Lord of the Rings

Ryan Yeomans works on a Kisbee ring in his Fleet Maintenance Facility work shop. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Ryan Yeomans works on a Kisbee ring in his Fleet Maintenance Facility work shop. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

If you’ve wondered who creates the decorative Kisbee rings that adorn Royal Canadian Navy warships and units of CFB Esquimalt, you aren’t alone says their maker. 

Craftsman Ryan Yeomans works his magic on those doughnut-shaped flotation devices from an art studio in Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton. For the past 12 years he has been the man responsible for transforming the safety rings into ceremonial display items.

“They are the first thing you see when you cross the brow on a ship, but most sailors think they come from a warehouse and are made on an assembly line. They don’t realize how much work goes into creating these and that they are all done by hand.”

It’s a complicated labour-intensive process involving continued attention to detail, says Yeomans. 

The lifebuoys are made of plastic, filled with foam and orange in colour when they come to his shop from manufacturer Aer-o-buoy.

He removes the manufacture’s rope that covers their circumference. A thicker more attractive gage rope will be attached later by workers from the rope shop.

He then washes the ring, sands it, and sprays an epoxy sealer and polyurethane finish before adding coats of navy blue and white paint. It can take up to two days for the paint job and layers of protective coating to dry.

It is at this point Yeomans’ steady hands are showcased.

He carefully outlines the ship or unit’s name on the blue ribbon he’s painted on the ring. Then he fills the letters with sizing glue, waits an hour for it to dry, and applies 23 carat gold leaf sheets. The sheen from the gold is what makes the letters pop and gives prestige to the ring.

After that, he adds a drop shadow and maple leafs.

“For this part you really need a steady hand and there is lots of eyeballing involved,” said Yeomans. “It takes practise and it’s not something that comes overnight. I have been learning over the years how to better refine my skills.”

He learned the ins and outs of his craft under the guidance of former paint shop worker Stu Guilbault, who recently retired. Yeomans, 50, has some past experience in this line of work; he worked 16 years as a body repair, paint, air brushing, and pin striping specialist at auto body shops. 

While most of his work is on regular painting projects, the Kisbee ring is by far the most rewarding part of his job.

“It’s great to know some of these Kisbee rings are sailing around the world on our warships. It gives me a feeling of great pride knowing I was the one who created them by hand,” says Yeomans.

Kisbee ring making is unique to Esquimalt. On the east coast, the rings are created via computer.

“It’s an old-school technique that I don’t want to ever see go by the wayside,” he said.

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  1. Lookout says:

    The contact at FMF is CPO2 Robert Bendel – Robert.Bendel@Forces.gc.ca

  2. Lt. (NL) M. M. Zulauf says:

    Good morning I was wondering how much it costs to make a Kisbee ring. I am the Commanding Officer of a Navy League Cadet Corps in Ontario. We are celebrating our 60th Anniversary in December and over the years our ring has seen better days. I was hoping to try and replace it. Have a great day. Lt. (NL) M. M. Zulauf

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