Quality and Longevity
No matter how you like to hit the water, Waco Boats has you covered
By: Michael Roberts Photography: Nick Wenger/Dustin Jones
My dad was kind of the opposite of most dads,” says Waco Manufacturing president Tom Cox of his father, Waco co-founder Charles Cox. “He turned the company over to me when I was 21, and I’ve run it now for 33 years. He trusted me.” Given the bustle of activity in the factory as Waco employees cut and weld metal into the company’s line of pontoon boats, flat-bottom boats and custom duck boats, that trust was obviously well-placed. Waco has been building boats in North Little Rock’s Levy neighborhood since 1960, and the company takes pride in the handcrafted excellence of its products.
“Historically, we’ve primarily been a pontoon boat company,” says B.J. Aguilar, Waco’s general manager. “But a few years ago we started building the Edge line of duck boats. There are lots of young guys out there who like to go fast, and these boats can be customized just how they want them.” These days, the shop floor at Waco holds everything from flat-bottom jon boats to those fast duck boats—and of course there are still a number of shiny new pontoon boats looming over everything like a study in gleaming metal and paint.
“Building a boat is an art. You learn how to make things work and how to make things fit.”
- B.J. Aguilar
“Building a boat is an art,” continues B.J. “You learn how to make things work and how to make things fit.” To that end, while the main hull of Waco’s Edge duck boats is cut by machine, the interior ribs, decking and fittings are all cut and placed by hand. This handmade approach also extends to the company’s high-end Paradise and mid-range Tropical line of Aloha pontoon boats—and not just for the metal parts. “About a year ago, we developed our own in-house upholstery department so we could better control the quality of the seating in our boats,” says B.J. “Other than a few gauges and things like that, we do everything right here.”
From left to right: Fitting parts by hand ensures that each boat is watertight and up to Waco’s exacting standards. Ribs are bent and placed by hand to create one of the strongest hulls around. Waco’s Edge duck boat interior decking and fittings are cut by hand.
Even though each boat is subject to such attention to craft and detail, Waco still turns out around 700 boats a year, with a typical lead time of two to four weeks per boat. These boats are sold through dealers across the southeast like Arkansas’ own Mark Martin Powersports in Batesville, White River Outdoors in Augusta, Greg Orr Marine in Texarkana, Cavanaugh Marine in Pocahontas and H20 Sportz in Sherwood. In addition, Waco’s boats can be found as far afield as Australia, with Aussie importer Kim Empson praising the company’s all-welded design and durability. “Alohas aren’t the cheapest pontoon boat on the market,” says Kim, “but they definitely are the best built and most durable.”
In a world where prefabricated, inferior-quality products are all-too-often the norm, the hands-on approach to artisan manufacturing employed by Waco is both refreshing to see and extremely admirable. Consumers might not ever think about the hand-bent and shaped railings that line each Aloha pontoon boat, nor the lovingly designed deck gates or hand-applied logos—but they reap the benefits of such excellent work every time they take these boats out on the water. No matter your needs, from leisurely cruises out on Arkansas’ many excellent lakes to speeding upstream to a prime duck hunting spot, Waco has a boat to suit you. The family owned business has been doing it in Arkansas for nearly six decades, and that sort of longevity is a testament to the quality, skill and passion with which each boat is constructed.