Wooden Boatbuilding

Though shipbuilding has been an important part of Maine’s economy, wooden boatbuilding has had a longer history, one closely related to shipbuilding. From colonial times, fishermen built their own boatsBoat

A small watercraft used for transportation, fishing or recreation. Some boats are powered by sail, some by motor, and some by paddles or oars.
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, which included pulling boatsPulling boats pull, pulled

The nautical term for rowing is pulling; thus a pulling boat is a rowed boat.

On the Maine coast a wherry is a transom-sterned rowing boat with a flat bottom board as a keel. A special variety was developed for the salmon fishery.
, double-endersDouble-ender peapod

A double-ended rowing and sailing boat, pointed both bow and stern. Length averages 14 to 18 feet.
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now known as peapodsDouble-ender peapod

A double-ended rowing and sailing boat, pointed both bow and stern. Length averages 14 to 18 feet.
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, and doriesDory

Flat-bottomed open rowboat, characteristic of New England, whose planking runs fore and aft, the length of the boat. It has high sides, a V-shaped raked or angled transom, and sharp, graceful sheer.
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), larger ketch riggedKetch

A fore-and-aft rig where the forward mast is taller than the after mast, and the after mast is generally ahead of the steering position.
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boats (Hampton boatsHampton boat

A small half-decked cat-ketch-rigged centerboard fishing boat from Casco Bay and the Hampton, New Hamshire area before that.
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and small pinkiesPinky

A small, sharp-sterned sailing vessel, 40 to 70 feet long, employed primarily for fishing. One of the oldest types of New England fishing and trading vessels. It is schooner rigged, with a false stern and narrow transom that runs beyond the rudder at deck level.
), sloopSloop

A sailing vessel with a single fore-and-aft rigged mast.
boats (Muscongus Bay BoatsMuscongus Bay Boat

Small centerboard sloop, about 20 feet long, built in the Muscongus and Penobscot Bay areas in the middle years of the 19th century for fishing.
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and Friendship sloopsFriendship sloop

A sub-type of the Maine sloop boat, used primarily for lobster fishing, developed in the vicinity of Friendship on the coast of Maine, with a fixed keel, clipper bow, deep draught, wide beam and a elliptical shaped stern.
), and small schoonersSchooner

A sailing vessel of two or more masts, all fore-and-aft rigged. The Thomas W. Lawson, built in 1902, had seven masts. In comparison to a square-rigged vessel of comparable tonnage, a schooner is better for coastwise sailing.


Malcolm Brewer Dory Friendship Sloop under Sail off Eagle Island, c.1898

Any new ship required at least one boat for safety and harbor transportation. All harbors used small boats for getting from shore to a larger vessel. Thus, a boatbuilding business was part of any economy in which there was fishing or shipbuilding. After 1900, small fishing boats began to carry gas engines, including the Camden-built Knox MarineKnox Marine Engine

Knox Marine engines were made by the Camden Anchor-Rockland Machine Company. Production seems to have started about 1901 in Rockland then moved to Camden about 1906 where they continued into the 1920s.
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one-cylinder gas engines called "one-lungers." Eventually, powered lobster boats became a type of their own, and kept the boatbuilding business strong through the years.

The growth of tourism in the second half of the nineteenth century provided a large market for canoes. Maine’s Native American canoe building tradition was successfully converted to mass production when Mainers invented the canvas covered wood canoe in the 1870s. By the early 1900s, businesses like Old Town Canoe built and sold thousands nationally.

North Haven Dinghies on Mill River

During the same period, Maine summer visitors began racing small sailboats, including creating in 1885 the North Haven dinghy, considered to be the first one-design class in the United States. Many other one-design racing sailboats became popular on the Maine coast, including the Northeast Harbor A boats, the Dark Harbor 17 ½, the Bar Harbor 30, the Wee Scot, and the Mt. Desert Island class. While most were designed by southern New England architects, many were built in Maine. These same architects turned to Maine builders for cruising boats in the decades after World War I.

Boatbuilder Gus Skoog at Planer

Wooden boatbuilding began to see serious competition from fiberglass construction in the 1960s, and the number of wooden boatyards began to decline. Wooden yacht building, though, has made tremendous strides in the last thirty years, as new wood construction technologies and a revival of interest in wooden boats have spurred sales. Maine’s boat builders now make up a 2/3 of a billion dollar industry, building boats in wood, fiberglass, aluminum, and steel.

Maine has a four hundred year history of ship and boat building, and continues to be a world leader.

Click here to view boatbuilding images from PMM's photo collection.