Hacker-Craft Boat Company: Solitude On the Sea

Tucked into a small town on Lake George in New York, is a company that creates a product designed to make summer dreams come true. As warm weather beckons people to the coasts, the Hacker-Craft Boat Company offers to put you not near the water but on the water, away from the crowds, away from the noise, and truly away from it all. With a heritage and tradition stretching back more than a century, a classic wooden Hacker-Craft is luxury redefined for the discriminating captain.

Hacker-Craft Boat Company was started by John L. Hacker (1877-1961) who built his first boat, a rowboat when he was just 14 years old. That early start launched him to become the preeminent naval architect of mahogany pleasure boats that in the 1930s were named “The Steinway of Runabouts.” Used throughout the years by racers, celebrities, royalty, and captains of industry, his boats are designed to meet the company’s tagline “To own a Hacker-Craft is to enjoy luxury few ever dream of.”

John Hacker’s legacy lives on in the Hacker-Craft Boat Company, but today the business is helmed by COO, Erin Badcock. With no original intention of working in the boating industry, she’s somewhat surprised how quickly she came to love the job. Having grown up spending summers boating on Lake George in her family’s wooden boat, it was a natural fit. “My family became involved in Hacker Boat Company around 2008. I was finishing up college and my father had just taken over majority partnership. He asked me to come after school and work for just a year. I never thought to do this. It wasn’t on my radar. I naively said sure I’ll work for you for now,” Badcock said. Eleven years later, she’s still here with no thoughts of leaving.

The job brings new and different challenges and experiences each day, which keeps her interested, and a self-described “great team” and “customers who are a delight” make the work worthwhile. But where Badcock’s enthusiasm really appears is when she starts talking about the boats.

The tradition of Hacker-Craft is that they encompass not just beauty but also quality mechanics and craftsmanship. The Kitty Hawk II, built in the early 1900s, became the first boat in the United States to reach 50mph and later models led to three consecutive Gold Cup World Championships. The early design for a V-bottom runabout with a cockpit forward and engine mid-ship was the model for what has become the classic runabout of today.

Along with the runabout, there are four other models of Hacker-Crafts ranging in size from 21 feet to 40 feet. From classic to sleek, comfortable to powerful, there are models to suit every taste and need. And even if tastes run a bit different from average, Hacker-Craft will custom build a boat from the ground up or customize existing models to meet any desire.

The constant across the boats is the quality craftsmanship, from the finely sanded mahogany wood to the 14 coats of varnish, to the specialized logo made of 23-carat gold leaf sheets and applied by hand. Hacker-Craft Boats employs only skilled craftsmen who either have a natural talent or have fine-tuned their skills through careers in high-end furniture or custom home building. “A lot of the craftsmen have worked for us for over 10 years. They come to us young and have worked their way up to more versatile or skilled positions,” Badcock said.

The carpenters who build the boat are just one part of the puzzle. There are also finishers who paint, stain, and varnish, machinists, upholsterers, riggers, and engine experts. The whole process starts with a naval architect who produces the design. Keeping a talented team is not easy and there’s a constant challenge to find skilled workers with the knowledge and ability to grow. “They have to have a familiarity working with wood and also just working on a luxury level. We’re in a position to expand and grow. We’re moving our production facility because we need more room,” Badcock commented. But that brings the task of finding more craftsmen.

The attention to every detail means that boats are not produced at assembly line speeds. Depending on the size, model, and customization, a boat can take 7 months to 14 months from start to finish. Hacker-Craft Boats produces 10 to 12 new builds each year.

Factory produced, fiberglass boats may have become the more common boat of today, but for the clientele of Hacker-Craft Boats, embracing tradition with a custom flair is just more appealing. Badcock explains that modern wooden boats carry on the sleek lines and smoother ride of their previous versions but bring improvements. “Our customers come to us because they like the idea of timelessness, something that transcends current life but with modern conveniences and amenities. They can be in a piece of art but listening to their iPod,” Badcock said.

The ride of today is much different than that of wooden boats of the 1950s. Bottoms are sealed with epoxy to allow storage on lifts or trailers. “You used to have to soak the bottoms and have caulk in the planking. We don’t have that anymore. We take away the headaches but keep traditional lines.”

Boats are matched to customers so that someone who boats in coastal waters has the right bottom, the right style, and higher freeboard needed for rougher seas. “Our boats are bespoke for the customer from the ground up or modified. Very few are exactly alike.”

Most designs are for a specific purpose, such as if the boat will be a tender or will sit on a lift, or if a customer plans to bring many friends along or boat solo. The styles vary from limousine tenders that are meant to taxi guests and passengers and therefore require lighting, AC, heat, and generators to more plush versions with a focus on comfortable seating and quality sound systems. “Our boats won’t cross the Atlantic, but they are compatible for coastal cruising, or use in lakes and rivers.”

Popular customizations are upgrades to sound systems and bow thrusters, or specific wood or metalwork. There have also been some unusual requests. A pilot asked that the dash of his boat be designed to look like that of a cockpit. A racing car enthusiast wanted special metalwork on the exhaust. Badcock said the most unusual request came from a buyer who wanted the interior to match his fiancé’s Hermés handbag—it was orange. “It was fun to do and it came together beautifully. There is not another boat with an orange interior so it is memorable as well as beautiful,” Badcock said. Badcock says that what makes Hacker-Crafts stand out from the rest is not just craftsmanship but the sheer beauty which is what first attracts a customer. “What sends everything home is the level of quality the boats are produced with. You can see pictures of them everywhere, but when you come touch and see the boat, it stands out and goes beyond—it sells to the customer on its own.”

The beauty and quality are what caused Forbes Magazine to name Hacker-Craft one of “America’s Top 50 Products.” The boats also attracted Neiman Marcus which designed a Neiman Marcus Edition Hacker boat that was selected as a “fantasy gift” in their famous Christmas Book catalog. Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Marks & Spencer, and Tommy Bahama have featured Hacker boats in their advertising to marry their classic brands with a classic craft.

Classic wooden boats are still in demand for clients who want to relive a tradition of their own, or simply prefer the appearance of wood over fiberglass. Hacker Boats provides them with the marriage of a timeless boat and modern conveniences that offer the perfect respite from the worries of today.

To learn more about the beautiful boats Hacker-Craft creates, visit https://www.hackerboat.com/