After a grammar-school education he learned boat building at Pamrapo, New Jersey, in the shop of Robert Fish, a designer of large fast yachts, and under W. W. Bates, a shipwright of the old school.
He built for himself several small boats, including the Comet in 1860, and came to be regarded as the best racing helmsman and handler of small yachts on New York Bay.
Later, however, he gave this up for marine painting, which he studied under Mauritz F. H. de Haas in New York. By 1867 he had produced his first picture, "Off Little Gull, " a lighthouse scene on eastern Long Island Sound. This was followed by "Sunrise" (1869), "The Last of the Old Ships" (1871). One of his first efforts in naval architecture resulted in the building of the cutter Vindex in 1871, among the first deep-craft iron yachts to be built in America. In 1872 he designed the sloop Vision for J. Joseph Alexandre. About this time he discarded the long accepted method of whittling out the model in wood, and began to work out his ideas on a drawing-board. For some years he was known scornfully as a "paper boatman, " but his methods of yacht and boat design have become standard. After 1877 he seems to have done little painting.
His principal commercial productions were the Long Island Sound steamers Richard Peck, City of Lowell, and Chester W. Chapin, and the pilot boats New York and Espadon; in these he increased both speed and economy of operation. In September 1904 he published "Yacht-Racing Recollections and Reflections" in Scribner's Magazine.
He died at his home in Bayonne, New Jersey, of Bright's disease, the oldest and best-known naval architect in America.
He was a member of the New York Yacht Club, and of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.
A confirmed vegetarian, he was a man of medium height and somewhat spare build, quick and nervous in his movements.
He had been married and was survived by a daughter.