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The empty shipyards on the Jersey Shore testify that closed leisure seekers are taking trips on our canals, streams and rivers to the new trips to Disney World or Paris.
On the fourth weekend in July, my great friend Dave and I drove past a shipyard that is a landmark in Brick Township, New Jersey, a hamlet on a peninsula inland from the Atlantic and about 70 miles south of Times Square. I was shocked to see a mostly barren area – part of the Comstock Yacht Sales & Marina complex on the creek – with only a few boats in dry dock and few new vehicles for sale. "Dave, does that mean the pandemic kills boating?" I asked. "Are you kidding?" Dave was faked. “I keep my boat in Comstock in winter and have visited it every week. The place was so full of new boats that you couldn't walk between them. After I put my black fin in the water, I go back in June and the yard is almost empty. The manager says to me: "Everything is sold out right now."
The flood of boats in Brick Township shows a lifestyle change that leads America from the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri to the Puget Sound in Washington. Brick Township, with 75,000 inhabitants, is riddled with rivers and canals. Many of its residents live there full-time and commute to work in New York City or Philadelphia, while a large part come down on weekends and summer vacations. This has always been a boat oasis – thousands of Brick Township's mostly wealthy families live on the water in large houses grouped on narrow lots with their private docks aligned cheek to cheek. But the COVID 19 outbreak has taken the desire for free time at sea to a whole new level.
"People from here don't go to Florida theme parks. There's no soccer or basketball for the kids. I canceled a cruise to Alaska," said Don Ditzel, vice president of Comstock, a property his family bought in the early 1970s had to build ships out of wood harvested from their cedar farm. "You can't swing a purse here without hitting the water. People are fed up with the four walls of their houses. It's an awakening, just like motorhomes. "He notes that" a large influx of people "from New York and Pennsylvania either buys houses in Brick Township or works full time in their summer houses." They have all day to do things with their children, so they have she turns to boating, which is about the greatest fun you can have with social distance, "says Ditzel." We only see the growth impulses that the company lacked, a leap for younger first-time customers. "The water is becoming a refuge for crazy Americans.
My friend David's son, Conrad, a 24-year-old marketing manager, buys a new 17-foot fishing boat. Conrad wants his own craft in part because he enjoys taking his father's Blackfin Sportfisherman to F-Cove, a waterway off nearby Barnegat Bay, where people put their boats on the beach and attend a large floating tailgate party while they usually keep a safe distance from the parked ship next to. The boaters, who include everyone from retirees to college kids, even drop rubber rafts so they can talk around to greet friends.
This writer has to admit that he is far from nautical and that his interest in boating comes solely from examining the industries that benefit from how Americans deal with the pandemic. It is surprising that I never found my sea legs, since my father, whom I called "Skipper", was a licensed "seaman master", who spent his career as a first officer on oil tankers and called our home on land walls "the bulkhead" and the floors "the deck". He called this boat-shy offspring "the Bosun". When Skipper was challenged by the Bosun, he replied, "Just let it go." A typical description from someone whose reasoning he found less than reasonable: "He doesn't ship with a full duffel bag."
Overall, the American boat business has seen the strongest growth in over a decade. The Great Recession hammered recreational vessels and sold units of over 300,000 a year in 2006 and 2007 to a low of around 180,000 from mid-2009 to mid-2014. This is shown by statistics from the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which represents boat and ship engine manufacturers. "The big recession hit the industry hard," said Melissa Danko, director of the New Jersey Marine Trades Association. "We have dropped 100,000 registered boats in two decades," a decrease of 40%. As personal income rose sharply and the stock market rose, national sales gradually recovered to 250,000 in 2019.
In January and February, the numbers continued to rise compared to the strong level of 2019. Then the COVID-controlled shutdown in April and May led to an increase in sales of over a third to around 17,000 per month. Talk of a V –– delivery made a moon shot to around 28,000 in May, the best number since November 2007. In hot categories, sales reached a record high of monthly figures, with the personal watercraft (PWC) in June around the previous year 41% rose. and in May jet boats exceeded the previous year's figure by 31%. "We had stabilized, but what we see now is an opportunity for growth that is being driven by new buyers," says Danko.
Personal watercraft race in Miami Beach. "Nobody could have predicted this record resurgence." A dealer says about the sale. “Who knows what will happen when people travel again? I don't think it will take years. "Jeffrey Greenberg / Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Driving a trend
The start at Yamaha WaterCraft offers a look at the fresh fascination and the new customers who drive the pleasure boat. Yamaha WaterCraft, a division of Yamaha Motor Corp. USA, produces and sells the two product lines that have benefited the most from the romance of boats, watercraft and jet boats. Bryan Seti, a 22-year-old Yamaha veteran, leads sales and marketing. Yamaha manufactures its PWCs under the WaveRunner brand and its Yamaha jet boats sold in the United States at two plants in Georgia and Tennessee. Both lines are aimed at first-time buyers. The WaverRunners are typically 11-foot open boats that are somewhat similar to motorbikes on the water, carrying one to three people, all of whom are in a single seat. Drivers love to race over the foam and often drag kids on rubber dinghies. WaveRunner prices range from $ 6,000 to $ 15,000.
