German-native Charles A. Herrman founded the Penn Yan Boat Company in 1921, with Headquarters in Penn Yan, NY.
Penn Yan produced a wide range of wooden powerboats, rowboats, canoes and sailboats at its founding, but switched to all fiberglass vessels in the early 1960s. No records are known to survive.
The name Penn Yan is synonymous with the Car Topper, which it introduced In 1936. Designed to be light and narrow enough to fit on top of most cars of that era, Penn Yan marketed it as being easily lifted by two people.
Herrman was an innovator as well. Among his most notable inventions is the Tunnel Drive, which Penn Yan patented. Using a cavity that partially enclosed the propeller and drive shaft, Penn Yan’s tunnel drive system delivered higher boat speeds and hull stability. Penn Yan was sold in 1979 and ceased operations in 2001.
The “Penn Yan” trademark was subsequently cancelled by the United States Patent & Trademark Office, and the former Penn Yan boat works property was abandoned and fell into ruin.
Here is a fantastic resource for identifying almost any Penn Yan canoe or boat built in 1926 or later by its letter code and hull number.
Serial Number Format – Two or three letters followed by 3 or 5 digits is typical, there are variations. In some cases the first two letters indicate the model, in other cases the first letter indicates model and the second indicates length. The third letter, if present, indicates trim (S=Spruce, M=Mahogany). See the Penn Yan identification table below for letter codes.
Dating: Sometimes (apparently only in the second half of any given decade) the first two digits of the serial number are the year built, and the remainder the presumed order of construction. In the case of Owasco, Rainbow Guide and Kingfisher model canoes, three letters in the serial number indicates 1947 or earlier, 2 letters is 1948-1960. An exception is that some pre-1933 16′ Rainbows and 16′ Owascos may be marked RC and OC, respectively.
Screws – Presence of Reed & Prince screws are usually indicative of Penn Yan canoes.
Penn Yan Preservations
Snake Mountain Boatworks has preserved several Penn Yan vintage boats – please enjoy our how-to videos of the preservation process: