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Remembering Frank Butler

A couple of weeks ago we received a letter from Dave Butler, son of legendary boat builder Frank Butler. Today, November 15, is the first anniversary of Frank Butler’s passing, and Dave wrote to share some memories of his dad, the founder of Catalina Yachts.

“Over the past year my mom, sisters, brothers and myself have read so many articles written in your publications and online. Our family has appreciated all the great stories and would like to say thank you to all those people and everyone that supported dad.”

Frank Butler
“People often remarked how they were amazed that even with such a large company as Catalina Yachts, the owner still took time to talk to them personally regarding any questions or complaints they may have, or just to listen to the excitement of owning their new boat.”
© 2021 The Butler Family

Dave and his mother and siblings got together to write down some of their memories of the West Coast boatbuilding icon. As you can imagine, a man like Frank would have amassed many achievements, and therefore leave many tales for his children to share. We don’t have room for all of them, so here are some highlights from what the family wrote.

Frank Butler grew up in Glendale, California. He was a hard-working gunsmith and a machinist. In 1962 Frank decided to buy a 21-ft Victory sailboat to spend more time with his family. After placing a deposit and ordering his new boat, he found out that the boatbuilder was having financial difficulty and was not planning on building his boat. So, one day after work Frank stopped by the shop where they were to build his boat, and explained to some of the employees who he was. He pointed to one of the boats and told them that would be his boat. They said no it was not his boat, but some doctor’s boat. Frank explained that his boat was in production and he was going to help them build it. Frank would not take no for an answer and so he jumped right in and started working on his new boat.

Every day after work, he stopped by and continued working on his new boat with the employees. The employees told the owner about this guy “Frank” and what was going on. The owner stopped by to talk to Frank. He explained his financial problems and shared that he would soon be closing his business. He asked Frank if he would like to buy his business. Frank went home and talked to his wife, Jean, about this offer.

Frank began building boats, and with changes in design and production his business began to flourish. He began to design and build new boats of many different sizes. The yachting industry took note, and in 2013 Frank was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

When Frank first began building boats, he and the other boatbuilders would attach a fiberglass hull to a fiberglass deck, and then they would finish the interior with wood. Frank realized he could save time and money by making a liner. He then made a fiberglass hull liner with a floor, seats and storage cabinets all in one piece. He then installed that liner inside the hull. He did the same for the deck with a finished ceiling and everything else that was needed. Then when he put the deck on the hull most of the finish work was done except for some minor wood work. Once the other boat manufacturers saw what he did, they then followed and have done the same ever since.

Catalina Yachts
The boats that Frank built grace the waters wherever you go.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

And our favorite:

Most people that knew Frank would say he had a great sense of humor. I remember when he acquired the Nacra Catamaran boat company. He went to a dealer’s meeting and hand-delivered a dozen black roses to the Hobie Catamaran table. He told them there was a new catamaran dealer in town.

Thank you to the Butler Family for sharing some of their memories. Many West Coast sailors and Latitude 38 readers have sailed, and still do sail, a Catalina designed and built by Frank Butler.


  1. Gerry Douglas 3 years ago

    Thanks to David for reminding us of the anniversary of the passing of the legendary Frank Butler , a true visionary of the production sailboat industry.
    Frank designed the Catalina 22 and started the trailer/sailor trend that made sailboat ownership possible for thousands. This was followed by the Catalina 27 , designed by Bob Finch and the popular Catalina 30 designed by Frank.
    The Catalina 36 was designed by Gerry Douglas in 1981 who continued to design all Catalina models until his retirement in 2021.
    All Catalina owners and employees remain indebted to Frank for his commitment to the sailing industry.

    • tOm vArLeY 3 years ago

      Nicely said, Gerry! 🙂 And thank you for the decades of shameless dedication, designing yachts!

  2. Toby Marion 3 years ago

    This first anniversary of Frank’s passing is undoubtedly a comforting memory of all that Frank did in his fruitful life. We send our wishes and prayers to his family. The boat pictured is a Catalina 34 MKII, 1997, named #53 Grandad, owned by my son Guy and me. It’s a wonderful boat for the Bay and sailing down the coast, and we thank all the makers and sailors whose efforts and ideas have been incorporated into the Catalina fleets over the years.

  3. tOm vArLeY 3 years ago

    Hey Dave, thanks for sharing the stories and facts about Frank! He was a very hands-on, accessible founder/owner/president of America’s most successful production sailboat company; when you called the company about (your) Catalina, you were more than likely transferred to Frank himself – wow! At the top of this article, regarding the numerous stories, “We don’t have room for all of them,” well, perhaps a future issue of ‘lectronic will feature a few more – we’d love to hear them! Additionally, Frank’s designs (not to leave out Gerry Douglas’ designs and input) were (and are) groundbreaking and ahead of their time. Last, but not least, we can’t mention Frank and Gerry without mentioning Sharon Day (sales/marketing) – those three worked together for decades, bringing quality boats to tens of thousands of sailors!

  4. Geri conser 3 years ago

    Frank was the very best to all who knew his

  5. Ken Kloeber 11 months ago

    “A Legend” doesn’t say enough.
    It was a joy speaking with Frank the few times that I did.

  6. steve r perea 11 months ago

    Some amazing boats, I grew up pretty close to the factory on Victory and bought a brand spanking new 88 Catalina 30 moored in MDR, so many trips to Avalon then later Channel Islands, had my bachelor party on my boat, had a nice dent in my forehead for my wedding, that cabin hatch slides so don’t lean on it.

  7. William Joe Pyles 8 months ago

    Having owned three Catalina’s in our sailing history meeting Frank at the Annapolis Boat show was a wonderful experience. Friendly, humble, quick to smile when he turned away to meet others we noticed a corner hole in his khaki rear wallet pocket! Charming memory!

  8. Tom Jicha 1 month ago

    Many years ago I walked into a liquor store in Durango Colorado wearing my Catalina 30 shirt. The woman behind the counter informed me that Frank was her uncle. Small world.

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