On February 4th 1946, Bruce Steber began a 70 year journey in the marine industry; he and his wife Beryl established Stebercraft – a family owned and operated business that still strives to provide the best in fibreglass boats. Bruce and Beryl’s eldest son Alan is now the Company Director. With collective backgrounds in engineering and shipwrighting, Alan and his brothers, Colin and Graham, have extensive knowledge of all facets of the family’s business, as well as possibilities for the future in their selected disciplines
Alan recalls some of the early history of Stebercraft from its humble beginnings. “In those days, the boats were timber, the last timber boat was built around 1961.” “In 1958 to 1961, Bruce was experimenting with fibreglass, so from then on to the present day, boats have been fibreglass. We were basically pioneers in fibreglass in those early days. In fact, the story goes that the resin companies gave Bruce resin for him to test and to give them feedback.
Bruce was a Sole Trader until 1966 when the company became incorporated, and is obviously still a proprietary limited company. As most family businesses in those days, it started in a small way, and Bruce expanded to a factory with a showroom at the front, so boats could be built in the factory, lowered down by block and tackle into the showroom, where engines were installed and trailers supplied. It was a complete marine centre as well as a manufacturing centre, all under the one roof. The business expanded, necessitating a move to a large factory in Brookvale in Sydney, with 40 dealers throughout Australia.
In 1974, the factory was relocated to larger again premises in Taree on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. One of the reasons this site was chosen, was that Taree was on the main highway, not quite half way between Brisbane and Sydney. The largest boat built at that time was a 20ft trailer boat. Taree was considered to be fairly central for deliveries to the 40 odd dealers throughout Australia, which was a pretty big ask in those days.
In the mid 1970’s, the small runabouts were gradually phased out, and the first large boat was built, a 32 footer. The move into the construction of larger vessels, Surveyed for Commercial Fishing, Charter, Police Boats, Marine Rescue, also large recreational vessels, has proved to be a wise decision. – boats can now be built up to 65ft in length.
Stebercraft, now known as Steber International provides a full support service to their clients, including refits, re-powering and re-engineering, as well as the ability to track down spare parts. Retro gunwales, windows and navigational lights can often be traced and upgrades can be offered. “We’ve got boats that are 40 years of age still running strong” says Alan. “We have a contract Naval Architect and outside Surveyors that come in to check commercial survey work.” Plans are submitted to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), with all construction to meet a commercial code.
Ultrasonic machines test the thickness of fibreglass on all vessels and operations are to ISO 9001 Quality Assurance. Clients are encouraged to see their new boat being developed, choose inclusions, colour schemes, electronics etc. when they visit and ultimately when the boat is launched and before delivery, in depth familiarisation of the operations of their new “baby” is carried out.
In addition to their top-notch services, Steber International also possess silver level sustainability ranking. All solvents and acetones used during production are recycled for future use heeding about 45 litres of new thinners from the previous 60 litre batch. Air compressors, new lines and special lighting fixtures are also refurbished to the best of their ability in order to reduce energy usage as much as possible. Further efforts are planned for future improvements on the regional sustainability program.
Training and preparation is also of high priority. The company has trained a large number of apprentices in the past, and has now implemented a new pilot program. Over the years, several apprentices have received “Shipwright of the Year” awards and Steber International has been widely recognised throughout New South Wales for their outstanding vocational training.
Currently Research and Development programs are given a high priority, most being very confidential. Obviously they strive to be innovative and at all times maximise Australian content.
The world is in conflict and Patrol and Security boats could be the answer in some island countries
Over the years vessels have been exported to various countries including Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Malaysia and New Zealand.
The effort to “maximise Australian content” is an action Alan feels has been lacking within the marine industry. Tenders allocated to offshore manufacturing companies has become a growing issue, Alan feels must be addressed. Some imported boats are built under a different code, at a cheaper price, but may not comply with the Australian Survey requirements. Tender Boards need to start looking at longevity and security and take in the entire cost.
With the large number of imported recreational boats on the market, Brokers only need to add their retail margins. They are not training apprentices, and will expect the rest of the industry‘s shipwrights to carry out repairs if something goes wrong. There is only a handful of boat builders left in Australia. Somehow, importers need to realise that they need to support local industry.
Alan is currently on the Board of the Australian International Marine Export Group (AIMEX) as well as the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, The Boating Industry Association of New South Wales and is also the President of A local Volunteer Fire Brigade. “We do a lot of community work and are heavily involved in our local town” he says.
“With our complete re-fit facility, to take the hollows out when marine is quiet, further industrial work is carried out. We are experts at what we do” said Alan, “We have the infrastructure and expertise to go to the next level, and look forward, if there’s new technology there, to be part of it, to continue for the next 70 years.