Prior to his career as a naval architect in Norway, he spent time in Queensland, Australia, with several of his brothers, including Thomas. While there, he sailed with a cargo up the Fitzroy River, Queensland "when it was almost if not quite unknown".
He and his shipyard were known for building durable and safe ships. The most notable single ship built by Colin Archer was the Fram, which participated in Fridtjof Nansen's expeditions to the North Pole and, later, in Roald Amundsen's historic first expedition to the South Pole; Fram is now preserved in the Fram Museum on Bygdøy, Oslo, Norway. Archer also designed a sturdy sailing vessel class for the Redningsselskapet (The Norwegian Lifeboat institution), which was used for many years and now is referred to as a Colin Archer; the prototype rescue lifeboat, "Colin Archer RS 1", is still afloat and in use as a floating museum. Several other original vessels Redningsselskapet are still sailing including the Frithjof Wiese RS40.
Archer spent much time calculating how an efficient hull should be designed. To this day, people consult his work when designing new ships. He is credited with the design of more than two hundred vessels, including Fram.
Archer's designs were adapted to pleasure sailing in the twentieth century. In 1904, he built a boat for the writer Robert Erskine Childers named the Asgard; the boat is now in a museum and considered the "most important yacht in the history of Ireland". In 1928, William Atkin scaled down Archer's 47-foot (14 m) Regis Voyager, a pilot boat, to make the 32-foot (9.8 m) Eric , and in 1934 the 38-foot (12 m) Ingrid . The Eric went on to become very influential in ocean sailing, with boats such as Vito Dumas's Lehg II and Robin Knox-Johnston's Suhaili making notable circumnavigations, the latter becoming the first boat to be sailed single-handed and non-stop around the world. In the 1970s, the design was adapted to glass-reinforced plastic by William Crealock, and became the Westsail 32; this famous cruising boat has, in turn, inspired many imitations, so that the "Archer double-ender" style of boat continues to be popular to the present day.
The Colin Archer Memorial Race sailing race, too, is named in honour of the boatbuilder. The biennial race starts in Lauwersoog, the Netherlands, and finishes near Larvik, in Norway. The distance covered is about 365 nautical miles (676 km); depending upon weather and the type of ship, the sailing time generally is three, four, or five days.
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Archer, Thomas". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
- Commercial boat builder with excellent picture of Colin Archer's first rescue boat, still preserved
- Home page (Norwegian) of RS1, first Colin Archer rescue boat
- The Fram Museum
- Sail-Cutter Club Colin Archer (SCCA)
- Colin Archer Memorial Race