Good times on the water

July 15, 1994

More than a thousand jobs vanished in Maryland during the boating industry's four-year slump. Marinas, which during the boom years had been filled to capacity, had plenty of vacancies. Boat builders had surplus stock on hand as financially squeezed potential purchasers deserted the 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 history, the boating industry is staging a slow comeback. "It's struggling back and it's taking longer than a lot of people thought," says Beth Kahr, administrative director of the Marine Trade Association of Maryland.

Matters are helped by interest 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 less than $200 a month.

This is good news for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, both of 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 will take them out more often. Every time that happens, someone has to supply provisions -- fuel, food and drink. All that activity translates into sales-tax and income-tax revenue.

The boating comeback was already evident at last year's United States Sailboat Show, the annual Annapolis event that is something of an economic barometer of the sailboat industry.

Granted, it had a mere 170 yachts in the water open for inspection, 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 upward trend has continued, bringing smiles to the faces of those who earn their livelihood from boating.

The tough times meant downsizing and reorganizing for 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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