These 9 yards are still turning out mahogany boats using hand-crafted methods that started centuries ago. The difference? They’re using the latest engines and hull designs. Call it good wood.
There are few more classic sights in boating than a small mahogany runabout splitting the serene waters of a lake in some picturesque locale—be it northern Italy, Lake Tahoe, or a pristine stretch of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is something almost primal about being on board a boat built from the first material humans fashioned roughshod canoes with.
Fortunately, there are multiple yards around the world that are still building wooden boats—but with modern hulls and systems that eliminate the hassles of owning a vintage yacht. Some build classic-inspired designs from the 1920s through the 1960s, while others focus on contemporary hulls, but with wood instead of fiberglass.
These builders will tell you that their material of choice offers the softest ride available, thanks to its natural properties. They will also say that the prestige of owning one of these boats is all but unmatched in the world of boating—wooden boats have long been a favorite of kings and movie stars. When you catch a glimpse of the beautiful brightwork and gleaming mahogany from the dock, you’ll find they clearly have a point.
Here are 9 of our favorite wooden boatbuilders.
Grand Craft, Genoa City, Wisconsin
“Our boats are few and far between, so the people who look at our boats often say they resemble a piece of art,” says Patrick Gallagher, president and CEO of Grand Craft Boats. The Wisconsin builder is currently focusing on two different models, the Burnham 26 runabout (opening image) and Winchester 36 commuter (pictured above). “The common denominator among our customers is that they want something that sets them apart from their neighbors without being gaudy or ostentatious,” says Gallagher. “A wooden boat is a way to demonstrate that.”
Photo : Courtesy Boesch Boats
Boesch, Kilchberg, Switzerland
Jakob Boesch built his first boat in the 1890s, and more than a century later, his family continues to merge new technologies with old-world Swiss craftsmanship. Boesch’s 28-foot 860 has a classically styled mahogany hull with up to 11 layers of wood laid at right angles, sealed with six layers of epoxy and finished with six layers of varnish. Propulsion choices include modern options such as twin 150 kw electric engines for quiet, emissions-free operation or more conventional gas or diesel engines. The runabout’s meticulous craftsmanship disguises a beast of a machine designed for precise handling, tow sports and speed. Equipped with twin 380 hp Ilmor gas engines, the 860 can hit 48 mph.
Photo : Courtesy Spirit Yachts
Spirit, Ipswich, England
The 111-foot Geist, launched in 2021 by Spirit, is the largest single-masted wooden sailing yacht built in the UK since the 1930s, when the America’s Cup yacht Shamrock V ruled the seas. But Geist is much more than a giant sloop. Her eco-conscious owner mandated systems like the first-of-its-kind electric propulsion by Torqeedo—a 100 kw motor fed by BMW lithium-ion battery banks, which recharge while Geist is sailing—while her Rhoades Young interior elevates wood to its maximum potential, showing off sustainably sourced sipo mahogany, teak and walnut in a series of continuously flowing curves. Even her sails are made of recyclable materials.
Photo : Courtesy Hacker Boats
HackerCraft, Queensbury, NY
Founded in 1908, HackerCraft is one of the most prominent names in the wooden-boat world. The builder does series of boats such as its Sport, Sterling, and Racer models and also takes on full-custom jobs. “The build method lends itself to customization,” says Erin Badcock, Hacker Craft’s COO. “We build on a jig so anything is possible. Our main focus is to maintain the timelessness of the boat, but at the same time we have the ability to do custom designs.” For a builder with timelessness in mind, Hacker also has an eye on the future with its fully electric 27 Sport, which has a run time of up to three hours and a 30-knot top end.
Photo : Courtesy Shearline Boats
Shearline, Morehead City, NC
Shearline is one of the cluster of custom sportfish builders centered around North Carolina’s famously rough Oregon Inlet. The builder is not uncommon amongst its peers in that it only turns out one or two boats a year. But the firm stands out among sportfish builders in that it’s still building in wood. Using wood instead of fiberglass is a no brainer. “The strength of a tree is in its ability to bend with the wind,” says Chip King, Shearline’s president. “You come off a wave and wood absorbs the shock, whereas fiberglass transfers it. There’s no comparison between the two materials when you want the softest ride possible.”
Photo : Courtesy StanCraft
StanCraft, Hayden, Idaho
From out west comes Idaho’s StanCraft. This 90-year-old brand was founded in 1933 by W. H. “Billy” Young and his son Stanley C. Young. The company has remained within the family, with new boats now built by the third generation. A fourth generation is coming up in the business as well. The builder offers a line of five models, plus full-custom jobs. The boats are notable for the variations seen in its shearlines, which can be straight, broken, or cambered. The company also prides itself on its fit and finish. Each boat, for example, receives 16 coats of varnish, buffed to a mirror shine before delivery.
Photo : Courtesy GarWood Custom Boats
GarWood Custom Boats, Brant Lake, NY
GarWood Custom Boats is headquartered in New York State’s pastoral Adirondack region, where the multitude of freshwater lakes make an ideal playground for a wooden runabout. The builder constructs its boats using richly grained mahogany, with low-profile, retro lines. The first version of the brand, launched by Garfield Arthur Wood in 1922, was famous for its 33-foot Baby Gar runabouts. The most recent ownership of the brand continued with its racing pedigree, turning out boats like the 22- and 27-foot Speedsters, which can pass the 60-mph mark, a redline that holds real weight for lovers of go-fast boats. Combine that with beautiful wood and you have a one-of-a-kind runabout.
Photo : Courtesy Vandam
Vandam Custom Yachts, Boyne City, Michigan
Vandam is a fully custom builder that only creates its wooden boats on commission. “We only build one of each boat,” says Jeremy Pearson, Vandam’s worldwide sales manager. “The people that come to us are usually seasoned and know what they liked in previous boats they owned—the lines, the seats, that kind of stuff. We do a lot of listening to the clients. The concept phase is a lot of fun here.” The Michigan yard has turned out a long list of very different yachts, from the Geromino commuter yacht to the pictured downeast-style vessel, with dozens of other styles in between.
Photo : Courtesy Streblow
Streblow, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Streblow has been building handmade wooden boats for 73 years. Each boat is framed using white oak, with a marine plywood bottom and Philippine mahogany for the outer planking. The attention to detail seen aboard these boats has gained an almost cult-like following, with customers often purchasing consecutive Streblows. Part of this loyalty stems from Streblow’s storage facility, a 17,000-square-foot structure that the builder says can extend the lifetime of a wooden boat indefinitely.