Van Dam Continues the Legacy of Wooden Boat Craftsmanship as an Art Form

This article appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Handcrafting boats exclusively from wood, Van Dam Custom Boats is ensuring that old-world craftsmanship lives on as an art form, all while incorporating modern technology, outstanding durability and innovative design into each boat they build.

“We build privately commissioned boats made of wood. They’re unique to their owners in every way, and we handle that process from the first contact and concept to post delivery and beyond,” says Jeremy Pearson, Sales Manager at Boyne City-based Van Dam Custom Boats.

Designing wooden boats from scratch to reflect each owner’s personality and interests makes Van Dam an innovative and unique presence in the marketplace. And their dedication to quality is reflected in the integrity and character of the artistry.

Van Dam Custom Boats has built everything from a high-end, 11-foot electric fishing boat to speedboats that will go 100-plus miles-per-hour and a 55-foot sailboat that can be seen on Cape Cod. The craftsmanship is so specialized that their team of 20 crafters and engineers only build an average of one or two boats per year.

“We’ve been in business for 46 years and we are working on our 63rd boat,” Pearson says. “There are a lot of labor hours that go into it, and it’s kind of by design because the boats are highly detailed and highly finished. Because of that we found that doing one boat at a time is the best way to go about it.”

The approximate timeframe is three months for design and engineering, which includes digital renderings, as well as six months for naval architecture and nine months to two years for the build.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Van Dam Custom Boats has been their ability to evolve with technology while preserving traditional craftsmanship. Other than the engine, wiring, certain furnishings and technology, every part of each boat is made of wood, typically sipo wood that is hermetically sealed and painted. Large-volume boat builders usually use fiberglass and create a “plug” that serves as a foundational structure for multiple boats. Because they are making hundreds of boats, it’s a great concept for them, Pearson says, but that’s not what Van Dam Custom Boats is all about.

“For us, wood is ideal since we only build one of each model and everything is totally custom,” he says.

The crafters themselves are thrilled to see the results of their efforts, reveling in the beauty of the final product.

“The grain of wood is dynamic,” Pearson says. “The angle of the wood as it reflects off the light is spectacular, and the colors vary in different types of lighting.

“It’s a beautiful organic material that has so much character inside it. It’s something that could never be duplicated by man. It’s beauty is in its simplicity.”

Because wood is natural, it also enhances riders’ feelings of being one with nature.

Some boats are passed on within a family from generation to generation, further increasing their sentimental value, and Van Dam Custom Boats welcomes the opportunity to modernize the boats to meet current owners’ needs.

“The way we build our boats, as long as they’re cared for, they will outlast us all,” Pearson says.

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