Morgan Huntley '08 on Founding, Growing & Selling Vanquish Boats

Morgan Huntley '08 on Founding, Growing & Selling Vanquish Boats

Originally from New York, Morgan graduated from the very first Marine Systems class at IYRS. But Morgan’s career story really begins as a recent college graduate living on a wooden boat in Maine. He had moved to Maine to enroll in a local marine trades program. Four years of college taught him many things, not the least of which was that he wanted more from his career than an office job.  But the transition from his bustling New York life to quiet Maine was harder than Morgan expected, and he found himself looking for a new opportunity immediately after completing his program. Enter Newport and IYRS. With his eyes on launching a successful career in the marine trades, Morgan dialed in on the newly launched Marine Systems program. “I knew it would be a great jumping off point. IYRS is known for its solid career connections and I knew this was the place I could make it all happen.”

At IYRS, Morgan loved being part of the ‘let’s figure it out together’ mentality of the brand new Marine Systems program and the camaraderie that comes with being the first class to cross the finish line. He also liked how the program was structured – learning not only about the history of boat systems and their current engineering, but also the trends for the future. His instructor allowed the students to test ideas in the shop, trying different ways of solving problems. One memory in particular stands out. In emphasizing the importance of using the appropriate gauge wire for a project, a concept which hadn’t completely taken hold with the class yet, Morgan’s instructor allowed him to try starting a diesel engine with 12 gauge wire when 240 gauge is necessary – with the shop fire extinguisher at the ready and immediately put to use! Morgan says, “IYRS gives you the opportunity to fail without getting fired.” Indeed.

Morgan spent his IYRS externship at Outer Limits and was hired on full-time after graduation. From there, he worked at Loughborough Marine and Hinckley Yachts. But then a friend with a design background discovered a set of Doug Zurn boat molds for sale…and Morgan’s entrepreneurial bug took hold. The molds were bought, improvements and modifications were made, and Vanquish Boats was born.

But the recession of the late ‘00s had taken hold of the country. This might have turned a different person away from launching a company, but not Morgan. He looked at the high unemployment rate in the boat manufacturing industry as an opportunity. There were experienced, passionate builders and technicians available who normally wouldn’t be. He hired his crack team and Vanquish Boats built their first boat.

After getting important customer feedback at their first Newport Boat Show, they changed the options design and soon had both client and dealer interest. But building boats is not for the financial faint of heart. “Starting the company was a tremendous financial burden,” Morgan says. “It had to work.” And indeed it did. The new design won Best New Powerboat Under 30” at the 2015 Newport International Boat Show and the orders rolled in.

Small business ownership is full of surprises, not always all good. Vanquish Boats’ production facility, housed in a rented building in Bristol, RI, was condemned. With few realistic local options, Morgan moved production to Florida. Meanwhile, Morgan was the dad of two young kids and the frequent back and forth from Rhode Island to Florida was not what he envisioned for family life. It was time once again for a change and new opportunities. In 2020, Morgan sold Vanquish Boats to Century Boats and is now happily in Rhode Island full time.

Morgan sums it all up thus, “What I am is a maker. I love making things. And the message that needs to go out to kids is that with a trade school education you can have a successful career, raise a family, buy a house, and not have college debt.” We couldn’t agree more. And we can’t wait to see what Morgan does next.