The Day – Get away from it all: Boat sales have skyrocketed amid pandemic

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

“This industry very rarely benefits from it, 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 all the rage. I’ve been doing this for 33 years now and never before has there been a rush to do it like it is now. There’s just that sense of urgency.”

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

“As soon as the pandemic hit, boat sales took off,” said Tasha Cusson, president of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association. “It was a way for people to go out, to distance themselves socially and to spend time with their families.”

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

“We are down to about five boats for sale,” she said. “Normally right now we have 20, 30, 40 boats for sale. And used boats are hard to come by; when we have one, it is 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 since. 2008.

“New boat sales continued to be strong through the end of 2020, up 40% from September to December compared to 2019, an indication that consumers are grabbing boats as soon as they get off the boat. the 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 were concerned about their businesses when the pandemic first struck.

“This past March (2020) we were terrified of ending up with a glut of inventory and 60 days later all was lost,” he said.

Petzold’s, with additional showrooms in Norwalk and Warwick, is a major seller of boats.

“Right now we’re exhausted from everything, young and old,” said Petzold. “We are taking orders for boats to be delivered next summer and beyond. It’s crazy when we 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 from his marina in Chester were counted and 50 people were on a waiting list to bring their boats there. On top of that, he said the marina receives 30 to 40 calls each week from boat owners looking for a berth.

“It’s a problem,” he said. “I don’t think there is a slipway on the Connecticut River. It’s something we haven’t seen since the late 1980s. We have customers who buy boats subject to finding a slipway. . “

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

“The availability of slips is an important thing at the moment. There is nothing on the Niantic River,” he said.

Manufacturers are also struggling to keep up with demand. Boat sellers said their suppliers are working hard to finish and ship the last of the 2021 models and to prepare for production of 2022 boats. Many of those in production have already been talked about, with customers making deposits to ensure they are in production. get what they want.

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

“… 2020 has been both a historic year for retail boat sales and a disruptive year for boat builders as they strive to meet increased demand and replenish record stocks amid the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, “the NMMA spokeswoman said in another statement. Release.

Ask for help

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

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

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

But the boat vendors are thankful they’ve been busy and can 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, which found that around 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 definitely have new buyers who are first-time boat owners,” Cusson said. “And we have people who were weekend warriors who traded in to buy bigger boats and go further. People want to spend time on the water. They want to get out during this horrible time and create good memories.”

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

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