Archive for » June 3rd, 2016«

Boating industry sailing into a strong summer

Mike Gaynor of Oak Creek secures gear aboard his 18.6 foot Lund sport angler boat at McKinley Marina.

Neil Miller (left) and Mike Gaynor, both of Oak Creek, clean their morning catch of coho salmon at McKinley Marina.

By Rick Barrett of the Journal Sentinel

Lower fuel prices, higher water levels and renewed consumer confidence have given Wisconsin’s $616 million marine industry a healthy start for the 2016 boating season.

With brisk sales nationwide, inventories of new boats are at historically low levels, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, partly as boat builders keep production close to consumer demand.

“We anticipate sustained, steady growth across most boat categories during the busiest boating months of the year,” said Thom Dammrich, NMMA president.

Outboard boat sales, which represent 85% of new traditional powerboats sold and include pontoon, aluminum and fiberglass fishing boats, were up 7.6% in 2015 to 155,800 units.

Wisconsin ranked seventh among states in sales of new powerboats, engines, trailers and accessories in 2015, ahead of California and behind North Carolina, according to NMMA figures.

This year, the marine industry is settling into a “new normal,” after having seen record-high sales before the last recession and a collapse in business during the downturn.

“Things have come back and sorted themselves out, but they are still nowhere near what they were before the recession, in terms of sales,” said Charles Plueddeman, a contributing editor for Boating Magazine, from Oshkosh.

Not to be stuck with excess inventory, manufacturers are placing more emphasis on semi-custom products where a customer chooses colors, upholstery, engine and electronics options before their boat is built.

Gasoline prices, while higher than they were in the winter, are still down from last summer. That has a significant positive effect on boating because large powerboats, especially, use a lot of gas.

Higher lake levels also have helped, said Plueddeman, because a couple of years ago, boaters were struggling with shallow water.

“It wasn’t even just the larger boats. I think it had gotten to the point where, in Green Bay, even walleye and smallmouth bass fishermen couldn’t find a good place to launch,” Plueddeman said.

Skipper Bud’s, one of Wisconsin’s largest boat dealerships, has expanded its service center in Pewaukee following the loss of some nearby dealerships.

“Due to dealership turnover in the Lake Country area over the past several years, many boaters are looking for stability with their sales or service providers. … We simply outgrew our service facility because of the increased number of boats we are servicing and storing,” said Skipper Bud’s president Mike Petrasky Jr.

Sales of new pontoon and fishing boats were especially strong last year, but now it’s “pretty healthy across the board,” Petrasky said about the industry.

Sailboat sales, however, are down significantly, said John Kukuk, chairman of the Wisconsin Marine Association and the owner of Nestegg Marine in Marinette.

Some of the decline in interest in sailboats could be from lower fuel prices. When prices are high, there’s more interest in boats powered by the wind, and when prices drop, so does the interest in sailing.

The outlook for recreational boating is solid the next couple of years, but after that it is anybody’s guess what will happen, Kukuk said.

The average age of a U.S. boat owner was 55.5 in 2015, a statistic that is worrisome as the number of young people coming into boating hasn’t been enough to offset older people who are likely to leave.

“What I am finding, from a personal standpoint, is that young people are not getting involved because they have too much on their plates,” Kukuk said.

Generation X and millennials say they don’t have a lot of time or money to spare for an activity such as boating. They are more likely to rent a boat a few weekends a year rather than buy one and not use it much.

In response, boat manufacturers are trying to attract more nontraditional customers, including Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.

Ethnic diversity is one of the industry’s most challenging issues, Kukuk said.

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