Boat numbers slowly recovering in Florida, Brevard after economic …

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The new public access boat ramps at Port Canaveral opened July 26. It features more boat launching slips and a closer access to the ocean. By Tim Walters, Malcolm Denemark and Dave Berman Posted July 29, 2014

While Florida’s population swelled, the number of boats registered in the Sunshine State sank for seven years straight, only inching back up in the past few years as economic recovery put more wind in people’s sails.

There were 95,593 fewer registered vessels in Florida in 2016 than 10 years ago, a 9.3 percent dip. Florida’s registered vessels topped 1 million in 2007. But as the economy stalled, boats bottomed out at 896,632 in 2013, according to statistics recently released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Boating has gradually eked back over the past three years, to 931,450 vessels. 

Some local boaters say they threw in their captain’s hat because of frustration over too many go-slow zones and other regulations. Others point to the expense.But boat builders and sellers say boat sales locally and nationwide suffered the same downslide seen statewide and nationally, despite relatively low fuel costs, as the economy sputtered.

“What killed us  – everybody really – was the real estate downturn,”  said Michele Miller, executive director of the Marine Industry Association of Florida, one of the largest trade group of boating-related industries. “We are a luxury item and unless you’re a commercial fisherman, you don’t have to have a boat … When the economy is bad, they don’t spend money on new boats, or money on the boats they have.”

The economic impact of the boating industry in Florida was $18.4 billion in 2004. That number fell to $16.8 billion in 2008 and it is believed to have continued to decline as the Great Recession took hold in the ensuring years, Miller said.

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By the time the association undertook another exhaustive economic impact study last year, the figure was $15.3 billion for 2015, still almost 17 percent below the 2004 figure.

But nationally, the boating industry has been looking brighter. On Tuesday, the National Marine Manufacturers Association reported that the $36 billion U.S. boating industry is seeing some of its highest sales in nearly a decade, especially yachts. According to new NMMA data,  sales of new powerboats increased 6 percent in 2016, reaching 247,800 boats sold, and are expected to increase an additional six percent in 2017.

 

In Florida, sales of new powerboat, engine, trailer and accessories in 2016 were up 5 percent in Florida, to $2.5 billion, according to NMMA.

Demand continues to grow across nearly all powerboat segments, according to NMMA.

But in some areas of Florida, excess algae and regulations over the past decade have tempered the demand to go boating, captains say.

More: Showcasing those things ‘Made in Brevard’

In few places is the frustration among Florida boaters more pronounced than in Brevard County. Captains there boast 70 percent of the Indian River Lagoon within the realm of their helm. But apocalyptic algae blooms and dolphin, manatee and fish die-offs over the past seven years have curbed many-a-captain’s enthusiasm.

Brevard boaters also attribute the decline in registered boats to the advent of the manatee zones 15 years ago that they say increased the “hassle factor” of navigating local waters.

“You might go once or twice, but is that worth owning a boat to do that?” said Bob Atkins, a Merritt Island resident and president of Citizens for Florida’s Waterways, a Brevard-based boating advocacy group.

At the group’s peak — around the time the manatee zones went in — CFW included about 700 families, many joining because of anger over the new slow zones. Now it’s about 180 families, Atkins said. “People who have boats are probably taking them somewhere else,” he said. 

But registered vessels have declined statewide, too, dropping 9.3 percent to 931,450 last year, 92,445 fewer boats than when boats peaked at 1,027,043 vessels in 2007.

 

While Brevard’s population grew by 85,000 people (17 percent) since widespread manatee zones took effect 15 years ago, registered vessels dropped by about 6,000 boats, to 34,000 vessels, a 15 percent decrease.

The industry reacted accordingly. Miller notes the Space Coast chapter of the Marine Industry Association of Florida disbanded in 2008 when the economy turned. Despite a few feeble attempts, the local chapter hasn’t been re-established, she said.

“I tried to work with some groups there in 2011,” Miller said, “but nothing really happened with it.”

Registered vessels peaked at 40,573 in Brevard in 2006. Last year, there were 33,999 registered, up 268 from the previous year, but 16.2 lower than the 2006 peak.

Brevard boaters who challenged go-slow manatee zones warned in the early 2000s that people would give up boating if the zones went in. Most of the zones took effect 2002-2003,. Now, with so many slow zones, it takes too long to get anywhere, they say.

“The first hour and a half of your boat ride is slow-speed,” Atkins said of the trip Merritt Islanders must take through slow zones to reach popular water skiing spots. “That means for a ski run it takes three hours to get there and back,” he added. “People used to ski in front of their house … All you can do with that water is look at it.”

 

 

Bad algae blooms in Brevard over the past seven years took the wind out of many a sail.

“It’s definitely deteriorated since 2010,” Atkins said.

He also points to bad blue-green algae bloom last year in the St. Lucie area as another factor impacting enthusiasm for boating. “That pretty much killed boating completely when that was going on,” he said.

Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or jwaymer@floridatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @JWayEnviro or www.facebook.com/jim.waymer. Contact Price at 321-242-3658 or wprice@floridatoday.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Fla2dayBiz

BREVARD

2016

Recreational vessels in Brevard: 32,731

Total vessels: 33,999
Reportable accidents: 27

Fatalities: 0

Injuries: 21

Property Damage Rank:$183,530

Accident rate: 1:1,259

2007

Recreational vessels: 38,863

Total vessels: 40,407
Reportable accidents: 23

Fatalities: 1

Injuries: 9

Property Damage Rank:$164,500

Accident rate: 1:1689

FLORIDA

2016

Recreational vessels: 899,235 
Total vessels: 931,450 

Reportable accidents: 714 
Fatalities: 67 
Injuries: 421 
Property damage: $10,052,495 
Accident rate: 1:1,305

2007

Recreational vessels: 991,680 
Total vessels: 1,027,043 
Reportable accidents: 668 
Fatalities: 77 
Injuries: 377 
Property damage: $9,125,110

Take a Florida Safe Boating Course: http://myfwc.com/boating/safety-education/courses/

According to the recently released FWC statistics, Monroe County topped boating accidents last year, with 105 accidents and three fatalities, followed by Miami-Dade with  67 accidents and seven fatalities, and Palm Beach with 62 accidents and three fatalities.

Brevard ranked eighth, with 27 accidents and no fatalities. 

Top 11 reportable boating accidents in 2016 (fatalities)

1. Monroe: 105 (3)
2. Miami-Dade: 67 (7)
3. Palm Beach: 62 (3)
4. Pinellas: 44 (2)
5. Lee: 39 (6)
6. Broward: 38 (1)
7. Collier: 31 (0)
8. Brevard: 27 (0)
9. Hillsborough: 20 (3)
10. Charlotte: 18 (4)
11. Duval: 18 (0)

 

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission


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