Use and sales of boats have increased during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in long wait times for new ships and congested waterways that include Portage Lakes in Summit County.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources officer Scott Stafford said the increase in aquatic activity, from boating to swimming, was evident in the Portage Lakes.
“Last year was absolutely crazy,” he said.
The ODNR officer said all water activities were at a peak last year, with particularly popular swimming areas due, in part, to coronavirus restrictions on other activities.
Canoes, kayaks and pontoon boats are on the rise in sales and use
The growing popularity of canoes and kayaks coupled with motor boat owners using their boats more often has led to more activity on the lakes and more citations.
Over the past 10 years, kayak and canoe registrations have increased in Ohio, Stafford said, from 89,000 in 2010 to 278,000 in 2020. Motorboats, including the pontoons so popular in the lakes of Portage, have fallen from 267,000 registrations in 2010.
But last year they hit 250,000, and one group in the boating industry expects interest and sales to continue.
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According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, sales of new powerboats in the United States increased 12% last year compared to 2019. The association reported that freshwater fishing boats and pontoon boats accounted for 50% of new motorboats sold in 2020, and that sales are expected to increase a further 12% in 2021.
JoAnne Tyrrell, director of Portage Lakes Marine in the Township of Coventry, said the interest has translated into a sharp increase in sales in 2020 and demand continues. The problem is, the boat builders can’t keep up.
“Manufacturers are also catching up from last year,” Tyrrell said.
Customers look for the property’s pontoon boats in all sizes, she said. If it floats, there will likely be interest.
“The demand is greater than the supply right now,” she said. “We will be ordering more boats for this season.
Boat suppliers struggle to meet demand
Tyrrell said boat builders are pressed for the push at a time when they cannot fill the jobs to increase production. Manufacturers that have been shut down during part of the pandemic have encountered a slew of new orders for boats and a shortage of workers to build them as they resume operations.
Tyrrell said Portage Lakes Marine has seen a 20% increase in pontoon boat sales and increased interest in all boating related products. The establishment operates a nautical boutique, which has grown in popularity. This trend precedes COVID-19, Tyrrell said, as more people move to Portage Lakes communities and boast nautical-themed items for home decor.
Tyrrell said customers told him they became interested in purchasing a boat after family vacation plans were canceled due to the pandemic.
A client had to cancel a trip to Spain and decided to buy a boat instead, Tyrrell said. Another family changed their plans for a trip to Disneyworld to place an order for a pontoon boat.
“This is an excellent and optimistic view of the pandemic,” she said. “We have lemons, make lemonade, and add vodka.”
The interest of spending time on the water reverberates everywhere
Jim Emmons, executive director of the Water Sports Foundation in Orlando, Florida, said interest in boating is on the rise in the United States.
Emmons said U.S. Coast Guard data shows 415,000 new boat owners entered the waters in 2020.
“We certainly attribute this to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing,” Emmons said in a recent telephone interview. “People saw that boating was something they could do in a safe environment. The popularity of boating has skyrocketed, [both in] sales and participation.
The influx of new skippers puts more emphasis on safety
With all new boaters to the lakes and rivers, Emmons said his organization is emphasizing safety concerns, especially as Memorial Day approaches, a traditional start-of-season holiday for many boaters.
The foundation, he said, reminds boaters to wear life jackets, avoid alcohol and take nautical education classes.
“You will always find that there are things you will learn,” he said.
The foundation’s website includes data on the popularity of boating and tips for safe navigation.
Emmons said a federal law The requirement for boaters to wear a lanyard capable of shutting off the engine of a motor boat came into effect in April and boaters should be aware of this.
Stafford said new boaters should keep in mind that water temperatures are still cold this time of year.
“Dress for the temperature of the water, not the temperature of the air,” he said.
Statewide, the ODNR has seen cases of hypothermia – none on Portage Lakes – from boaters falling into the water. In a recent case, a death has resulted.
Limited availability leaves little time to think about boat purchases
Tyrrell said Portage Lakes Marine is increasing used boat sales and refurbishing older boats to meet demand.
“We can put a new terrace there, we can put new furniture there,” she said.
She also recommends buyers who don’t want to wait to make a quick decision when a boat is available. Those who can wait can get exactly what they want, but it probably won’t be until next season.
The time between ordering and delivery has been reduced from six to ten weeks to five to six months, she said. The engine times are also much longer than before.
“If you see something you like, buy it,” she said. “You are not going to get ripped off…. [If not,] you will go and contemplate it and it will be gone.
Leave a message to Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.