The history of the Bootswerft Empacher GmbH



The founding years

On 18 December 1923, Willy Empacher founded a boatyard in Königsberg/East Prus-sia at the age of 21 with a contract to build three sailing yachts. Together with Wilhelm Karlisch, his business companion at the time, he had to survive some hard times in the autumn and winter of those early years.

Willy Empacher, a trained master boatbuilder and chief master of the guild, built not only motor and sailing yachts in Königsberg, but also ice-boats. There was hardly any demand for rowing boats. In the 1930s, he operated the largest boatyard east of Ber-lin with over 100 employees. Like everywhere else in Germany, boats were built for the navy and the engineers during the war. In 1945, the six members of the family fled by boat from East Prussia to Schleswig-Holstein, reaching Eberbach in 1947 without a penny to their name.

kolbeperti karpinnen


New start in Eberbach am Neckar in 1947

Almost every order was cancelled following the currency reform in 1948. With nothing but the simplest resources, the head of the family, Willy Empacher, succeeded in building up a new business. After initially leasing it, he later took over the Seibert boat-yard. Repairs and small new boats were the start of the rowing boat company in Eberbach. It was not until 1952 that the first clinker-built racing gig eight was pro-duced, followed by the first plywood racing boat in 1953. It was also in 1953 that the first new workshop was built on Neckarstrasse street on the company's own grounds. After 21 years in Eberbach, the major international breakthrough was achieved in 1968, when Jochen Meissner won the Olympic silver medal in the single sculls in Mexico. After that, the production of moulded cedarwood racing boats developed rap-idly and was the mainstay of the company until the mid-1980s. The first experiments with plastics were conducted in 1955. The world's first plastic rowing skiff was built in 1956 in collaboration with the BASF company.

The "Bodensee-Vierer" with cox won the first gold medal in a plastic rowing boat in Munich in 1972. At the same time, this was the first sandwich-built plastic boat suit-able for racing.


The second generation

The age of modern boatbuilding had arrived and what began as empirical trials with what were then unknown, "exotic" materials has become the state of the art today. Not until 1983 did it become possible to cover the costs of building plastic boats and earn a profit. Up to that time, and even later, the black figures and the profits were achieved by the wood boatyard in Neckarstrasse, even though the production figures of the two departments were roughly equal from about 1976 onwards.

Hans Empacher, Willy Empacher's eldest son, studied law after the war and enjoyed a successful career in the aerospace industry at Messerschmidt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB), which is now known as DASA following the merger with Daimler-Benz. For the successful industrial manager, his father's boatyard was more of a hobby until 1970. At the age of 70, Willy Empacher was no longer willing or able to guarantee the con-tinued existence of the craftsman's business. As none of his brothers and sisters were prepared to succeed their father, and the only alternative was to sell the busi-ness, Hans Empacher took over the management and the shares of what was then still a simple craftsman's business.

He shaped the further development of the boatyard with business acumen and entre-preneurial vision. He succeeded in concentrating the two shops, wood and plastic, headed by their respective shop foremen Kurt Pahl and Leo Wolloner, on efficient, functional and economical production methods by means of a process of internal competition.

Hans Empacher promoted plastic boatbuilding know-how in the company by com-bining his MBB contacts with the boatyard and sending Leo Wolloner to Ottobrunn near Munich. He succeeded in rationalising the simple business with the help of his trusty friend Kurt Pahl and the building of the new wood boatyard in 1977. Foreman Heckmann from the wood department was appointed works foreman in the plastic shop on the opposite side of the river Neckar in 1983, after which time they also started to operate in the black.

The plastic department was expanded in 1982/83 when new administration and pro-duction buildings were constructed. Their size then roughly matched that of the wood yard in those days. In terms of development, the wooden racing rowing boats fell be-hind from about the mid-1980s, with the result that it again became necessary to ex-pand the plastic boatyard. In 1989/90, the construction of the new plastic boatyard on Rockenauer Strasse street was planned and the first phase completed, consisting of administrative offices, foyer and reception hall, as well as the new, modern production shops on two floors.

Throughout his life, up to his death in 1996, Hans Empacher mastered the art of posi-tively driving things ahead, despite the burden of having two jobs, both in good and fi-nancially bad times, for his family and his business, being prepared to take risks and introduce innovations. His personal qualities, his fairness and, above all, his open, diplomatic approach, gave him international standing as a gentleman who was wel-come wherever he went. He opened the doors to associations and officials at a time when the boatyards were at best tolerated as the mechanics of the sport of rowing at the international regatta sites.


The third generation

Helmut Empacher studied industrial engineering at Karlsruhe Technical College. Af-ter completing his studies, he spent one year, 1983, working in Eberbach before also switching to the MBB technology group, where he worked on high-tech projects and was involved in tasks of structural interest to the boatyard. The returned to Eberbach as General Manager of Bootswerft Empacher in 1987. His first major success was the development of the new K82 eight in cooperation with Ralf Holtmeyer, in which the German eight won the Olympic gold medal in Seoul in 1998 for the first time in twenty years.

In addition to expanding the existing use of computers, Hans Empacher also intro-duced the in-house structure of an industrial production technology at the company. A CNC router, production lines, extractor and ventilation systems and, more recently, fully air-conditioned production rooms were all planned by him.

After qualifying to enter university in Munich, Rainer Empacher studied architecture in Italy and joined the company in 1988. He is responsible for individual customer con-sult-ing, marketing and distribution tasks in the sales department, as well as the or-ganisation of the regatta service and many other functions. He played a decisive role in connection with the two new buildings - the central building constructed in 1989/90 and the recently completed extension in 1997. Together with his brother, he is today a managing partner of Bootswerft Empacher GmbH.

An ultra-modern design office has been set up. Dieter Empacher, brother of Hans, uncle of Helmut and Rainer and himself a successful shipbuilding engineer in the USA, spends several weeks a year working there, turning the management's input from the regatta season, and the feedback from trainers and athletes, into successful new designs. There are two engineers in the office at all times. Roughly two new boats are developed each year and numerous details constantly improved.

Today, company life would be inconceivable without constant contact between the management, the trainers, the athletes and other active participants. Custom-made boats - individually adapted to the user, from more than 35 different boat forms and designs, for lightweights and open classes - are always fine-tuned and tested in in-novative style and brought to the goal in a joint effort as successfully as possible.

More than 70 highly motivated, qualified employees, including four master boatbuild-ers, three engineers and the management, guarantee that the company will in future continue to create top-quality products that others first have to measure up to.

Empacher World Records

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