Boating season running full speed ahead

Keith and Sharon LaFee bought a brand new pontoon two weeks ago at Freeway Sports Center, replacing an older boat with an updated model that has a few more “bells and whistles.”

 The purchase of the 2014 model was very exciting for this Fenton Township couple, who prefer “staycations” on Lake Fenton to a vacation home or extensive summer travel. “We like to be out on the lake with our family and friends in the summer,” said Sharon.

 In addition to buying a larger pontoon, they also added more horsepower — 70 hp, plus a number of amenities to make “lake cruising” more enjoyable for their grandkids and other family members.

 This boat sale is just one of hundreds taking place this year at area boat dealers, who are finding this late-start boating year to be moving full speed ahead in mid-summer.

 “It has been an outstanding year,” said Jeff Nichols of Aqua Sports Marine. “The economy is stronger, which leads to more consumer confidence. People who have wanted a boat for several years have finally gotten to the point they’re able to do it. Plus, the extreme cold from this past winter is bringing a lot of people out on the water.” 

 The recurring theme of this year’s boating season thus far is its lateness, starting with a brutal winter followed by a very wet, cold spring. “The marine industry is a month and a half behind,” said Joe Ceresia of Lake Ponemah Marina. But he says it’s beginning to catch up with strong sales and great weekend weather.

 For some people, buying a boat is a less expensive option than buying a cottage — even when many boat prices start at $60-$70,000. A boat purchase also qualifies as a second home tax write off, if it meets certain qualifications for sleeping, cooking, etc.

 A law that went into effect on Nov. 15, 2013 also makes trading up in a boat purchase beneficial to boating customers. “You only have to pay sales tax on the difference in price when you’re trading in at a dealership,” said Patti Smith of Silver Spray Sports. “This has been a big help to the boating industry this year. Not only does it encourage the purchase of bigger boats, it also helps add to the inventory of boats to trade to new owners.”

 While the Michigan Boating Association says that 83 percent of the recreational boats sold in this state are powerboats, most boat dealers agree that pontoons continue to be huge sellers for boating fun in the tri-county area’s inland lakes.

 At Lake Ponemah Marina, Avalon pontoons in mid-range prices between $15-$30,000 are the biggest sellers, according to Ceresia, “especially to Millennials who are just getting their feet wet with a budget boat.”

 Freeway Sports Center is enjoying big sales in its high-end Aqua Patio line of pontoons, according to Jim Adams. He says that fishing boats are big this year, too. “Fishermen are like golfers, they’re very passionate about what they do,” he said. “Plus, all the walleye in Saginaw Bay make fishing and boating a big sport all year ‘round.”

 The biggest water sport on the lake is wake surfing, bringing enthusiasts in for high-end boats, which can cost $70,000 and more. “Surf-specific boats have really taken off,” said Silver Spray Sports co-owner Patti Smith. “For us, it’s been huge.”

 With the high price tags come many amenities. “Most people are looking for high-end boats with lots of extras, like Master Craft’s Gen 2 Surf System, tower speakers, underwater lighting and speed control,” said Action Water Sports owner Mary Rising.

 Regular family-oriented sports boats are top sellers at Wilson Marine in Howell and Brighton. “It’s been good to see a return in popularity for this kind of boat,” said Brad Wilson. “They’re very trailable, so you can easily take them around to different lakes.”

 While you can still buy or order boats at just about any marine dealer, the busiest boat season is February, March and April. “If people do their homework in the fall, they order their boat in the winter, to be ready for Memorial Day weekend,” said Smith of Silver Lake Sports.

 For many boat dealers, 2015 models are either in already or will be coming in August.  

 “The basic attitude of boat consumers this year is ‘fun,’” said Nichols of Aqua Sports Marine. “They’re ready to go out and enjoy Michigan in the summer.”

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