The pace of America’s yachtbuilding industry remains steady due in part to surging demand during the pandemic. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), retail sales of new powerboats in the U.S. increased nearly 13% in 2020 over the previous year, and sales throughout 2021 have shown no signs of waning.
U.S. yacht builders have struggled with the rising costs of raw materials and skilled labor during economic downturns, and several closed for good. Some remaining builders pivoted to refit and repair work, while others are focusing on smaller builds. Yacht builders also are responding to new market interest in mid-size yachts along with a new design trend that mimics the spacious, high-volume interior of a sport utility vehicle.
The hotbed of American yachtbuilding remains the Pacific Northwest.
Westport and Northern Marine
Taking the “if you build it, they will come” approach, Westport Yachts manufactures its yachts on spec, allowing the production builder to control costs and find efficiencies. That allows for the delivery of its yachts on time and on budget.
Rebounding from a production delay caused by state-imposed staffing restrictions during the height of the pandemic, Westport in 2020 sold and delivered the 62nd hull of its most popular model—the 34-meter (112 feet) raised pilothouse W112.
Production at its Westport and Port Angeles facilities resumed closer to a pre-pandemic pace in 2021 and the builder now has two more W112s under way, both of which have already sold.
The boom in demand for megayachts in the mid-2000s prompted Westport to add the 50-meter W164 (164 feet) to a range of offerings that also included a 40-meter W130 (131 feet). In recent years however, the builder has pivoted to address market trends and replaced its W130 and W164 offerings with the 38-meter W125 (125 feet) featuring a beach club, a high-volume 35-meter W117 (115 feet), and a tri-deck 52-meter W172 (171 feet). The first hulls of the latter two models are currently under construction and anticipated to launch in 2023.
Positive news continues out of Anacortes, Washington with the resumption of production—thanks to a capital infusion from new ownership—at the newly revived Northern Marine shipyard.
Specialists in composite production, the yard was one of the first in the U.S. to adopt resin infusion technology for improved strength-to-weight ratios in its FRP builds. Its portfolio includes yachts in the 10- to 46-meter (35 to 152 feet) range. The yard is focusing on yacht builds in the 50- to 90-foot range, and the first build under the new ownership will soon hit the water. Dubbed the 2022 Northern 57, this 17-meter (56 feet) two-stateroom long-range trawler is currently for sale. Also underway is a 19-meter (62 feet) Northern 64, which has a projected completion date in 2024.
Other Boat Builders
Among the oldest custom yacht builders in the U.S., Burger Boat Co., is behind such notable megayacht builds as the 46-meter (151 feet) classic-style aluminum motor yacht Sycara IV and the 43.3-meter (142 feet) full-displacement tri-deck Sea Owl. Also following the uptick in demand for mid-size yachts, the builder recently launched an all-aluminum, Volvo Penta IPS-powered Burger 50 cruiser that features a high-performance hull with a 26-knot cruising speed a top speed of 31 knots. The company has several design concepts available for interested clients, ranging from a 19-meter (63 feet) sportfish to a 65-meter (214 feet) tri-deck motor yacht.
This year, the yard unveiled design concepts for a 120-foot raised pilothouse motor yacht and the Burger 66 motor yacht, created to meet the demand for a mid-sized vessel that offers superyacht amenities combined with the high-caliber craftsmanship that defines the Manitowoc, Wisconsin builder.
Other U.S. boat builders are joining the mid-size action, a move that could draw attention to their capabilities for production of 100-foot vessels and longer.
No stranger to the recreational boat scene, Hatteras Yachts was acquired by prolific fishing boat builder White River Marine Group in 2021. The plan is to modernize the New Bern, N.C.-based composite boat building facilities, where the company’s largest build, a 32-meter (105 feet) raised pilothouse, was launched in 2018.
Viking Yachts has built just shy of the 30-meter (100 feet) mark, its flagship being the 28-meter (93 feet) four-stateroom Enclosed Bridge Sportfisher unveiled in 2018. Returning to its mid-size roots, the Mount Gretna, New Jersey-based composite sportfish manufacturer planned to debut the new Viking 64 convertible at the 2021 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in late October. The four-stateroom, three-head fishing “battlewagon” ticks all the boxes for space, amenities and performance among yachts in the 60-to-70 foot range.
New England boatbuilders, meanwhile, continue producing everything from traditional cold-molded wooden sailing vessels to motor yachts and catamarans. The coastal town of East Boothbay, Maine is home to America’s oldest boat builder, Hodgdon Yachts, which got its start in 1816 and counts among its notable builds the record-breaking and race-winning 30-meter (100 feet) super-sailing maxi Comanche and the 47-meter (154 feet) classic ketch Asolare (ex-Sheherazade). In its near 200-year history, the family-owned shipyard has pivoted to meet market demands, counting military and commuter vessels within its varied portfolio. Now, the focus is on infused e-glass/carbon fiber superyacht tenders in the 10.6- to 11.4-meter (34 to 37 feet) range, with four launched in 2020/2021 and an additional five currently in production.
Although demand for 50-meter-plus (164 feet and longer) megayachts is giving way to high-volume interiors and more modest lengths, the U.S. yacht building industry continues to prove its resilience, with the longstanding players from coast-to-coast matching quantity with quality, regardless of size.