Klamath Boats: The can-do aluminum boat company

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FAIRFIELD – Eddie Belardo knows his company Klamath Boats will get through the challenges posed by the COVID-19 national emergency. They’ve survived and thrived since 1947. This is a company with staying power.

“We’re one of the oldest boat companies around,” says Belardo, the company president.

Klamath Boats was founded by two WWII era aircraft mechanics. Experts in the highest-quality aluminum fabrication, it was no great stretch to turn their attention to boats.

“They made aluminum shapes for aircraft and figured they’d make shapes for boats. It grew from there,” says Belardo.

Crafting boats from light-cage welded aluminum offers many advantages, Belardo says. All of Klamath’s models – they make over 30 from 8 to 21 feet – weigh less than fiberglass boats of the same size. For that matter, they are lighter than most of their competitors’ aluminum models. They are tough as nails.

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“Our boats are welded with no rivets,” he says. “Riveted boats have thousands of rivets. The odds are one or more of the rivets will go bad over the life of the boat.” Welded boats don’t leak, and they offer superior durability. That’s a major reason Klamath Boats are found in outfitter rental fleets and in the hands of anglers who prize high quality.

BUILDING KLAMATH BOATS is a multi-step process, and all of it is done by craftsmen who have been with the company for many years.

“We have boats all over Alaska, all over Mexico, across the western U.S. and the Great Lakes and up and down the Oregon coast,” Belardo says. “The bottom line is guys that rent boats beat them up, beach them, treat ‘em rough. But the rental fleets keep buying our boats because they take a beating and keep on going.”

All Klamath Boats 18 feet and up come standard with zinc anodes for use in saltwater. The anodes protect against galvanic corrosion. “We expect those boats to be fished in saltwater,” Belardo says.

The 18-foot OPW is among Klamath’s most popular models in California. OPW stands for open windshield. “It’s a multi-species boat,” Belardo says. “There’s space on the bow to cast or throw lures. Another guy can cast from the back. You can bottom bounce, drift fish or anchor and do it with a full enclosure to protect you from the elements.”

If it’s raining or snowing, you can still fish in relative comfort. “Other aluminum boat makers put the helms all the way forward,” Belardo points out. “That gives you extra room in the stern but then there’s no space to cast in the front.”

Aluminum welding is a specialized skill. Not just anyone can do it. It takes an expert touch.

“Our guys control the welds,” Belardo says. “If you’re starting with us, you won’t touch a boat for at least a year. You’re apprenticing.”

Klamath’s youngest welder has been with the company for four years. That’s a short tenure for the company. Most employees have been working for Klamath for many years. The Production Manager started in September 1979.

“He worked his way up,” Belardo says. “He was the parts guy, then a finish guy. Next, he learned to weld and eventually became a foreman. He’s living the American dream.”

Belardo followed a similar path. Fresh out of college at Cal State East Bay, where he earned a business degree, he visited the company to for some maintenance on the Klamath he owned. While there, he talked with the owner and asked if he was looking for an accountant and worked his way up from there.

Klamath Boats is a small company. It makes them more agile than larger competitors and allows them to offer superior customer service. “That’s the advantage of a small company,” Belardo says. “You can talk with the President if you have an issue.”

Company President is a good job. “I thought I’d be fishing and building boats all the time,” Belardo jokes. He fishes whenever he can, which isn’t nearly often enough, but it’s an enviable situation. Belardo is responsible for research and development of new products, and improvements to continuing models.

“I test the boats to see how fishable they are. We’re constantly making changes and improvements,” he says.

Belardo is partial to striper fishing, sturgeon and largemouth bass. “It’s all right here near Fairfield,” he says. “Montezuma Slough, Clear Lake and Berryessa are the waters I fish most often.”

For more info, visit KlamathBoats.com.

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