It was a foggy February morning as the crowd gathered on the dock for the blessing of PrimePort Timaru’s new $8 million tug – Titan. This vessel had been a long time in the planning. It was a proud moment for both John Kearns, commercial broker for SeaBoats, and Grant Bicknell, PrimePort’s marine manager as they watch the local hapu present a precious pounamu (greenstone) to the new vessel which is a tradition representing good luck to the vessel and her crew. 

This is the second tug that PrimePort has purchased utilising the expertise of John Kearns. Titan’s sister ship, the identical Hinewai was purchased just over 18 months ago.

In recent years, Kearns has assisted various ports around New Zealand and the Pacific with purchasing eight brand new tugs, and then selling the old tugs they’ve replaced.  Kearns is more than just a successful ship broker, it is fair to say that salt runs in his veins. Of Māori Ngāti Kuri descent, legend says that his ancient voyaging ancestors called in to the Kermadec Islands on their way to New Zealand, repairing the hulls of their sailing waka with seal skins before making the final passage to Northland, home of Kearns’ Iwi (tribe). 

Kearns spent his childhood years sailing around the world with his father. In the early 1970’s, his family built a small brigantine, and in 1976 they set sail from New Zealand to Florida, via Australia, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, South America and the Caribbean over an eight year period.  Kearns then found work as a rigger and scaffolder before ending up back in New Zealand working on a longline fishing vessel, and then on a 52-foot wooden sloop, gaining the commercial sea time required for his maritime qualifications.  Since then Kearns has worked on all kinds of ships from dredges, to tall ships, ferries and super yachts. It is this extensive grassroots expertise that gives Kearns the edge when it comes to sourcing the best vessels to suit his customer’s needs.

With the global reach of SeaBoats and strong relationships with some of the world’s leading commercial ship builders, Kearns offers value to his clients right from the early stages of the planning process. By understanding the client’s requirements he can give advice on all aspects of the specification of the vessel, access the best designers in the business, recommend the most competitive and high-quality ship builders and ultimately source the most appropriate vessel to suit their unique technical requirements and budget. 

Grant Bicknell, marine manager from PrimePort Timaru reflects on how Kearns’ expertise was able to help the port get to this stage.

“John has been in the industry for a long time,” he explains. “He knows how to navigate through the entire process, from assisting the port with the specifications, identifying suitable designs, providing recommendations and advice based on past experiences, through to being the interface between the port and the ship yard, John’s expertise has been invaluable.” 

Kearns’ relationship with the port doesn’t end after the tug has been delivered. Wayne Larsen, recently retired marine engineering manager for Eastland Port in Gisborne, comments that Kearns has become a good friend.

“John likes to keep in touch, it is well known that his after sales service sees him regularly checking in to see how things are going, making sure that we are happy with how the build is going,” says Larsen.

With an expected service time of over 20 years, the purchase of a tugboat and other working vessels is a significant capital investment for a port that must be done correctly.

“John leaves no stone unturned,” explains Larsen. “John’s involvement simply smoothed the whole selection process for us. He has been involved in so many of these purchases throughout the years he is able to suggest things that the port hadn’t even thought about and is extremely cooperative. His relationship with the builder means he understands how they work and is able to obtain the best outcomes for everyone involved.”

Hong Kong-based Jonathan Cannon, senior sales manager for Cheoy Lee Shipyards, also values Kearns’ personal touch.

“John understands his clients and their unique requirements and he knows that he can come to us for a good value, quality product, delivered on time and at the best price.”

With over 900 staff building around 15 to 20 commercial vessels annually, Cheoy Lee has a long and esteemed history with five generations of family ownership.

“Being a family business, we like to stay personally involved throughout the whole process” Cannon explains. “John is able to build a strong relationship between us and the client, ensuring that everyone’s expectations are met during the build.”

Kearns has been working with SeaBoats since 2010. During this time he has enjoyed significant success and has built up strong relationships with the offshore supply industry and undertaking vessel valuations as well. 

SeaBoats is a New Zealand-owned global brokerage, enabling Kearns and his clients to get the widest possible marketing exposure for the vessels they sell in front of the largest number of qualified buyers. 

When Kearns isn’t hard at work buying and selling boats for his clients, he enjoys spending time with his wife, three daughters and three grandchildren. He also volunteers his spare time as a board member for Kidney Health New Zealand and the Kidney Society in Auckland, he is a consumer representative with the National Renal Transport Leadership team and the Australia New Zealand Society of Nephrologists. After being diagnosed aged 20 with renal failure, Kearns has had three kidney transplants over the years and acknowledges that he wouldn’t be alive without the people who generously donated their kidneys to him. 

His experience, expertise, and reputation in the industry, combined with the backing of SeaBoats support and extensive network, means that his skills are in global demand. Kearns is based in Auckland, New Zealand. 

SeaBoats is an international ship and yacht brokerage marketing and selling a wide range of boats and ships, recreational and commercial, new and used to a broad global audience. John Kearns has worked for SeaBoats for 10 years. 

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