The production line at the Hinckley Co.’s jet boat plant in Trenton presents a far different picture this week than it did half a year ago.

Twenty-three jet boats are in production or on order, and the company is hiring back scores of those laid off over the past year and a half. On a recent morning, seven boats were in various stages of construction on the production lines, and more were in lay-up. With the bays filling up once again with commissions from around the world, it was a different picture from the scene six months ago, when the faltering economy had left the company with only two or three boats to build.

At Great Harbor Marina in Southwest Harbor, more employees were putting the finishing touches on Sea Smoke, a Talaria 55 commissioned by David Rockefeller Sr.

The turnaround began in the late summer and early fall of 2009, said Vice President of Sales Phil Bennett.

“We started to see some people who said, yes, they had been hurt economically, but they were still whole,” Bennett said. “They said, ‘Life is finite so I’m going to enjoy what I have.’”

The uptick in business during the last quarter of 2009 has continued into the first half of 2010, he said.

“We never actually stopped producing boats,” he said. “We always had boats to build, even during the lowest point, but we were down to two or three boats. Now, talk about a turnaround. We’re in a situation where we have 23 boats either on order or being built.”

The company has rehired approximately 100 people at the Trenton plant and approximately 35 at the waterfront facility in Manset since January.

“We’re cautious; we’re slowly adding people,” Bennett said. “We’re finding we’re a little niche in the market where people say, ‘If I really want something that’s a gold standard, this is something I can trust. The Hinckley company hasn’t cut their quality. Every boat they’re building is still the best boat.’”

The company’s service and brokerage business has been relatively stable during the downturn, he said. Part of that, he said, is because customers realized it was a good time to find quality yachts at lower prices. One of those is a Sou’wester 70 currently being commissioned on the water off the Manset yard for a trans-Atlantic journey to the Mediterranean. Renamed Dailan, Kurdish for “beautiful woman,” it is the second Hinckley purchased by its new owner, a Swiss citizen who lives in London.

“He could buy any boat anywhere in the world,” Bennett said. “But the good news is he comes here to Maine and buys a boat here, trusts us, changes the name on the transom, and off he goes.”

The Rockefeller boat is also an excellent example of brand loyalty, Bennett said. This is the sixth Hinckley yacht commissioned by the family patriarch, who is 94 and, although he employs a skipper, still likes to take the helm and zip along.

“He’s somebody who has his choice of the best boats around the world, but has come back time and time again to us,” said Bennett.

Dan Walton, who has been Rockefeller’s skipper for 26 years, said the yacht is larger than his employer’s former Hinckley and features a number of innovations that will make it easier to get on, off and around the boat. They include a high-tech swim platform created by Hinckley engineers. Operated by a hydraulic system, the platform becomes a wheelchair-accessible ramp with railings, called a passerelle, that extends to the dock. The ladder to the flybridge was custom-designed to make it easier to climb. Doors in the transom and the cockpit enclosure provide for easier accessibility.

The aesthetics of the yacht are elegant, yet understated. Curved sliding glass doors offer entry to a spacious salon and the cabins below, where the furnishings, interior paneling, doors and trim are finely wrought in a mix of high-gloss and satin varnish. Attention to detail can be seen everywhere, from the porthole frames meticulously painted to look like wood, to each wire in the electrical panel, hand-labeled.

Elsewhere on the docks are some of the latest of the company’s Picnic Boats, the Mark III, which debuted in August 2007 and which, with 49 sold to date, has proved successful. Orders for the MK III have arrived from across the United States, Germany, France and Japan, said Bennett.

“We’re actually exporting a fair number of boats,” he said. “People are realizing this is a good place to buy boats. People around the world are realizing that Maine is the place where boats are built. Like Swiss watches or Florida orange juice, ‘Maine’ is boatbuilding.”