a family. I don’t want to leave.”

Bob Healey died in 2021, but Bill Healey still visits the company. Bob and Bill Healey’s founding of the New Jersey Boat Building Association and the Recreational Fishing Alliance and overall commitment to the marine industry led to them being inducted in 2003 into the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Hall of Fame.

Since then, Viking’s trajectory has been upward. What started as Viking Yacht Company has grown into eight different companies in two different states that form the Viking Marine Group.

Viking Yachts, Princess Yachts America and the Viking Yachting Center are located at the group's headquarters in New Gretna, New Jersey. Valhalla Boatworks is just a few miles away in Egg Harbor City.

Three other subsidiaries - Palm Beach Towers, Atlantic Marine Electronics and Valhalla Boat Sales - have locations in both New Gretna and Riviera Beach, Florida. The Viking Yacht Service Center is also in Riviera Beach.

“We design, develop and bring to market faster than anyone else in the industry. We introduce the right model at the right time. We’re the No. 1 sportfishing builder. You make your luck, but everything has to break right,” Patrick Healey said.

Mike V. Penza, 62, a part-time resident of Cape May County and Florida, had his father introduce him to sportfishing. Penza, who is in the trucking business, has owned seven different Viking yachts over the years.

“We’ve always traded up to get a new model. I like being involved in the build process,” said Penza, who added he buys Vikings because they are local and very accommodating. “Technology changes with higher horsepower, lighter boats. ... The better performing boats have new electronics.”

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