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Backing off: KJet co-owner Shaun Kelly. PICTURE: CRAIG BAXTER

By PHILIP CHANDLER

A new owner could soon be steering a major Queenstown jetboat company.

An offshore party’s doing due diligence on buying KJet, but managing director Shaun Kelly — who bought into the company 35 years ago — stresses the deal mightn’t go through.

Kelly — nowadays 50/50 owner with Skeggs Group, which owns tourism giant Southern Discoveries — says ‘‘it’s not a firesale because of Covid’’.

‘‘Business is really healthy, and we’ve fared well right through this last couple of years.’’

Annual passenger numbers had dropped about two-thirds from 70,000 to 80,000, in pre-Covid times, but the company had retained its 21-strong staff, including seven drivers.

However, he’d had ‘‘a bit of a health scare’’, and received a kidney transplant last  Christmas.

‘‘I’ve sort of had to back off a bit, really.’’

Kelly says the company hadn’t been for sale, but had been approached by several parties — ‘‘we’re testing the water’’.

Billed as the world’s oldest commercial jetboat company, KJet — originally Kawarau Jet Services — traces its history back to 1958.

From when Kelly bought in, the company had grown from one jetboat to a fleet of eight, ‘‘the biggest in New Zealand’’, its website states.

Skeggs Group bought its stake in 2011.

Kelly, 61, is a former NZ jetboat racing champ and placed fifth in the world jetboat marathon in the United States in 2000.

scoop@scene.co.nz