What is a Downeast style boat?

The Downeast boats have a long history and heritage. This guest post features Jed Elderkin, the Director of E Marine Motor Yachts, who is the dealer for Back Cove and Sabre Motor Yachts in Australia and New Zealand. Jed answers all your questions about Downeast boats and brings you up to speed with these luxurious, classic looking yachts.

Map heading downeast
Heading Downeast

1. What’s the story behind the Downeast style name? 

The term actually relates to a region. The coast of Maine in the far Northeastern USA, became known as such due to the fact that in the days of sail, the area was generally reached from Boston and other points by sailing vessel. The prevailing winds are westerly there, so travellers sailed downwind to Maine, creating the local term going “ down east” to Maine.

Downeast style boats are all about function and durability. These boats were initially built by hand in small fishing communities along the coast of Maine, so they needed to be able to withstand the harsh sea conditions. The design was born out of necessity and was perfected over years of production for this specific purpose. They have been made in New England since colonial times when European immigrants settled along the northeast coastline of America.

Downeast style boats have been commonly used by lobstermen and commercial fishermen along the coast of Eastern Canada and the U.S. They can be found from Labrador, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia all the way down to Key West.

Sabre 38 in Portland Maine
Sabre 38 in Portland Maine

2. What are the vessel features that distinguish this style?

The main features of this kind of boat are high bows with raked stem and enclosed helm. Downeast style boats are known for their safety, practicality and style. They are built-to-last, able to handle the rough conditions of the sea along the Atlantic coast. Known as good sea boats that keep you dry in rough conditions, they possess a classic design, with solid fibreglass hulls and the wood interior. These vessels tend to be sturdy and seaworthy while still being easy to manage on shallow waters.

The truly distinguishing features are function and practicality. The lobster fishermen that developed and built the vessels in the down east region built boats that suited a purpose out of the necessity of having to make a living. Efficiency was one aspect that evolved out of this. Not just efficiency from a fuel economy perspective, but efficiency of space and movement aboard as well. Safety while working at sea in a winter sleet storm, is a real motivator for having everything working and where it needs to be.

The popularity of this style was brought about because of their simple balance of features and functional aesthetics.

Back Cove 372 Cockpit

3. Which brands are considered to be true to the Downeast style boat? 

The genuine Down East working boats that gave way to the vessels we know as “Downeast style” in the pleasure boat market today, are the only true Downeast boats. The majority of these are small shops dotted along the Maine coast and largely unknown beyond that region. Maine is a magnificent coastal boating destination with magical, but short, summers. As folks from cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston began to build summer holiday homes and residences after WW1 they sought comfortable and stylish boats to cruise the coastline and visit the many islands. Reaching out to the local boat builders, many of whom were lobster fisherman as well, the style evolved from there. 

In terms of pleasure boats built by branded manufacturers, to be a true Downeast boat, it would have to be built there. Hinckley is largely credited with bringing the style to the greater pleasure boat market with the introduction of their Picnic Boat series in the mid 1990’s. Sabre Yachts in Maine had been growing this market significantly as well by this time, offering elegant handcrafted vessels with outstanding performance. Subsequently, Sabre started a new company called Back Cove Yachts in 2003 with high quality production line building methodology coupled with time honoured Downeast sensibility, style and craftsmanship.

Luxurious yet practical style and with timeless materials

4. What are the advantages of a Downeast style boat, over your average sports cruiser? 

Four words best describe the advantages of a Downeast boat:

  • Practicality – How quickly can I get from the cockpit, to the foredeck, in a strong breeze and running tide to tie off a fender or make fast a line in a tight marina? Service access? Storage? Try it in an average sports cruiser in real world conditions.
  • Efficiency – Australian geography means you need a large range if you plan to explore the coast. Most sports cruisers will need to fuel up twice before a Downeast boat will run out of power.
  • Safety – How’s the visibility fore and aft while underway? Where are the handholds and grab rails? Designed for rough Atlantic waters, Downeast boats are as safe as you can get.
  • Style – Design trends come and go. Experimental design can cost you dearly on resale if the trend isn’t taken forward. With sleek lines and quality materials, the timeless design of a Downeast boat will always be appealing.

The fact is, inexperienced boaters frequently purchase boats sold to them by marketing companies disguised as boatbuilders. Sleek and sexy sitting in a showroom or at a boat-show with big curved seating areas and interiors wrapped in carpet and sumptuous upholstery, following the latest trend and with little to no consideration as to real world saltwater use, function or practicality. Downeast built boats are the antithesis of this. The luxury and performance is certainly there, however the first and foremost consideration is safety in all weather conditions and, accordingly, the comfort of all on board follows suit. 

Sabre 38 salon express in Jupiter, FL

5. How do typical Downeast boat owners use their boat?

More often than not, Downeast boat owners are experienced boat owners. They have owned numerous vessels before landing on a Downeast style boat and may be planning some extended coastal cruising or perhaps just seeking a day boat that will stand the test of time. Family and social entertaining are a big focus too, as well as exploring and a base for water sports activities.

Back Cove 34O at Sydney Harbour Bridge

Buying a Downeast Style Boat

To purchase a Downeast style boat, you should first assess your needs for the vessel. Are you going to use it solely for day-boating or do you need a boat capable of serving more than one purpose? You can then determine what size of craft is best suited for you. Downeast style boats tend to range from 30 – 50 feet in length and feature an array of layout options.

After you have identified the features you need, you can decide on the manufacturer. You will have a selection of brands to choose from, including Back Cove, Sabre Motor Yachts and many others.

You can reach out to Jed at EMarine to discuss these boats further.

Editorial Team

Our Editorial team is made up of local expert practitioners in their respective fields, such as Brokers, Dealers, Surveyors, Transporters, Delivery Captains and Skipper Trainers.