Born and raised in Charleston, SC, the Renken family runs deep in the boating industry. It all started back in 1957 when current CEO Freddy Renken’s grandfather, Walter “Palsey” Renken, bought Halsey Boat Company, a wooden boat company located on James Island, SC. Ralph Renken (second generation), Freddy’s uncle, after graduating from the Citadel military college, was put in charge of Renken Boat Company by Palsey Renken. The first fiberglass boat came out in 1960 (see photo above). In 1975 after spending 15 years as a lawyer in Charleston, Carl Renken, Freddy’s father, joined Ralph and his other brother Kenneth in the family boat business.
Freddy Renken, third generation, started working at Renken Boats in 1986 when he was 17 years old. After working in several departments throughout the manufacturing process and graduating from college, Freddy became plant manager in 1991. The company struggled during the early 90s recession, and over the following years, Renken shut down in 1995. Freddy says he wouldn’t trade those 5 years for anything as he learned the techniques of what to do and what not to do during those tough years. Freddy and his brother Eddy started Sea Fox Boat Company that same year in 1995 without missing a season of manufacturing boats throughout the 65 year heritage.
In the early 80s, Ralph got very concerned when Bayliner and Sea Ray were purchased by Brunswick corporation (which also owned Mercury outboards and Mercruiser I/Os), because that was the first big conglomerate in the industry to go vertical, controlling the distributions of engines to its own boat companies. Therefore in 1986, when Ralph was approached by a Texas firm to sell Renken Boat Company, he was ready to sell. The deal got close but instead Freddy’s father, Carl, decided to buy the family out after playing several games of handball with the president of South Carolina National Bank, Charlie Cole, who funded the deal.
Sea Fox produced roughly 70 boats the first year in 1995. Ten years later in 2005, they peaked at 3,000 units. Current minority partners Ryan Balderson and Chris Nemeth joined Sea Fox in 2004. Ryan VP of Product Development and Chris VP of Engineering have greatly contributed to the success of the company today.
Freddy is now joined by two of his daughters, fourth generation boat builders. Harlan (31) VP of Production and Tanner (26) Director of IT and Marketing. Girl power has arrived pink skirts and all in the family business. Furthermore Christina Moore joined the company in 2017 as CFO and is contributing to the success of the company and women in the industry.
The Renken family has contributed to South Carolina boat building more than just through Renken and Sea Fox. In the 1970s, the Renken family partnered with the Roof family to build Galaxy Boats in Columbia, SC. Alvin Roof and Ralph Renken became good friends along with Vic Roof. Vic worked in the tooling shop and eventually left Galaxy and started Sun Bird Boats (which sold to OMC), and in 1995 started Sea Hunt Boats (now run by Bubba Roof, Vic’s son).
Renken also has ties to Key West, Scout Boats, and Freeman Boasts. Hutch Holseberg, the owner of Key West, Tidewater, and Pioneer, worked at Renken Boats in the tooling shop in the early 80s. Hutch used that knowledge with Steve Potts to craft the first Scout at the Outboard Shop which was located in North Charleston. Additionally, Freddy was Billy Freeman’s landlord when he rented out the old Renken lamination building for 5+ years before moving into his new facility.
Furthermore, just to add one last connection to Charleston, SC, Earl Bentz (one of the icons in our industry) current owner of Caymas Boats and previous owner of multiple boat brands including Stratus Bass Boats, grew up in Charleston, SC. Earl and Kenny Renken (Freddy’s first cousin) were best friends growing up together in Charleston. Kenny Renken spent the majority of his career at Renken Boats and Renken Boat Center (a dealership in Charleston, SC). The irony is that Renken helped create some of the competition that Sea Fox faces today!
The future of Sea Fox is bright with a strong team we have many changes coming for the 2024 model year. Sea Fox has a new logo, new interior, and new colors along with four new models. Every model will be marked with the 65 year crest with four triangles representing the four generations. All of which will be debuted at the dealer meeting in Charleston, SC. Looking to the future, Sea Fox has secured a spot on the Ashley River in Charleston County to build a new state of the art 250,000 sqft boat manufacturing facility planned to be completed at the end of 2027.