Good Times on the Water

July 15, 1994

More than a thousand jobs were lost in Maryland during the boating industry's four-year slump. Marinas, which during the boom had been filled to capacity, had lots of vacancies. Boat builders had surplus stock at hand as financially squeezed would-be purchasers deserted show rooms.

Still, Maryland was not the state worst hit by a combination of recession and the 10 percent luxury tax on boats priced above $100,000. Now that the tax is his tory, the boating industry is staging a slow comeback. "It's struggling back and it's longer than a lot of people thought," says Beth Kahr, administrative director of the Marine Trade Association of Maryland.

Matters are helped by financing rates that are still only a bit higher than their historical lows. Entry-level sailboats and powerboats in the $4,500 to $15,000 range can be financed with payment plans that often work out to under $200 a month.

This is good news for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, which derive a hefty share of their revenues from boating-related businesses. A brisker economic climate means that more people from outside the county -- from Baltimore and Washington, for example -- will keep their boats in Arundel marinas and take them out more often. Every time that happens, someone has to supply provisions, food and drink. All of that translates into sales-tax and income-tax revenue.

The comeback was already evident at last year's United States Sailboard Show, the annual Annapolis event that is something of economic barometer of the entire sailboat industry. Granted, its 170 yachts in the water open for inspection were a far cry from the more than 500 boats on display in the mid-1980s boom days. The number, nevertheless, represented an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year's show.

Since then, the trend has continued, bringing smiles to the faces of those who get their livelihood from boating.

The tough times meant downsizing and reorganizing to those area boating businesses that were able to survive, mainly by being adaptable. A good example is Performance Cruising Inc. in Southern Anne Arundel County. It kept going by carving a niche in the under-$95,000 market and thus avoiding the impact of the luxury tax.

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