Lake Murray boat dealers riding wave of better sales

It’s smoother sailing these days for boat dealers around Lake Murray.

Many of the new vessels are fancy and fast.

Sales are rebounding after a recession-induced decline that closed some operations and still leaves lean inventories in its wake, dealers said.

“What we went through changed our business considerably,” said Mark Murff, general manager of Hall Marine in Irmo. “But we’ve had a strong comeback, almost back to where we once were.”

Boating is popular in the four counties – Lexington, Newberry, Richland and Saluda – surrounding the 47,500-acre lake. There are 56,374 boats in that area today, compared to 48,160 in 2009, state natural resources officials say. That’s a 17 percent increase.

Sale promotions have been underway since late winter as prime boating season approaches. It launches this Memorial Day weekend and lasts through Labor Day in early September.

Buying a boat is much like settling on a car, with a wide array of accessories and choices that quickly can elevate the price above $100,000.

So what’s new?

Boat makers are producing watercraft built with longer-lasting materials. They run more quietly and burn less fuel, and a single boat can be used for many purposes: for cruising, fishing and skiing.

Angie Curnias is seeing a wave of watercraft with upscale features such as plusher fabrics and digital music systems dock at the Lake Murray Marina and Yacht Club in Ballentine, which she manages.

“It’s a luxury,” she said. “It depends on how much you’ve got to play with.”

Just about every luxury that’s available in a car is available in a boat nowadays.

And dealers are promoting the sport as fun for all ages. “All our boats are very family-oriented,” Murff said.

The pontoon – a staple around the 650-mile lakefront – may be on its way to oblivion with the popularity of tritoons.

Tritoons feature three instead of two floats underneath. Dealers say they are well-balanced and better able to carry large groups without sacrificing speed and energy efficiency.

Newer boats also are able to produce the wake needed for watersurfing, dealers say. That’s when surfers ride the wake of the boat on a board, without being towed by a rope – in fact, not holding on to anything because the water holds them up.

Boating’s popularity has safety groups pressing for a requirement that watercraft operators undergo eight hours of training before being allowed to go on the water. Currently, eight hours are required only for those under 16 who want to boat alone.

“The lack of education on the right things to do makes being out there more hazardous,” said Braxton Sorg of Chapin, commander of the lake chapter of the U.S. Power Squadron.

State natural resources officials who police waterways are starting to take another look at the mandatory training, sunk before by protests that it would be burdensome.

Law enforcement officers again will be out in force on the lake this summer, particularly on busy weekends and holidays.

“We’ll be focused on making sure everyone has the right equipment and obeys the rules,” DNR spokesman Capt. Robert McCullough said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

By the numbers

Boats registered in the four counties around Lake Murray as of Dec. 31, state natural resources officials say:

Lexington: 31,221

Newberry: 5,371

Richland: 16,866

Saluda: 2,916

Trick my boat

So what’s new at the dealer’s?

More tritoons, which have not two but three floats underneath

Fancier dashboards and upholstering

High-end electronics

More boats built for speed

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