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Then & Now

40 Vega Trawler.1130205-N-XZ031-711670-SOLAS


Willard Marine is defined by a history of military experience, technical innovation and perseverance that still fuels the company’s success today.

Bill Tighe, who started the company in 1957, originally grew up on the Ohio River, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and attended Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. Tighe moved to Southern California in the early 1950’s to find work at South Coast Shipbuilding making wood minesweepers for the Korean War effort. Tighe got inspired to build a boat for himself, so he partnered with naval architect Hugh Angelman for drawings.

Working from a barn, Tighe recruited help from his friend Willard Buchanan and eventually built seven carvel-planked ketches that became well-known to Californians who cruised them to the South Pacific. Boat designers Bill Crealock and Herb David both contributed to the design of the boats, as did Dick Vales, who thereafter founded the very successful Columbia Yachts in Costa Mesa.

According to an old article in the Western Boatman, “The company was named Willard in honor of Buchanan because whenever Tighe’s operation came up in conversation along the waterfront, people would describe it as ‘the place where old man Willard is out there building boats.’”

George Angle, who was on Willard’s board of directors, owned a large fiberglass-reinforced plastics (FRP) manufacturing company called Flurocarbon. A sailor, Angle had an active interest in boats and in the company, to the extent that he provided working capital for operations and eventually traded his loans for ownership.

In the 1970’s, Willard built a series of 30- and 40-foot trawler yachts, many of which today are still providing seaworthy pleasure to hundreds of boaters throughout the U.S.

In 1974, Willard Marine was commissioned to construct a 120-foot oceanographic survey vessel called Silverado. It was commissioned by the See’s Candies family, and later owned by the Hilton hotel company.

In 1976, Willard was awarded its first government contract for 56, 32-foot patrol boats for the U.S. Coast Guard, which initiated the company’s military and commercial product-focus over the last four decades.

In 2003 Willard Marine announced that they would cease producing recreational vessels in order to concentrate on a continuing series of military and commercial boat-building contracts.

2010 marked the eastern expansion of Willard Marine with the opening of its manufacturing and reconditioning center in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Since our founding in 1957, Willard Marine has provided more than 1,500 boats to the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corp., as well as many foreign militaries, law enforcement agencies, oil and gas companies, and search and rescue organizations. Still based in California, Willard is the sole American manufacturer of SOLAS rescue boats, and we have obtained the rights to be the exclusive builder of commercial vessels originally designed by SeaArk Marine and Crystaliner. Being 9001:2008 certified, Willard maintains a regimented Quality Assurance and Control program that requires strict marine engineering, production and testing standards that yield consistent products, reduced costs, and more efficient production timelines for you, our valued customer.

Willard is proud to say that none of our clients have reported a hull-failure. This is a reflection of our quality engineering and manufacturing processes combined with our exceptional attention to detail found in everything from our orderly electrical wiring to the strategic placement of scupper holes. We stand behind our work and offer a comprehensive warranty, but rest assured that you’ll enjoy many decades of safe, reliable performance and low-cost maintenance with your Willard Marine boat!


Willard Marine thanks Dan Spurr of Professional BoatBuilder Magazine for some of the excerpts and details published herein that originally appeared in a article from the February/March 2015 edition.

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