Brian Keen credits his uncle for getting him into boats. He owned five or six, and as Keen entered college, his uncle’s interest grew—and so did Keen’s. That interest, mixed with Keen’s love of old cars, motorcycles, and trucks, inspired him to open Motor Boat Garage in Norwood, where he restores and repairs classic and antique boats.
Most of the boats Keen works on are wooden, made between the 1920s and the ’50s and ’60s, when fiberglass boats started to gain popularity. By 2016, when he launched his business, Keen had developed some basic boat repair skills, learning the trade working at the now-closed Antique Boat Center. “The specialized stuff, you have to be around and see and learn firsthand,” he says. “It’s definitely a hands-on kind of thing. You have to just get in there and start doing it.”
Motor Boat Garage specializes in various classes of boats, including restored and preserved vessels. “If they’ve had every piece of wood replaced, they’re restored,” Keen says. “If it’s been preserved, it’s the original boat.” There are also contemporary boats, such as a modern replica of a wooden boat.
Keen’s customers span the country, from Florida to the West Coast and into Canada. His garage can repair trailers, add new bottoms, fix chrome and upholstery, do engine work, and more.
Keen recently shared a project on Motor Boat Garage’s Facebook page: An old boat needed a new bottom. Someone had previously removed most of the boat’s frame and attached a plank at the bottom, which was severely misshapen thanks to a shoddy trailer. “This is a safety issue, and people need to look at how their trailer supports the bottom on their boats,” the post reads. “Aside from the butchery of woodwork, trailers need to support a wood boat properly.”
Since Antique Boat Center closed, Motor Boat Garage is one of just a few shops of its kind in the region. The demographic tends to skew older, Keen says, and the key to keeping the industry alive is connecting with the younger crowd.
“Most people remember [classic boats] because their grandfather or dad had one,” he says. “If people don’t have that link to remember, they’ll probably never have one.”
Motor Boat Garage, 2764 Highland Ave., Suite #1, Norwood, (513) 325-4086