A boat builder’s journey in the Solomons


Everyone has a goal in life and that is to live a good life without anxiety or misery.

However, the requirement to live a good life comes with greater challenges that one has to overcome physically, mentally and spiritually.

Each step we make decides our fate for the better or worse, as such decision making through critical thinking is paramount in every ways of life.

This is a story of John Hutton – an expat who tried his luck doing business in Solomon Islands.

Hutton is a professional canoe (boat) builder from New Zealand but had lived in Australia.

He is currently in Gizo looking after his business while assisting locals with employment and training.

I met Hutton last week and had a brief conversation. This week Hutton approached me again after he read the article I wrote about Danny Kennedy and his business, Dive Gizo. He (Hutton) asked me to write another feature story about his business journey in Solomon Islands.

Right! Enough of promoting myself, let’s go back to the article.

Hutton’s business was first established in 1991 on Choiseul Province where he started off by manufacturing water tanks, esky and boat repair.

Sales were not as expected but the operation went on for five years before he moved to Honiara.

“Market was the huge issue for my business as the location was remote,” Hutton said.

Around 1997 he established a manufacturing site at JBM, east of Honiara – still manufacturing water tanks, boat repair at the same time slowly manufacturing new boat.

As his business picked up and the future looked bright, the ethnic tension broke out.

“I sent my family back to Australia and I moved to Gizo with few things I managed to gather. I lost important manufacturing tools worth thousands of dollars during the tension. I regret losing my things but that is life, at one stage in life we will lost everything,” Hutton said.

The year that followed, he went back to Australia while monitoring the situation in the country. In Australia, Hutton went for further training in Boat Building and other trainings related to sea transport.

John Hutton and his staff doing a final touch to the ready that is ready to be handed over to WPG Lands Department

Equipped with the required knowledge, he returned to the Solomon Islands in 2008, and went straight to Gizo and re-establishing his business, now called the Gizo Marine Services Limited.

“I started my business again. Let’s put it this way, I started this business with zero, I had to go back to the beginning.

“I started with building water tanks and also repairing canoes (boats). Business was terribly slow. Back then I had only two staff and we managed to produce four to five canoes per year,” he said.

Hutton recalled that in 2013 his business slowly picked up and he managed to make substantial sales and in return he employed 13 local staff. He is not only providing employment to his staff but also training on boat building and other required knowledge within the industry.

100hrp Engine on a boat that is manufactured by Gizo Marine Service. Hutton and his boys are still working on the fittings

“I trained people who want to become boat builder free of charge, knowing that these people will make a living and support themselves and their families from the knowledge I gave.

“Life will be full of fun if we help each other stand up on their feet and not suppress people for their ignorance,” he said.

Business was escalating for Hutton that the Gizo Marine Service broadened its productions with encouraging market in all its products.

But that does not stop him from trying to be innovative.

“I put more money on research and development, now focusing on building seaworthy canoes.

“My research proved me correct and now we can manufacture high-tech build-in safety features in all the boats to guarantee customers’ safety at sea so as the values of customers hard earn money.

“Gizo Marine Service products, especially boats are known for their strength and safety features unlike other manufacturing companies.

Gizo Marine Service product floating at PT109

“Our boats are suitable for fishermen and the transport industry, especially tourism operators because of their conformity.

“Quality control is paramount, nothing goes out our doors unless we are hundred percent sure the product is ready and our customers are satisfied.

“We also do back up services for free when customers are not happy with our products.

“Absolute value of money is what we are trying to do and without a doubt we are the most qualified boat builders in the country, check our product for proof,” Hutton said.

He said three from Isabel Province, five customers from Honiara, one customer from Makira, more than five customers from Western Province have bought Gizo Marine Service’s manufactured boats and they are happy with the results.

Hutton adds that Gizo Marine Service has exported two so far and hoping to export more when the pandemic is back to normal.

He said his operation has been slowing down due to COVID-19.

Hutton said the increase in material parts so as border restriction have put his business at an awkward situation.

“All our materials are imported overseas and now we have few materials to continue with operations.

Two highpowered boat

“COVID-19 has helped me and my team to think smatter and plan better,” he said.

Hutton started building boats, tanks and other relative products since he was 17.

Now at 63 years of age, he still good at what he does.

“As far I remember, I’m in this business for over 46 years and I still love my job. It’s a passion that I can’t go from and I’m trying to be innovative based on my customer’s recommendations.

“We currently manufacturing a fast craft (100hp) boat. The project is called a Demonstration model boat with hydraulic steering fitting and other features that customers will love,” he said.

Soon to be WPG Land transport. Manufactured by Gizo Marine Service at Gizo

Hutton said his business has manufactured and sold over 69 boats over the past nine years, all of which comes back with welcoming comments.

He said the Barracuda 23 brand is the boat to own with a cost around SBD69, 000.00 and orders can be made directly to Gizo Marine Service.

Hutton said Gizo Marine Service is keen to sell products outside of Western Province.

Hutton’s resilience is a good example for other small business operators who want to make a living out from their expertise.

After my interview with Hutton, I realised that hard work and commitment are two important component of success.

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