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Special feature: 75 years of artisan Kiwi boat building

4 min read

Haines Hunter’s new SF635 Sport Fisher

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 New Zealand for more than 20 years.

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.

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 $5000.

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.

The icons

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 V198s 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. Between 1984 and 2021, Haines Hunter built just over 3000 units of the 535; the model is now superseded by the 545.

The SF600, released in 1990, proved to be a 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.

The advent of the SF700 in 1988 was the first of the new-generation seven-metre boats on the market.

The future

SF635 Sport Fisher – a great all-around family boat

Haines Hunter has always been a big advocate of apprentices, with dozens of young boat builders starting their careers 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.

“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,” says Haines Hunter CEO Denis Kendall.

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 brand’s legendary 21-degree deep-vee that the brand has been so famous for via an all-new hull. 

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“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.

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, sees Haines Hunter continually at the forefront of boat building in New Zealand.

Denis Kendall, Haines Hunter CEO

“With Haines Hunter, it’s been 40 years of great passion, pride, great excitement. New ideas. There are so many Kiwis 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.”

While there is no official record of just how many Haines Hunters have been built in New Zealand, the estimated figure is in excess of 6500.

“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,” continues Sands.

“And, of course, the ride just gets better.

To find out more, visit haineshunter.co.nz

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