The Hardanger Fartøyvernsenter (Hardanger Maritime Center) is a living museum. They build and repair wooden boats that range from smaller row boats up to larger wooden fishing boats. In addition, they have a blacksmith and one of the few rope-making facilities in Northern Europe.
The center, which is located in a former furniture factory in Norheimsund, was established in 1984. Visitors can see ropes being made, blacksmiths at work in the forge, and boats being built and repaired. There are around 20 skilled craftspeople working to restore ships as well as a number of apprentices. Hardanger Fartøyvernsenter is one of just three ship-preservation facilities recognized by the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage.
The first boat that was restored at Hardanger Fartøyvernsenter was the Mathilde, a large sailboat built in 1884 for the transport of klippfish (dried cod) from the Lofoten Islands to Bergen. It took five years to get the 76-ton ship in sailing shape, but starting in 1989 the Mathilde was put into operation for museum visitors and school trips.
The personnel are knowledgeable and willing to share their insight. They know their crafts. While they are often working on specific projects, e.g. the restoration of a veteran wooden boat, they take the time to discuss the project, their tools and the materials with visitors. The museum actively trains people to become boat builders, rope makes and smiths through their apprentice program. They also have courses in, for example rope making, wooden oar making and other related themes. Visitors to the museum also have a chance to take a small wooden boat out to row in the nearby fjord.