Boat sales have soared amid the pandemic


Workers prepare boats for the season on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at the Boats Inc. docks in Niantic. Boat sales have exploded across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic and many marina docks are full. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

It’s not often that the stars align for people in the boating industry, but Don MacKenzie, president of Boats Inc. at Niantic, says the stars are aligning now.

“This industry very rarely benefits, but right now we are. We have low interest rates, low fuel prices and a 2.99% sales tax on boats,” he said. declared. “Boat sales are hot. I’ve been doing this for 33 years now and never before has there been a rush to do it like there is now. There’s just this sense of urgency.”

Boat dealers along the coastline from Westbrook to Westerly are reporting record sales of small and medium-sized powerboats. Not the luxury models or the mega yachts, but the 18-34 foot models, center consoles and runabouts that allow families to get out on the water and isolate themselves from all their coronavirus troubles.

“Just when the pandemic hit, boat sales took off,” said Tasha Cusson, president of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association. “It was a way for people to get out, social distance and spend time with family.”

Cusson and her husband, Paul, own Atlantic Outboard and Westbrook Marina Center, both in Westbrook. Like many other boat sellers, Cusson said inventory is low as seasoned sailors upgrade to bigger and better models and newcomers buy, often using money they had planned for vacations, the babysitting or gasoline – and never spent because of the pandemic.

“We only have five boats left to sell,” she said. “Normally at the moment we have 20, 30, 40 boats for sale. And used boats are hard to find; when we get one it’s gone in a day or two.”

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, nearly 320,000 new boats were sold in 2020, up 13% from the previous year, and a level the boating industry has not seen in recent years. 2008.

“New boat sales continued to rise in the latter part of 2020, up 40% from September to December compared to 2019, an indication that consumers are grabbing boats as soon as they come out of production line,” an NMMA spokeswoman said in a press release.

Shortage of slips

Bob Petzold, president of Petzold’s Marine Center on the Connecticut River in Portland, said he and other boat vendors worried about their businesses when the pandemic first hit.

“Last March (2020) we were terrified of being stuck with an overabundance of inventory and 60 days later it all fell apart,” he said.

Petzold’s, with additional showrooms in Norwalk and Warwick, is a major boat dealer.

“Right now we’re running out of everything, big and small,” Petzold said. “We are taking orders for boats to be delivered next summer and beyond. It’s crazy when you talk about delivering a boat in 2023.”

The downside for sellers and boat owners is a shortage of slips and supplies.

Petzold said all 150 slips at his Chester marina are booked and 50 people are on a waiting list to get their boats there. On top of that, he said the marina receives 30 to 40 calls every week from boat owners looking for a berth.

“It’s a problem,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a slip left on the Connecticut River. It’s something we haven’t seen since the late ’80s. We have customers who buy boats contingent on finding a slip. “

MacKenzie of Boats Inc. said it was the same on the Niantic River. The 176 berths in its marina are full.

“Brief availability is a big thing right now. There’s nothing on the Niantic River,” he said.

Manufacturers are also struggling to keep up with demand. Boat sellers said their suppliers were working hard to complete and ship the last of the 2021 models and to ramp up production of the 2022 boats. Many of those in production have already been taken care of, with customers putting down deposits for s ensure they get what they want.

But boat builders are facing shortages of electronics, marine parts and even resin, according to national reports. In some cases, the growing popularity of RVs has increased the demand for components such as toilets that fit in both boats and RVs.

“…2020 has been both a historic year for retail boat sales and a disruptive year for boatbuilders working to meet increased demand and rebuild record inventories amid the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19,” the NMMA spokesperson said in separate news. Release.

Ask for help

Many local boat dealers and marinas also struggle to find experienced craftsmen to work on marine mechanics and boat repair.

“We just can’t find workers,” MacKenzie said. “We need technicians, workers and mechanics.”

Petzold agreed. “We are hiring more people, but it’s difficult,” he said.

But boat sellers are grateful to have been busy and to be able to help ease the stress and isolation created by the pandemic and get people out on the water.

Petzold shared an industry statistic he recently read that roughly 30% of new boats sold in 2020 went to first-time boat owners.

“Our industry has been trying to do this for 15 years, to attract more first-time buyers, and now it’s happening,” he said.

“We certainly have new buyers who are first-time boat owners,” Cusson said. “And we have people who were weekend warriors who traded in to get bigger boats and go further distance. People want to spend time on the water. They want to get out during this horrible time and get make good memories.”

“We’re in an amazing place,” MacKenzie said. “There is easy access to open water and good fishing. And people have been penned in for so long that boating is a great escape from what we have had to deal with since last March (2020) Even if you’re not going somewhere, sometimes half the fun of boating is sitting on the dock.”

Salesman Zack Sousa, left, helps Ed Bolin guide his boat through a slide on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at Boats Inc. in Niantic. It was the first time Bolin had taken his new boat out on the water. Boat sales have exploded across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic and many marina docks are full. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Construction continues Wednesday, April 14, 2021 on the new Boats Inc. showroom at Niantic. Boat sales have exploded across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic and many marina docks are full. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

The Boats Inc. showroom at Niantic has only a few options for sale on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Boat sales have skyrocketed across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic and many marine slips are sold out . (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Contractors Paul Stiephaudt, left, and Craig Loe, with Stonington Custom Canvas, work to install a sun shade on a boat Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at Boats Inc. in Niantic. Boat sales have exploded across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic and many marina docks are full. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Employee Mike Williams works on a windless anchor on a newly purchased boat Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in the Boats Inc. garage at Niantic. Boat sales have exploded across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic and many marina docks are full. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Rigger Tom Yuhas guides a boat through a slide Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at Boats Inc. in Niantic. Boat sales have exploded across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic and many marina docks are full. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Rigger Tom Yuhas works to prepare a boat for delivery on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at Boats Inc. in Niantic. Boat sales have exploded across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic and many marina docks are full. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Previous Dillon plans to increase boat rental rates at the marina
Next All roads lead to the Vilamoura International Boat Show in June