Crush of boat buyers seek recreation, safety during pandemic

Boat sales surge during coronavirus

SailTime Chief Operating Officer Bob Remsing discusses his business, which connects people who would like to share a boat, and the 200 percent increase in business this year.

The coronavirus pandemic has been good news nationwide for the boat industry.

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The new trend for a new favorite pastime of now stands to reason: Americans are looking for something to do and a safe place to go, at a time when the COVID-19 outbreak has raised safety concerns and limited recreational opportunities. Oceans, lakes and ponds are good places for people to socially distance while having fun at the same time.

Sailing or motoring around on the water represents a nice consolation prize for people who canceled vacations or missed summer camps, athletic programs or the myriad of other canceled events. Boating allows families to get away from shore, remove masks, and enjoy themselves.

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From Maine to California, boat dealers are reporting unprecedented sales that began in the spring in warm-weather states before picking up steam in other parts of the country, like Minnesota. Marinas and boat repair shops are swamped by the wave of interest. There also are waiting lists for slips for boats.

A recent survey showed more than 70 percent of boat dealers were either completely out of boats or had low inventory, said Matt Gruhn of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Rob Soucy from Port Harbor Marine, which describes itself as Maine’s biggest boat dealer. “Since the end of April, we’ve seen boat sales at historic levels.”

At one point, his inquiries were up 300 percent to 400 percent, and he expects to sell about 1,000 boats this year, a couple hundred more than usual.

“It’s like wildfire. People are searching for ways to get on the water,” said Tracy Coughlin from the Yarmouth Boat Yard, also in Maine.

Sales are up 65 percent at Yarmouth Boat Yard and a sister company, Moose Landing Marina in Naples, Maine, she said. The single biggest month for sales growth has been June, when sales increased 85 percent.

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Boats come in all sizes, shapes — and prices. A new aluminum fishing boat with outboard engine might cost $10,500, while a 44-foot cruiser could cost up to $900,000. And the prices go up from there.

But with vacation travel canceled and other activities on hold, people are ready to escape on the water — on everything from modest boats to luxury yachts, said Chris DiMillo, from DiMillo’s Yacht Sales in Portland, Maine.

“Our inventory in the market in general is as thin as I’ve seen. We’re getting calls from people who said they’d never buy a boat. And now they’re buying boats,” he said.

In Southern California, sales are up 40% to 50% at Marina del Rey Yacht Sales near Los Angeles and the Long Beach Yacht Center, said owner Steve Curran.

“I’ve been in the business for 50 years, so I’ve seen lots of ups and downs. I certainly was not expecting this,” he said.

In Florida, salesman Bill Aston said sales were up more than 200% over the past two months at Central Marine Boat Sales in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“We’re selling everything we’ve got. We’ve run out of product,” said Aston, who reports that 95% of his older inventory has been sold.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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