Florida boat sales on the rise

Florida’s economy remains sluggish in many areas – foreclosures, home construction, job creation.

But here’s a bright light: the state led the nation in boat sales in 2011.

For most people, boats are the perfect purchase: they don’t need them. They want them.

So when boats start to sell, it indicates that buyers are more optimistic about the direction the economy is heading.

Pleasure boat sales in Florida rose 34% in 2011, according to data released this week by the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Florida ranks fifth in the nation for growth and first in the nation for total sales, with about $1.5 billion.

Sales of boats, marine accessories and services rose 6% nationally, the first year of growth since 2006.

“It’s a small incline, but it’s better than a drop,” said Roger Taylor, national sales manager for boatbuilder EdgeWater Power Boats.

After years of recession, Florida boat dealers are anticipating a slow but steady recovery, with 2012 sales surpassing those of 2011. The industry is still not where it was before the recession, but the outlook is positive, say the dealers.

Now that the economy is on the mend, more and more people are willing to spend money on recreational items, and banks are making it easier for people to take out boat loans.

“(Buyers) kind of took a break from the uncertainty in the economy,” said Ellen Hopkins, director of communications for the manufacturers association. “They don’t want to wait any longer.

Mike McLamb, chief financial officer of Clearwater-based boat retail giant MarineMax, told analysts last month that Florida, once a huge drag on the retailer’s business, was more of a help than a hindrance these days. last time. Shares of MarineMax closed at $9.42 on Friday, down from less than $1.25 in 2009.

“I would say we had stronger growth in Florida than the rest of the country,” McLamb said.

Taylor of EdgeWater Power Boats was at the Tampa Bay Boat Show at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Friday. He described it as more of a buyers’ market than in years past when it looked like a recreational event.

“It’s less of a crowd of strollers and more of a crowd of shoppers,” he said.

Taylor hadn’t sold any boats Friday afternoon, the first day of the boat show, but he said he was close to closing a few. He expects more customers to stop by today and Sunday.

Shows like the Tampa Bay Boat Show, which is sponsored annually by the Tampa Bay Weatherare a way for dealers to market their merchandise.

Boats of all shapes and sizes, from small skiffs to pontoon boats to larger cabin boats, were crammed into the exhibition hall at the fairgrounds. They ranged from around $15,000 to almost $200,000.

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association study, motor fishing boats and aluminum pontoon boats are leading the industry’s recovery, with a 4% increase in sales in 2011. Sales of other motorboats and sailboats increased by 0.8%.

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That’s a true reflection of boat sales in Florida, said Paul D’Auria, vice president of Sunray Marine, a boat dealership with locations in Largo and Holiday.

“Over the years, fishing boats have always been more popular in Florida,” he said.

But recently, some of the most popular models are hybrid-type multi-purpose boats. They’re crosses between fishing boats and larger sports boats with larger decks, making them more family-friendly, D’Auria said.

Boats 25 feet and under are top sellers, he said, due to their prices and fuel efficiency.

“That’s what drives people’s thinking today, and it’s across industries,” D’Auria said.

Sales of larger boats with cabins are still a little slow, Taylor said, but they’re up nonetheless.

“Sales are definitely going in the right direction,” he said.

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