Growing up here as a kid in the 1950s and early 60s in Youngstown, NY, on the Lower Niagara River, we would watch the new Shepard mahogany runabouts being tested on the river each spring. They were built right across the river in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Before long the Hinterhoeller and C&C plants came along, again very close by. There were various other factories building boats in nearby Ontario and Quebec. As we got into the business in the early 1970s we would frequent the factories of the brands we represented, especially in New England. It provided a wonderful learning experience, being able to watch how boats were built, especially back then when access to the plants and the people in them was easy.
Sadly, most of those plants are gone, having been replaced by firms overseas. We say sadly because we personally knew many good people who lost their jobs, as well as losing the convenient access to the factories we were so accustomed to. Most recreational boats being built today come from Europe, but there is an upside to this. Builders of today are larger companies that have the financial resources to build modern plants using newer processes and materials. Design and engineering resources are better than ever, and today’s larger companies have the benefit of scale when it comes to purchasing, testing and so forth. Today there are plants building boats in France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Slovenia, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, among others. For example, the Polish workforce numbers around 50,000, with 60% of those people coming from Ukraine. This is one reason why there have been so many delays in boat deliveries recently.
There is still US manufacturing of course, but it is mostly powerboats, with most of the sailboat construction being in Europe. The reasons for this are many and a subject for another day. The Far East? That is where many larger custom and semi-custom motoryachts are built. South Africa is known for building offshore cruising catamarans. Other countries have their own boatbuilding industries too. It is hard to imagine construction returning to NA in any sizable way, given the cost of labor here.