Viking Yachts Co-Founder Robert T. Healey

Robert Healey

Bob Healey (left) and his brother Bill, co-founded Viking Yachts and built it into the leading brand of convertibles/sportfishermen.

Robert T. Healey, Sr., the co-founder of the Viking Yacht Company who helped build the company into an industry leader and led the fight that repealed Luxury Tax on yachts in the early 1990s, passed away last week at the age of 92. His son, Robert Healey, Jr. said, “He believed that the people around him — his family, friends and employees — lifted him to success and it was his obligation to leave the world a better place.” 

An Epic Battle

Bob Healey Sr. and his brother Bill established Viking Yachts in 1964 and the company went on to become the largest manufacturer of sportfishing yachts in the world. That success was threatened by a federal 10% luxury tax that was imposed on yachts in 1991. Tens of thousands of workers were laid off across the country at boat building companies and many went out of business. Viking nearly went bankrupt, closed a plant in Florida and was forced to lay off all but 65 of its 1,500 boatbuilders.

Bob Sr. was instrumental in organizing a national, grass-roots campaign to fight the tax. He took the industry lead, organizing busloads of out-of-work boatbuilders to converge on Capitol Hill for demonstrations and setting fire to a boat in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island as a symbol of protest. The tax was repealed two years later – but not before it had nearly wiped out the U.S. boating industry.

“My uncle’s efforts to repeal the Federal Luxury Tax on yachts will never be forgotten,” said Bill’s son and Viking Yachts president and CEO Pat Healey. “He saved not only Viking but the entire marine industry. He was the catalyst and leader, and he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He was a brilliant lawyer and savvy businessman who was able to convince the politicians in Washington that this was very much a JOBS ISSUE. It was about good, hard-working people losing their ability to provide for their families.”

Robert Healey

Bob spearheady an industry-wide effort to overturn the 10% Luxury Tax on boats.

Bob Sr.’s eleventh-hour lobbying efforts with Congressman Bill Hughes, who represented New Jersey’s second district, helped secure the votes needed to repeal the luxury tax in 1993. “It was a great victory for our family-owned-and-operated boatbuilding company, the people of New Jersey and everyone in the marine industry,” said Pat Healey.

With Bill’s help, Bob Sr., privately funded the company out of his own savings. This let Viking create tooling for new models. When the tax was repealed, Viking was ready. 

Back Story 

Bob Sr., graduated from Camden Catholic High School and attended St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. He also earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He practiced law in Camden County, N.J., for 25 years before retiring as a senior partner in the firm of Healy, Mueller and Tyler to devote his time to business interests.

Viking Yachts is Started

In the 1950s, his brother Bill joined Bob Sr. in the real-estate development business. Among other projects, the two brothers acquired and developed the Bass River Marina in New Gretna, N.J. In 1964, a small local builder of wooden boats, Peterson-Viking, as having financial trouble and the brothers agreed to buy the company. They changed the name to Viking Yachts and relocated the business to their property adjoining the marina. 

Boatbuilding soon occupied most of their time so the brothers sold the marina and concentrated on manufacturing boats. Bob Sr. was the company attorney, financial manager and chief executive while his brother built the boats.

Build Each One Better

Their mantra was to build a better boat every day, pushing Viking to build more than 5,000 boats, over the years. The brothers steered the company through economic cycles. “My father always said, ‘We’ve worked hard to get to the top of the mountain, we’re enjoying the view and we’re not going to give it up,’” said Bob Jr. 

As Viking’s chairman of the board for 57 years, Bob Sr. diversified the corporation’s financial interests into multi-family, industrial and commercial real-estate, oil and gas exploration and development and the financial management of the Healy family assets.

Major Milestones

Together, Bill and Bob Sr. achieved many milestones. In 1996, they founded the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), a non-profit organization formed in 1996 to promote sustainable fisheries and a healthy marine environment. Viking contributed more than $1 million to the RFA. In the same year, the brothers established Viking Sport Cruisers, a company that has been distributed British-built cruising yachts built to Viking’s specifications through its dealer network in North America. Bob, Bill and Pat received the 1998 Ernst & Young New Jersey Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Fifteen years later, the family would earn a second award from Ernst & Young.

In 2002, the Healeys re-purchased Bass River Marine and re-opened it as the Viking Yachting Center. The following year, they were inducted into the National Marine Manufacturers Association Hall of Fame.

In honor of their service and commitment to the marine industry, Bill and Bob Sr. were honored with the 2019 International Boating Industry-METSTRADE Boat Builder Lifetime Achievement Award that was accepted by Bob Jr.

Philanthropic Efforts

Bob Sr. received many more awards for his achievements, including induction into the New Jersey Marine Trade Association Hall of Fame and Rowan University Milestone Award. Bob Sr. also challenged his financial success into philanthropic interests including building schools in impoverished areas of Mexico and providing housing, medical assistance, education, food and clean water to the people of war-torn Sierra Leone through the Healey International Relief Foundation.

“My father was a good man with a deep faith and commitment to service,” said Bob Jr., who recently announced his candidacy for congress in New Jersey’s third district. “No person or mission was ever a lost cause to him. He saw the potential in everyone and believed that our true worth and value in life is in our contributions to others.”

A devout Catholic, Bob Sr., brought his business skills to the challenges facing Catholic schools in the U.S. and formed the Healey Education Foundation and the Catholic Partnership Schools in Camden, N.J.