Three years ago, Nigel Calder sent a “white paper” to Gov. John Baldacci about the importance of Maine’s boatbuilding industry. Based on a model from New Zealand, Calder pointed out that what Maine needs now is a network to promote boatbuilding and ancillary industries, encouraging cooperation among builders. Then the industry could soar, both nationally and internationally.

The governor acted quickly, sending Calder’s paper to Jack Cashman, Commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). A few boatbuilders took part in preliminary meetings during 2004 and, by early last year, an incipient organization had been established. Assisted by a $15,000 cluster enhancement award from the state and the support of the Maine Marine Trades Association, the organization sought members from the boatbuilding industry and related fields. With additional matching funds the group was able to hire an executive director, Paul Rich, and set out to develop a logo and a marketing brand for Maine boats.

Boatbuilding is synonymous with the state’s history. Members of the Popham Colony constructed the Virginia in 1607 in order to return to England. Native Americans and others built canoes and dories. Boats were a major means of transportation, and through the centuries, Maine has developed a reputation for fine boatbuilding.

Cashman feels this new organization is “a rising tide which will lift us all.” Forty boat builders are members of Maine Boat Builders (MBB); many of them have applied for Pine Tree Zone tax incentives to enlarge their facilities.

Because highly skilled workers are needed to construct boats, building them is not likely to be transferred to Third World countries. In fact, boatbuilding programs such as The Landing School and the WoodenBoat School are also members of MBB.

Elaine Scott, Marketing Director of DECD, is on the new board. She has developed a website,, which solicits new members and promotes events. She helped choose the logo and the marketing brand, a sailboat. All these devices, especially having “MAINE” in capital letters, have drawn attention to the organization. MBB had booths at three boat shows last year, where it attracted national and international press. The Robb Report devoted 12 pages to Maine yachts. Cruising World wrote up Mount Desert-based Morris Yachts, a member.

Rich has steered the start-up organization through incorporation and set it up as a nonprofit, tax-exempt entity. Members are admitted based on the size of their boatbuilding business and the number of employees. High-tech companies involved in navigational work and academic institutions that research composite building materials have become members.

In the past nine months, Rich notes, there has been an upward trend in orders from Maine yards, perhaps reflecting growing visibility.

L.L. Bean has agreed to use several boatbuilding companies in Maine as its background in this summer’s catalogue on a new boating apparel line. There will be a detailed description of MBB.

MBB is also part of a Maine trade mission to France. South Africa is sending an observer to see what has been accomplished in the organization to date. The Maine Technology Institute has given a $75,000 matching grant for MBB to survey inventory of boatbuilding and determine which skills are underutilized and how to improve educational training for young people who wish to build boats.

The chair of the board, Steve Von Vogt, is president of Maine Marine Manufacturing. “The successes of the organization have been encouraging,” Von Vogt says.