Northeast Ohio sees a surge in boat sales, for socially distanced summer fun on Lake Erie

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Boat sales are up in Ohio and across the country as Americans seek socially distanced entertainment amid the threat of the coronavirus.

On the peninsula, Buckeye Sports Center broke its April sales record by 90%, selling around 70 boats instead of an average of 38. And halfway through that month, it also broke the May record.

All kinds of boats are popular, but aluminum fishing boats and jetboats have seen the biggest spikes, said Jim Armington of Buckeye, Ohio’s largest boat dealership.

“People either want to go fishing or find an affordable way to get away with their families,” Armington said. “They’re not going on a cruise. They won’t go to Disney World. They are looking for something they can do without traveling too much.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association doesn’t yet have sales information for March and April, but hears anecdotally that manufacturers and dealers are doing “incredibly well as Americans search for ways to connect with their loved ones, to escape and enjoy their free time”. The association’s Discover Boating website has more than doubled its regular visits so far this month.

At Cleveland Metroparks’ East 55th Street Marina, about half of the 362 slips are filled, mostly with regulars.

Danny Hearns, service manager at Chagrin Marine in Eastlake, said he saw a lot of newcomers, especially buying used boats.

“I think our whole maritime industry has flourished,” Hearns said. “They take advantage of the money they have saved. They wanted to get into boating. They have time now.

Sales are up at Clemons Boats in Sandusky, representative Bart Barnes said. “People are discovering that with all the changes in the world, boating is a way for them to still feel normal and safe.”

It’s not just the issue of safety, of being away from others, who could possibly carry the coronavirus, boating experts say. It is also time.

Families find themselves with more hours to fill, if children’s sports leagues are canceled or summer camp no longer makes sense.

Of course, not everyone is in a position to buy a boat, after the coronavirus shut down entire industries and put more than a million Ohioans out of work. Armington pointed out that there are more economical ways to get out on Lake Erie’s 10,000 square miles of water, including by kayak or stand-up paddleboard.

But with cheap gas prices and low interest financing, many people are choosing to buy boats for the first time, especially smaller, 19- to 24-foot powerboats like jet boats manufactured by Yamaha.

Barnes is struggling to get boats because factories have closed or companies only have enough supplies to fill existing orders.

“If they want a boat now, it’s definitely a seller’s market,” Barnes said. “It was crazy here.”

Boat sales were strong during the winter. But Armington was taken aback by the big wave of spring sales, especially when business stalled in March when Ohio first issued its stay-at-home order.

Buckeye Sports has done a lot of publicity on social media. They put every boat online, so people could shop on their website, ask questions over the phone, even FaceTime sales people. Then, the store welcomed customers by appointment only.

In the showroom, they took employees’ temperatures before they arrived at work, required masks for staff, and wiped down boats, doorknobs and other surfaces. He plans to continue security measures.

Customers would “come in and sit in the boat for five minutes, sign the paperwork, and leave,” Armington said. “He was actually a really good role model.”

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