Jet boats are much larger, closed vehicles, 19 to 27 feet in size, with internal drive motors built into the boat's hull, and lots of amenities, from sound systems to showers to water sports towers. Prices range from $ 30,000 to $ 130,000. "Both the WaveRunners and the jet boats are versatile and therefore ideal for the new search for leisure time," said Seti. “You can fish with WaveRunners and jet boats. Use them for tubing or wakesurfing. and for jet boats, spend a week on Long Island Sound or Lake Charles to visit friends and stop in restaurants. “Until recently, on average, buyers for both products were mostly in their mid-forties. "People usually buy after they have had the highest income years, had children and bought one or two cars and a house," said Seti.
A 2021 Yamaha AR-190. Yamaha WaterCraft, a unit of Yamaha Motor from Japan, produces and sells the two product lines that have benefited the most from the romance of boats, PWC and jet boats. Courtesy of the Yamaha Watercraft Group
For years, Yamaha has held top market shares in both PWCs and jet boats. Overall, these categories make up around a third of all motorboat sales. Yamaha's WaveRunner holds 42% of the annual PWC market of around 80,000 and sells nine out of ten or 5,500 out of 6,000 new jet boats that land on the water each year. Since 2014, sales have grown by around 5% per year and have exceeded the entire industry. "This year has had a great start," said Seti. “January and February were very strong months. Then sales fell sharply at the end of March. Traders we sell to did not know if they would be unemployed in 60 days. "Seti believed that Yamaha needed to provide comprehensive assistance to its customers as a bridge for the next 60 to 90 days so that a whole year was not wiped out."
Yamaha's support consisted of three parts. First, it ensured that retailers don't stop showing ads by covering 100% of their advertising budget for March and April. "We took over the Ads tab," said Seti. Second, Yamaha provided dealers' customers with 0% interest financing and no down payment for 180 days for boats and 90 days for WaveRunners. "Summer is coming," he told them. Third, Yamaha waived "flooring fees," the interest that dealers for unsold boats charge in their yards and showrooms.
At the same time, Yamaha's support encouraged dealers to continue reaching for customers. The pandemic changed the entire sales process from person to person and made the hull digital. Seti says: “The old way was that in January or February you came to a big boat show, saw one you loved, sat at the controls, and met the dealer near you who sold this model. Call or visit the dealer in spring to place an order. “Many customers, he says, asked the retailer to test them before buying. Traders feared that customers traditionally would like to meet with a seller in person, and since most of their offices were closed, buyers would disappear. "Then the way they marketed and how customers bought it changed completely," he says. “We helped retailers sell much better through zoom, offer video tours, and use e-docs to sign contracts. Suddenly, customers could comfortably shop online. "
For what the industry calls "season", the peak months from October 2019 to June this year, WaveRunners sales have increased from 21,000 to 26,000, an increase of 23% over the same period from 2018 to 2019 and a new one established record. The dealers sold 3,630 units of the jet boats from October to June, 1,047 or 29% more than in the previous season.
For Seti, the fact that, despite the decline in March, this season far outstrips the previous season that the upward trend (unlike the author) has sea legs. "We have always focused on first-time buyers, but now we see a lot more of them, including people in their late thirties and mid-forties," he says. "This is new demand. This is a fundamental change. It will spur boating for many years because once the aquatic life is in your DNA it stays there." He predicts that the children whose families just bought their first craft will love the romance of boating. Many children will go fishing and surfing every day this summer instead of hiking to the camp or cruising. "Boating is the ultimate stop in the pandemic," said Seti.
Younger buyers, he says, think boating is good business because they now have a lot more time to spend on the water. Instead of just visiting the lake or the Uferhaus on weekends, parents live there all spring and summer and work from home. "Someone who is 35 years old can pay $ 30,000 for a 19-foot boat and take it out six or three hours a day, three or four days a week," said Seti. "It's a bargain when you consider that they used to spend $ 4,000 on two season tickets for professional sports events."
I also interviewed retailers and they confirmed Seti's view that online shopping took responsibility – lightning fast. "Our web traffic has increased 1,000% in 90 days," said Dale Law, general manager at the Lake of the Ozarks subsidiary of MarineMax, a listed boat seller whose shares have just hit a 14-year high. According to Law, sales are 15% higher than last year and it's all about e-commerce: “People watch videos, then call a seller and say, 'Tell me more about the boat. & # 39; But then they buy in record numbers online without testing. "
The law adds that "nobody could have predicted this record resurgence". He is encouraged by an increase in first-time buyers, but is not sure how long the boom will last. "Who knows what will happen when people travel again?" he says. Ditzel from Comstock, back in Brick Township, is optimistic. "What we needed was new blood to balance the boaters who age faster than new buyers," he says. "And that happens. In the past, what people did was shaped by their children's schedules," he adds. "Now their children are unscheduled and they have a lot of time for boating. We sell fun to fill that time. "Sounds so good that I'm looking forward to a trip to Dave's Blackfin. I will be the one on the fly bridge holding a daiquiri and telling stories about the time when a load of circus elephants, overrun in a hurricane and racing across the deck, capsized Skipper's tanker almost into a boiling sea.
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