At the end of the 1950's, the small town of Sarnico situated on Lake d'Iseo in Lombardy, Italy became the home of the "Avionautica Rio." Even at that time, Sarnico was regarded to be one of the centers of Italian boat building with shipyards such as Rio, Riva, Arcangeli, Bellini, Pinin and several others opening their productions there.

The "Rio" shipyard journey began with Dr. Luigi Scarani, father of three sons, who ran a brick factory near Sarnico. When his son Carlo joined the firm, glider construction began.

The three sons began building for the Italian military and privately. And through the choice of company name, "Avionautica Rio," there is a clear reference to aircraft.

Unlike many other shipyards, the company site was not located directly on the water. Over time, the demand for aircraft declined while that for boat manufacturing increased.

In the early sixties, the brothers decided to abandon elite aircraft construction in favor of the more popular boat building.

Fortunately, the high-quality craftsmanship required for aircraft construction as well as the niche wood processing skills acquired from "Avionautica Rio" were an asset to the new shipyard and benefited the boat building venture enormously. The wooden boats from Rio were hand produced, in small quantities,with immaculate attention to detail.

Emotions were running high at the presentation of the first mahogany boat: the Rio Espera — 6.9 meters long with 235 or 330 hp.

The Rio boats powered by Chris Craft and Rolls-Royce were striking. And they had names to match: Colorado, Real, Bonito, Espera and Parana — reminiscent of South American lakes and rivers, echoing the great passion of the founder.

In keeping with the spirit of the age, luxurious high-quality runabouts were crafted from mahogany wood. Since the 16th Century, this is regarded to be the most valuable wood in the world. At that time, natural wood was very popular with Spanish shipbuilders — even with Christopher Colombus.

Rio boats were elegant and fast, extremely well equipped and from the outset, much more luxurious than those of other manufacturers.
The Riva shipyard — located on the same lake in Sarnico — mass-produced its boats, while Rio was meticulous in its individual craftsmanship. One of the highlights of this era was a cooperation agreement with the English company Rolls-Royce for the so-called Rolls-Rio.

At Rio, all hull parts (sides, bottom and mirrors) were crafted in one piece from multi-bonded mahogany and then attached to the frames. This increased the strength. In contrast to their competitors, Rio incorporated one additional layer of wood, resulting in side walls and floors which were thicker and more durable. Riva and the other manufacturers took a different approach — all wooden parts were prefabricated, delivered and then assembled in external factories.

This difference in the design can still be seen today among competitors, identifiable by the many round "wooden hats," which cover the necessary screws. These do not exist in Rio boats, since all the side walls and floors are made of one piece of wood. The Rio’s material hull is about 5-7 mm thicker, thus more resistant. In terms of the hull’s shape, the only difference is found at the stern: Riva boats always have a round shape except for the Super Florida. And are angular at the rear.


Rio and Riva also used different fittings. For example — in the slip cabin of a Rio Colorado — the interior lighting is located behind glass panes marked with the Rio symbol. The competitor’s lamps carry no such distinctive look.

On the other hand, if we compare the shapes and coverings of the side compartments, these are the same for both brands.

The Colorado with its low-lying sun pad was built one year before the Riva Aquarama, whose design was virtually identical except for the different stern.

From the era of wooden hulls, the Parana 590 was the smallest ship offered by Rio. Powered by a Chris-Craft V-8 or Crusader V-8 engine, the ship was luxuriously equipped in every conceivable way.

The Colorado models were even more elegant, with every conceivable equipment feature as standard. This all-fittings approach would become the standard for Rio ships in the years to come.

The Colorado and the Espera were Rio's most popular models.

Rios continued to be constructed with wooden hulls until 1975, when the three brothers decided to change the production exclusively to fiberglass.

Riva, on the other hand, continued to build wooden boats until 1996. As a result of these differing production methods and duration, Rio produced a total of almost 500 mahogany boats, whereas Riva managed almost 4,000 pieces.

Over the decades, many documents have been lost in the shipyard, making it impossible to give an exact figure of the number of Rio boats produced in mahogany. Based on the boat numbers and years of construction researched to date, the difference is probably negligible.

During this time, shipyards on Lake d'Iseo naturally observed and learnt from one another. But some of the founders were actually friends, for example, Carlo Riva of Riva and Dr. Luigi Scarani of Rio. Both are no longer alive today.

Dr. Luigi Scarani
Carlo Riva

Engineers sculpt hulls, architects and designers study interiors, engine specialists set boats in motion. But boats need much more to be triumphant on the water: They need a soul.