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  • Radford Bean

The Demise of Necky Kayaks

By now, Necky owners, including yours truly, have heard the bad news from Johnson Outdoors, parent company of Necky Kayaks, Old Town Canoes and Kayaks, and Ocean Kayak, announced on June 15, 2017. Johnson Outdoors will no longer manufacture Necky kayaks. Johnson Outdoors’ decision to cease producing Necky kayaks is the sea kayaking equivalent of General Motors ceasing production of the Oldsmobile.

Necky Kayaks is one of the oldest North American sea kayak manufacturers, producing sea kayaks since the mid-1970s. It’s been an innovator in sea kayak design. The company started in Abbottsford, British Columbia, Canada, before moving to the Ocean Kayak plant in Ferndale, Washington, following its purchase three years earlier by Johnson Outdoors in 1998. The company moved production to Old Town Canoes and Kayaks’ headquarters in Old Town, Maine, in 2009.

Necky claims on its Facebook page that the move is a better business decision that will allow Old Town and Ocean Kayak to expand their product lines to “better align with consumer demand and further build brand equity.” One has to wonder. From the comments I’ve read on their Facebook page following the announcement, Necky owners aren’t happy about the decision and for good reason. If it’s a better business decision, why has Wenonah, which produces Wenonah canoes and Current Design kayaks, chosen to keep their two businesses separate? The same holds true for Confluence who owns Mad River Canoe and Wilderness Systems kayaks.

Old Town Canoes and Kayaks will be announcing a new line of touring kayaks this summer. It will be interesting to see what those models look like and how well they perform.

Best known for their canoes, which they’ve been building since the 1890s, Old Town started manufacturing rotomolded recreational kayaks in the 1980s that cater to the low-end market—most models are under $1,000 and are sold through major sporting goods stores. Their kayaks are good, stable kayaks. Models like the Loon and Otter are favorites with paddlers. However, Old Town has never made composite kayaks, recreational or sea kayaks. Nor have they made performance touring kayaks. They do make composite canoes, but there is a big difference between manufacturing a composite canoe and a kayak. Hopefully, they’ll continue Necky’s tradition of building quality sea kayaks by retaining the design and production staff from the Necky business.

Plastic kayaks are okay. They take a beating and keep going, but they’re heavier and slower. Older paddlers like myself, don’t relish the thought of having to hoist a 70 pound sea kayak onto the roof of a vehicle—guess it will increase sales for Thule’s Hullavator. They’re also difficult to repair to like-new condition.

Johnson Outdoors wants to assure Necky owners that their warranties will be honored and that parts will still be available in the foreseeable future. Necky asks its loyal customers to stay tuned to an announcement from Old Town coming sometime this summer.

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