Boat industry is riding high

On The Outdoors

January 29, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

A decade ago, the boating industry was at a standstill, with sales of new and used boats as slow as the economy during the recession of the late 1980s. In the years since, according to marine industry analyses, boating has boomed.

Last year, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, boat buyers in the U.S. spent a record $19.5 billion on all boating market-related purchases and services -- including a 10 percent dollar gain of $8.6 billion in new boat sales.

NMMA members produce about 80 percent of U.S. boats, equipment and accessories.

Market research by NMMA, which brings the Chesapeake Bay Boat Show to the Convention Center Saturday through Feb. 8, indicates "the upscale focus of buyers reflects what's driving the big-boat market."

Sales of new, inboard motor cruisers accounted for nearly $1.7 billion in sales last year, a 38 percent increase in retail dollars and an 18 percent increase in units manufactured.

The Baltimore show for years has been a showcase for the powerboat market, with top builders and dealers well represented. This year, hundreds of craft will be on display, available for boarding and inspection -- and purchase.

At the Baltimore show, prospective buyers will be able to visit a Boaters' Resource Center, where at one stop information can be gathered about all facets of recreational boating, from proper safety procedures to guidelines for financing and buying.

KeyBank USA will have on hand an "Afford-a-Boat" consumer financing kiosk that will calculate and print out terms and monthly payments for a loan of a given amount.

According to NMMA, the boom in the recreational marine VTC industry can be tied to the success of baby boomers, especially those whose children have grown and moved out on their own.

Market research indicates that the typical buyer in the big-boat market is in his or her 40s or older, has a household income in excess of $50,000 and is beginning to look "for a payback on a lifetime of work."

NMMA marks the big-boat class as those 27 feet and longer.

While the big-boat market boomed, the step-up category gained eight percent or $2.1 billion in sales but was off three percent in units sold.

NMMA rates the step-up category as 17- to 27-footers typically powered by inboard-outboard engines and usually trailerable.

Small craft, for years the backbone of the marine industry because of their relative low cost and versatility, have experienced slower sales.

According to NMMA, "competition for recreational time is most intense in this sector." Entry-level boaters, NMMA found, are active outdoors, involved in boating , but also involved in skiing, hunting, fishing, hiking and camping.

A growing sector of the sales market, NMMA found, is in used boats, where late-model, lightly-used boats are available as older boaters move up to larger boats.

As the boating market has strengthened, boat loans have become more readily available and larger boats can qualify as second homes, giving borrowers a tax break on loan interest.

Down payments range from 10 to 20 percent for new boats and 20 percent or more for used boats, depending on age and condition.

Whether just getting into boating, stepping up or making the leap to a big cruising boat, go to the show with a plan based on where and when you will use a boat, and what the family budget will allow.

Then, make a list of the features your boat will need to provide the safest and most enjoyable use at the most reasonable cost.

For example, if you are going to fish most of the time and water ski only once in a while, the emphasis should be on rough-water capability, high and low speed performance, open cockpit space, rod storage, bait wells, electronics and ground tackle.

Make a checklist of safety and functional features with a column for each boat you plan to check out, and note for each model which features are standard or available at extra cost.

Talk to the salespeople about engine selection, fuel capacity and economy and hull types.

Then start getting a feel for each by climbing aboard and simulating docking, anchoring, fishing, 360-degree sight lines from the helm and ease of quick, safe movements from stem to stern.

Mull it over before heading out to find the best financing available, a simple interest loan that allows for payoff at any time without penalty.

If you're going

What: Chesapeake Bay Boat Show, with hundreds of boats, engines and marine accessories for sale or inspection.

Where: Baltimore Convention Center

When: Saturday through Feb. 8. Weekday hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Admission: $7 for adults and $3 for ages 6 to 12.

Parking: Free evening parking and shuttle from Lot C at Camden Yards.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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