75-years of boat building is being celebrated in 2021, with the company behind the manufacturing of Haines Hunter Boats in New Zealand celebrating its 75th Anniversary.
In 1946, SeaCraft, the forerunner to Haines Hunter New Zealand, was established by the late Yeoman ‘Sandy’ Sands. Over the past seven and a half decades, the company has evolved and been at the forefront of the trailer boat industry in New Zealand.
In its formation years, the company produced clinker-built timber boats and oars - In fact, SeaCraft was the largest manufacturer of oars in NZ for over 20 years. The range of boats built were powered by Seagull Outboards or with small inboard motors.
Investing heavily in apprenticeship training, the blueprint was established – quality designs, quality materials and skilled boatbuilders.
Growing quickly throughout the ’50s and with solid demand for quality boats and accessibility to outboard motors, the company consolidated its position as NZ’s most prominent production boatbuilder.
The mid-’60s saw the company transition from wooden boat manufacturing to fibreglass— a radical departure from traditional boatbuilding skills but was immediately recognised as the new way forward.
To fully embrace this new technology, two of its staff were sent to California to learn the new processes. During that period, the company constructed a purpose-built laminating / glass factory. With temperature and humidity controlled, this new factory was state of the art and provided a facility to produce world-class boats.
Having acquired the Mercury Outboard franchise and with more horsepower available, SeaCraft developed a range of fibreglass boats to suit these “BIG” engines of up to 130HP! The flagship was the SeaCraft Valencia, a 17 footer powered by a 115HP motor and retailing for $5,000.
Haines Hunter (NZ) Ltd was established in New Zealand in 1972. The business acquired the manufacturing rights in 1980 and purchased the Haines Hunter brand outright in 1984. From those early years in the 1980s, Haines Hunter was taken to another level with the introduction of now-iconic models such as the 1800S, SF535, V565L and SF700.
The model that catapulted the brand was the V198 which was manufactured between 1974 and 1985.
The V198 came onto the market just as bigger horsepower motors became available from manufacturers in the US. The V198 was almost the only boat on the market that could handle the 175hp Mercury Black Max and the 200hp Evinrude/Johnson outboards released in 1975.
From there, Haines Hunter built 320 V198’s and ever since they stopped production of the model in 1985, the model has an enviable reputation for its exceptional seakeeping and rough water performance.
Another significant model for Haines Hunter has been the SF535 - Arguably the most successful production trailerable powerboat in New Zealand. Between 1984 and 2021, Haines Hunter built just over 3000 units of the 535; the model now superseded by the 545.
The SF600, released in 1990, proved to be an outstanding success, and over a 30-year production run with many innovations and refinements - it always remained a big seller. The introduction of the SF650 Haines Hunter set a new benchmark for rough water ability, and the SF700 continued its march as the company’s most successful large model.
The advent of the SF700 in 1988 was the first of the new generation 7m boats on the market, and sales were exceptional. 200 Haines Hunter SF700Mk 1’s were from 1986 – 2001, with a further 238 SF700 Mk 2’s built from 2001-2009 before the model was replaced by the now wildly popular 725.
Haines Hunter has always been big advocates of apprentices, with dozens of young boat builders starting their career at the Ellerslie factory. With that, Haines Hunter has a one person, one boat approach to boat building. One person takes responsibility during the finishing process of each boat. This ensures attention to detail, quality workmanship and engenders genuine pride of “ownership” in the finished product.
Any craftsman is always looking to see how they can improve their product, and having been pioneers of fibreglass boats in New Zealand, Haines Hunter boats have constantly been evolving. Amongst a raft of improvements and innovation, the new generation Haines Hunter designs now feature a moulded composite PVC foam floor that’s bonded to the hull, creating watertight chambers that deliver reserve buoyancy.
“With each model that comes out of the factory, it’s always about all-around continuous innovation. Every builder should listen to its customers and dealers, so we’re constantly making refinements from ergonomics at the helm and around the cockpit and throughout the boat to upholstery upgrades. Making what we think is already a great boat even better,” says Haines Hunter CEO Denis Kendall.
“If we look at the ergonomics of the helm station, we want to make everything within easy reach for the skipper. Provide more niceties such as cupholders, charger points for devices – evolving our product for the way Kiwis want to go boating.”
“We’ve always been very proud of our seating configuration and the level of comfort our seats provide. Just recently, we’ve upgraded our seats with new vinyl, and we’ve upgraded the panels and bolsters to give even more comfort and support.”
“And storage, we like to think that a Haines Hunter has always provided boaties with plenty of storage – best in class in many cases.”
Marking 75 years of boat building in 2021, Haines Hunter has released a new hardtop 635 model this year, following on from the soft top version released in 2020.
The new 635 comes after an extensive 24-month development process, still carrying the brands legendary 21-degree deep-vee that the brand has been so famous for via an all-new hull.
“It’s a completely new model; it’s bigger than the 600. Comparing it to a 600, the 635 carries a little more beam on the chine aft, and it still retains the 21-degree V and is very similar in the entry – it will still deliver that legendary ride that we’ve been famous for while being stable at rest.”
The hull is hand-laid by the company’s artisan boat builders, resulting in superior strength, rigidity and longevity.
The decks and bulkheads use a foam core sandwiched between an inner and outer skin. This technique reduces weight compared to other construction methods – with the benefit of improving fuel economy without compromising on strength and durability.
With 75-years of boat building behind them, Haines Hunter is continuing to build what they call New Zealand’s best performing, practical, most desirable and most loved powerboat brand on the market. For Haines Hunter, Director Lionel Sands, son of the Seacraft’s founder, ‘Sandy’ Sands, a lifelong passion for boat building, see’s Haines Hunter continually at the forefront of boat building in New Zealand.
“With Haines Hunter, it's been 40-years of great passion, pride, great excitement. New ideas.”
“There are so many Kiwi’s who started boating in a Haines Hunter or have had experience on the water in one of our boats. We want to see that continue for generations to come.”
“Early on, I guess we were innovative with the development of our portofino sterns, enclosed anchor lockers, putting galleys in small fibreglass boats, and taking fibreglass boats to a new level – we’re continuing that innovation today with our new models.”
While there is no official record of just how many Haines Hunter’s have been built in New Zealand, the estimated figure is in excess of 6,500.
“We have always prided ourselves on building a great all-around family boat, with our designs embracing family adventure. All of our boats will accommodate fishing, they will accommodate family boating, and will accommodate the creature comforts for those who just want to go boating.”
“And, of course, the ride just gets better.”