The restoration and ownership of classic boats is booming – across New Zealand and around the globe. Tom Fraser catches up with Dave Anderson, a man devoted to bringing old boats to life and making owners’ dreams come true.

From the back of his Character Boats and Marine workshop, Dave Anderson approaches with a large smile and offers a firm handshake.

He runs a clean and tidy workshop and three ‘classic’ jet boats from the 1950s and 1960s are currently inside in varying states of repair. Outside sit more than half-a-dozen boats, from a just-repaired and modern HamiltonJet boat to numerous old jet boat and runabout hulls of varying ages, types, brands and conditions. All have – or will soon have – experienced the care and attention of a boatbuilder and classic boat restorer who, in just a few short years, has built a strong reputation and attracted a customer base from throughout the country.

North Canterbury-born-and-bred, Dave grew up in and around boats and always knew he wanted to build them. So, when he left school, he figured he was pretty lucky to gain a labourer’s job with renowned Christchurch boatbuilder Davie Norris.

“Davie said to me, ‘I’ll take you on for six months and if it’s working for me and for you then we can look at an apprenticeship.’ I was subsequently incredibly lucky to get an apprenticeship in which I was able to specialise in custom boatbuilding.”

Dave’s homebuilt runabout Annabel and the dashboard of a boat under restoration.


It took four years of hard graft, but Dave completed his apprenticeship, became a qualified boatbuilder and then stayed with Norris, working at the company’s Bromley base. There were also trips to the United States, Canada and Australia to undertake building, maintenance and repair contracts.

In 2016 Dave changed direction, moving to HamiltonJet. During his four-year tenure there much of his time was spent fitting out new boats, but he also undertook some repairs on older boats.

“That sort of work got me thinking; I figured that if was doing it for them I might as well do it for myself.

“When I left Hamilton’s, I had a couple of months’ break figuring out just what I wanted to do, but pretty soon the phone began ringing and it was guys wanting me to do some work on their boats! My wife said, ‘well, we might as well make it official,’ so Character Boats and Marine was born.”

Dave spent the first two years working from home in his basic 9×9 garage but in mid-2023 moved into a new, fit-for-purpose working space about five minutes out of the bustling North Canterbury town of Rangiora.


“I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of work that’s come my way in such a short time and, to be honest, I’m a bit of a shocker for saying no, but the business has thrived. I’m getting customers from across the South Island and even several from the North Island.”

Fitting a new windscreen.

Dave with the three classic jet boats inside his shed.

Readers of this magazine will be aware of the growing popularity and demand for classic boats from enthusiastic boaties involved in the scene. Dave lives and breathes that enthusiasm every day.

“In many ways, classic boat people are similar to classic car folk – they’re passionate people and they love the era in which the boats were built, the craftsmanship, the history, the stories and spending time together,” Dave says.

“When I have a boat in for work that passion really shows. The owners ring every week – some call four times a week – and they all gratefully receive the many photos I send them.”

Those ‘before and after’ photos highlight the care and craftmanship that defines Dave’s work. Some of the boats are quite literally skeletons when they arrive at the workshop.

“There’s something special about finding an old boat that’s been hidden in a shed for 20-plus years and then watching it come alive,” he says.

And, in this workshop, they certainly do come alive. Dave points to a skeleton behind him, an old HamiltonJet 50.

This boat’s restoration is well advanced, V8 engine in place.

“Someone saw it lying under a tree on a pig farm in the Deep South and figured it might be something special. Sure enough, it’s one of only about 12 of those models built in the late 1950s and early 1960s.”

Of course, a significant restoration could take between 600-700 hours and there’s often substantial planning and preparation involved before the hard, physical graft even begins.

“Some jobs are incredibly challenging – I’ll often receive a beaten up hull and minimal parts, so there’s an awful lot of time spent custom building, recreating, sourcing and making parts. But there’s just something special about helping bring an old wooden boat to life again.”

He points to a nearby HamiltonJet 51 as an example.

“I stripped it out; the three-stage jet unit was seized so that’s been rebuilt, the hull had seven layers of paint removed and touch-ups made to cracks and holes. It’s had new gelcoat, sanded the way they were back then, and after that I repaired the woodwork along the chines.”

Any testing of hulls, engines or other equipment is usually carried out on a large irrigation pond owned by a farmer-friend just five minutes up the road.

Dave is currently a ‘one man band,’ although he has a semi-retired marine engineer who helps with mechanical work when required. He also relies on a small group of “topnotch” sub-contractors who undertake specialist tasks such as upholstery and steel and aluminium fabrication. There’s room for expansion but he’s very focussed on his core business ethos.

A restored vintage Jet 51’s jet nozzle.

“I want to build a great reputation and business for restoring and maintaining classic boats – and, if the opportunities arise, building boats. But I also want to remain a small business.”

That personal approach is combined with a level of craftsmanship that is “second to none” says Canterbury jetboater Phil Deans. Phil has a mid-1950s un-named Hamilton hull, with a rare Rainbow jet unit that he discovered hidden in a shed. The boat is a ‘work in progress’ with Dave.

“He’s a young, passionate guy and he’s helping preserve the jet-boating legacy, simple as that. Without guys like him, it would be lost. He’s a quiet operator and the quality of his work is quite exceptional.”

Each job is different although some similarities are becoming evident as Dave works on more and more projects.

“Certainly, a lot of boats require new engine bearers as they’ve rotted over time, but what is really interesting is noting the many odd things that guys have done over the years to ‘repair’ their boat – holes filled with cardboard and No More Nails; wooden decks secured with No More Nails. It can be quite an eye-opener,” he says with a laugh.

Dave works closely with each customer to meet their individual needs and budgets. That often means he’ll do the building and restoration ‘donkey work’ himself and let the customer take the boat back to do the engine and mechanical work themselves, or with a specialist. It’s clear he’s fastidious, passionate and diligent, with a huge amount of knowledge.

The Andersons enjoying a classic jet boat rally.

Dave also continues to build boats – his own home-built SafaCraft replica runabout Annabel is sitting in the sun nearby. It’s perhaps not best suited to the ‘wind on tide’ of Lyttelton or Akaroa Harbours, but still much loved and used regularly by Dave, his wife and two young children on the quieter waters of Lake Brunner and the Nelson Lakes where they spend much of their spare time.

When they’re not using Annabel you might find the Andersons enjoying their classic jetboat – a HamiltonJet30 Mk1 built in the mid-1960s and featuring a fibreglass hull and wooden top. But, Dave adds, “modern running gear just to ensure the reliability.” And, in a nod to more modern boatbuilding, Dave also spends time in his Impala jet boat, built by Jet Services in Christchurch in the late 1980s and packed with its more powerful, playful V8 engine.

There have been yachts through the workshop as well – Zephyrs, Sunbursts and P-classes. In fact, no matter what the vessel type, if it floats – or has the potential to float – Dave Anderson will bring it to life.

“I love boating and I love boats. It’s pretty simple really. And I especially love getting out with other classic boats, particularly ones I’ve restored or built, and seeing the smiles on customers’ faces as they enjoy them and realise what we’ve created together.” BNZ

Boats fill Dave’s Rangiora yard, Annabel on the left and his V8 Impala on the right.