Sneed Shipbuilding: An (Extended) Family Affair

By Greg Trauthwein
Friday, November 30, 2012

When Martin M. Sneed embarked in the business of building for the demanding workboat market in the mid-60s, he likely did not imagine that four decades later, his son Clyde (pictured) and business partner and co-owner Mitch Jones would be at the helm of a highly successful boat building company, crafting finely appointed custom boats for some of the industry’s most discriminating owners.

Sneed Shipbuilding was founded by Martin M. Sneed in 1965, and many of the principles upon which it was founded: quality, integrity and efficiency, are as valid today as ever. Today Sneed is co-owned and operated by Clyde Sneed (Martin’s son) and Mitch Jones, a partnership that relies on the quality creed of the past while looking toward future expansion from its towboat and barge roots to the burgeoning offshore market and beyond.  It was just three years ago, in June 2009, that Clyde’s father Martin sold the business to Clyde and Mitch, and the move has paid off handsomely, with the company growing from 30 employees in 2009 to about 180 employees today. Today the company operates out of its main facility, nearly 40 acres in Channelview, TX, about 15 minutes due east of Houston, as well as a smaller yard (about three acres) in Orange, TX and the recently acquired Central Gulf Shipyard, LLC, in New Iberia, LA. The New Iberia yard is a full service shipyard located on the Commerical Canal in the Port of Iberia, specialized in offshore liftboat newbuild and repair; cornerstone to the company’s plan to further diversify its business from its inland core to include the offshore industry. Sneed is now starting construction of its first liftboat ever built in the Channelview facility, and in fact uses all three of its facilities to balance the work load efficiently.

Fuel for Growth
Much of Sneed’s business centers around the carriage of liquid fuel, as it builds for some of the world’s leading inland tow and barge operators.
“We are in good with the liquid carriers, and this has kept us strong,” said Jones, noting that Sneed has and continues to build new vessels for the likes of Kirby, Settoon, Buffalo and Golding, among others.  “Our business has been strong because of our business with the petrochemical industry. It is as recession proof of a business that you can get.”
“The major players are upgrading their fleets now,” Sneed added. “Simply put, we try to build them better than anyone else. We take a lot of  pride on the interior outfitting of the boat,” including small but important touches such as solid wood doors and furnishings, granite on the consoles if requested, and overall superior living facilities for the benefit of crew and company. Jones added that the boats are overbuilt structurally, with extra insulation and systems throughout designed to dampen mechanical vibration and noise, a testament to the fact that the company generally builds for the larger, more stable long-term players in the market, companies that generally build their boats with the intent of owning and operating them for a very long time.
While Sneed is diverse in its offering, and counts about 70% of its business on newbuilds, 30% in the repair sector, Jones said that the company’s specialty is 2,000 and 3,000 hp towboats.
Before Clyde and Mitch bought the business in 2009, the company as building one deck barge at a time, and in fact Mitch was a client for many years, having worked in the maintenance and operations division for Blessey for more than 14 years. It is this experience from the owner side of the equation that has helped to strengthen the Sneed operation further. While business has been strong and growing, Sneed and Jones continue to focus on ways in which to make their business ever more efficient and cost effective. The chief challenge today is to find and maintain qualified workers. “You can find plenty of labor,” Sneed said, “but it’s tougher to find true fitters and welders.” As a consequence, the company must invest in ensuring that materials for the boats it builds are manufactured and delivered in clearly marked pieces, and in fact Sneed said the company is looking into an investment in its own steel cutting and processing on the grounds of its Channelview yard.
Today though all facilities are bustling with business, and Sneed said it will deliver a total of nine boats during 2012. Currently under construction are eight towboats in Channelview (two for Golding, two for Settoon and four for Kirby), and the liftboat. The New Iberia yard recently completed a LeBeouf Bros. Towing boat, and is currently building two towboats for Settoon.


(As published in the November 2012 edition of Marine News - www.marinelink.com)

  • Another ubiquitous sight in the Gulf Region: Karl Senner Inc. supplying propulsion products. Pictured (right) are Ralph Senner (R) and his son Karl.

    Another ubiquitous sight in the Gulf Region: Karl Senner Inc. supplying propulsion products. Pictured (right) are Ralph Senner (R) and his son Karl.

  • Sneed Shipbuilding’s specialty is 2,000 to 3,000 hp towboats (above), said Mitch Jones.

    Sneed Shipbuilding’s specialty is 2,000 to 3,000 hp towboats (above), said Mitch Jones.

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