Boat sales rising as economy improves

Gerald White, of White’s Cycle and Marine, adjusts a price tag on a Sea-Doo at the Chattanooga Boat and Sport Show at the Chattanooga Convention Center. The show continues through Sunday.

Photo by
Angela Lewis Foster/Times Free Press.

Christine and Greg Eidson bought an Avalon pontoon boat at last year’s Chattanooga Boat and Sport Show, so this year was just about window shopping.

“We’d like to upgrade to a bigger one someday,” said Christine on Friday.

Across the showroom, she pointed out, were pontoon boats with grills on-deck — wish list items for the future, committed to memory.


What: 2015 Chattanooga Boat and Sport Show

When: Started Thursday, continues today, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza, Chattanooga

How much: $9 for adults, children 12 and under free

“It’s like a car,” said Greg. “You buy a boat, use it for a few years and then upgrade to something newer, different.”

Talk like that warms the hearts of boat sellers, especially coming off the lean recession days, when luxuries like boats were trimmed out of family budgets.

And the Eidsons aren’t the only ones thinking like this, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

“Nationally, sales of new boats are up 7 to 8 percent,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the market watch group.

He said 2014 was “a good year,” and that “as we look forward to 2015, we look for growth to be about 5 to 7 percent.”

In terms of boat numbers, Dammrich said about 223,000 boats were sold last year, representing about $8 billion in total sales.

“The industry is very healthy today,” he said.

In Tennessee, NMMA stats show there were roughly 260,000 registered boats statewide in 2013, and $303 million in new boat, engine, trailer and accessory sales.

Meanwhile, Yamaha, one of the largest boat makers in the U.S., announced late last year that it’s expanding its Vonore, Tenn., plant, investing $17.7 million and creating 150 new jobs.

Locally, boat dealers feel the market expanding.

“The market is vastly improving,” said Greg Lee, sales consultant at Erwin Marine Sales of Knoxville. Erwin’s main location is in Chattanooga.

“It’s trending the right way,” said Lee. “It’s much better than a few years ago.”

Steve Raybourne, yacht broker at Watermark Marine Group, echoed the feeling.

Watermark is a local brokerage firm, connecting sellers with buyers, mostly for used boats. The company is fairly young, around four-years-old.

Raybourne said he feels much better going into this spring and summer compared to last year.

“We’ve had more winter-time purchases than last year,” he said. “You have a winter like this and you’re encouraged about the year.”

Raybourne said Watermark felt a slight tremble in business a year, two years ago.

“We didn’t even come to the show last year,” he said.

In 2013, the boat brokerage was discouraged by lack of interest from buyers and decided to sit it out a year.

But now, “we’re excited,” said Raybourne. “We’ve expanded our resources here in town.”

Raybourne said low fuel prices are also likely to credit for some of the renewed interest from boat buyers.

The Eidsons recall last year, plowing up and down the Tennessee River on their Avalon and seeing other boaters simply drifting to save fuel, which during the summer hit well above $3 a gallon.

It was an interesting year out on the water for the family, with Christine getting a cancer diagnosis shortly after the couple bought their boat.

But the family took advantage of every summer weekend to go out on the water and spend time together, before colder weather and treatment sessions came along.

Now, Christine is cancer-free. And eyeballing the Sea-Doos.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at or 423-757-6480.

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