By Chris Landry
Talking Boats with Regulator’s Joan Maxwell
The president of Regulator Boats discusses what's changed and what hasn't, including the boating public's "need for speed."
For 21 years, Joan Maxwell has made it her mission to produce the smoothest-riding center consoles on the market. “It’s all about the ride,” says Maxwell, 49, president of Regulator Marine.
She and her husband, Owen, 51, founded Edenton, N.C.-based Regulator Marine in 1988, building their first boat, a 26-footer, in a former A&P grocery store. Since then, the Maxwells have added five center console models and a 30-foot express to the fleet, all designed by naval architect Lou Codega. The newest, the 34 SS, is the builder’s flagship. There are 17 Regulator dealers along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast, and in the Great Lakes.
Q: Do you think the center console will continue to get larger, or has the recession prompted builders to stop building bigger?
A: I don’t think it will stop people from building bigger. I think what will limit the size of boats is horsepower. What can you put on the transom? Can you push the boat to the speeds at which people are comfortable running the boat?
Q: Will the boat owner of today be willing to slow down or will that need for speed still exist?
A: I think the need for speed will always be there. I think they’ll tell themselves, “I need to slow down; I don’t need this much horsepower.” But the first question people generally ask is, “How fast will the boat run?” They want the top end, even though those of us who run boats and know boats know you can’t open up most boats in the ocean anyway.
Q: Was it a priority to make sure the new 34 could run well on twin outboards? Did you consider triples?
A: When we designed that 34, there was always a thought in the back of our minds that there might at some point be a need for triples. We thought if we could make this boat run in the mid-50s with a pair of 350s that would be ideal. The reality is, in open water, most people can’t get it up to those top speeds anyway. It’s all about the midrange and all about the comfort of running in a sea of 4 to 6 feet. Yes, there was the idea of a need for triples, although it’s not what we wanted. The marketplace drives us beyond our comfort levels sometimes. We did look at how it would perform with triples. We introduced the boat during the fuel increases, so the dealers who were inquiring about the triples suddenly quieted down because of the high cost of fuel.
Q: How have your boats changed over the years?
A: There is one constant that has remained the same, and that is the hull design. They are all deep-vees. They’re heavy. They’re all going to give you the ride they have had from Day One. What has changed is the aesthetics. The curving, the rounding off of the corners on the console and the hardtop, putting more creature comforts on the boat, more seating in the bow. Taking the 34, for instance, and putting starboard seating in the bow and a berth below in the console. More creature comforts have been added over the years, but the constant has been that it’s all about the ride. You can have all the comforts you want, but if you can’t take the boat out and use it, they don’t do you much good.
Q: How about construction materials and methods — have they changed?
A: They have changed in that the materials we’re getting are better. The resins and gelcoats are better. Colored hulls actually have a better life because of the materials available to us. As far as lightening the boats, we have not lightened up any. We’re all about weight and deep-vee equals ride quality. We do core the sides on the 30, 32 and 34 simply because they are bigger boats, and we could build them too heavy to run if they were made with solid glass.
Q: Do you think the deep-vee will maintain its popularity, even if fuel prices soar again?
A: Absolutely, because you can build wonderful boats with flat bottoms that you can’t go anywhere in — only in flat calm water. And that’s really not the reality of the way most people take boats out and go fishing. The deep-vee is not going to leave the marketplace, simply because the comfort it gives the person operating the boat.
Q: What is the overall purpose and mission of a Regulator?
A: The boat is designed around fishing. It’s a fishing boat that, over the years, the clientele has caused us to shift to more of a family-style boat with creature comforts like the forward seating. As boats become more expensive, they become more of a tool or recreational device that is used by the whole family. The days of “Daddy has a fishing boat and then we take our smaller boat and go do something else” are pretty much, I think, gone. That’s just my personal opinion. The toys are more expensive, so they are combined with more activities to be done on the boat. We need more creature comforts and seating. Maybe sunbathing. Maybe just riding on the Intracoastal for dinner when the boat is not being hardcore fished.
Q: How did you get started building boats?
A: Owen and I started Regulator back in 1988 with the idea that people should get what they pay for. So my thought really was with us building this company around the idea of Owen working in design and getting the boat right, the manufacturing side of it, and my side of it as running the business. And there are certain things that a customer deserves to get in any business, whatever it might be. We just combined our talents and started Regulator very naively at 28 and 30 years old. That’s how I started, and I love it. It’s a great life.
Q: What are some boat brands you admire, and did those boats influence your designs?
A: Certainly. We started looking around at some of the old SeaCrafts, the old [Bill] Potter SeaCrafts. They had beautiful hulls. We’re up here in northeastern North Carolina, out on the Outer Banks all the time — the Carolina builders with incredible flares on their boats. Beautiful lines. Of course, the old standby Bertram 31. I mean that boat is such a workhorse. So all those things sort of went into the design of the first boat we built, the 26. We built all of the boats basically wanting them to look like they are all part of the family.
Q: What will a center console look like in 10 years — will it be much different than today?
A: I don’t know that it will be much different. It will certainly be different in that it’s going to have even more creature comforts. You’re already beginning to see things like refrigerators on center consoles. I don’t think the center console is going away, because of the versatility it allows for people.
Q: What do you own for a personal boat?
A: We have a 20 Pathfinder and a 16 Hewes. They are great, fun boats to run around and play in. They are not offshore fishing boats; they are play boats. They are not work-related at all.
Q: Do you have any news to share about new Regulator boats?
A: We do have something that we’re working on, but I am not ready to share it. Innovation is part of a company’s future, so we will continue to bring in new models. We have an engineering committee, a product development committee that meets every two weeks. We operate around here with safety first, quality next and delivery after that. We’re looking for a way to give to our consumer a boat that is better than what he was expecting.
Chris Landry is a staff writer for Soundings Magazine. This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.