Pandemic-era boat-sales boom has Southern Californians eager for summer on the water

Pandemic-era boat-sales boom has Southern Californians eager for summer on the water

By Marianne Love | Correspondent

The now-easing pandemic, which will see many state and local restrictions lifted on Tuesday, June 15, proved devastating to many businesses. Ironically, however, boat sales sailed to record levels during the crisis.

Sales of new power boats hit a 13-year record during the pandemic, and Americans are now eager to bolt from their homes this summer and enjoy extended time on the water.

In Southern California, the push leaves boat dealer inventory levels at an all-time low, officials said this month.

Boating manufacturers, like many other retailers, were concerned in March 2020 about the financial impacts the killer virus would have on their industry.

But by the end of April 2020, boat sales started to increase significantly and boat manufacturers started to breathe easier. As it turns out, time on on the water was the ultimate in socially distancing for those who could afford it.

New boat sales, through March 2021, were up 30 percent compared to the 2020 average – and dealers are selling new boats as fast as they receive them at the start of peak boating season, according to the “New Powerboat Registrations Report” released by the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Data shows total new boat sales are averaging 31,000 units sold monthly since the summer of 2020, on a seasonally adjusted basis, well above normal levels and indicative of the heightened demand for new boats, according to the report.

“Folks (have) found their renewed love and joy for the great outdoors and outdoor recreation and in particular, boating,” said the association’s Vice President John-Michael Donahue. “(Last year) we saw a 13-year high in sales in the industry and that was essentially across all segments with a particular emphasis on the entry-level products telling us we are seeing a lot of new people come to the lifestyle for the first time. And now that we are well into 2021 and more folks are vaccinated, we are starting to return to the normal … we are still seeing this incredible demand for boating. So that tells us the pandemic certainly was a catalyst at that point in time, but even now when folks are having more options to recreate and relax with their family and friends and loved ones, they are still choosing boating.”

Entry-level boats — including personal watercraft, jet boats and fishing boats — saw the biggest spikes in sales, rising 8%.

“The increase was across the board throughout the United States, no specific region, state or area that really stuck out too much more than the others,” Donahue added, saying the increase represented individuals and boat clubs seeing record increase in memberships and therefore are buying more products.

Tim Jones, owner of The Boat House of Anaheim, said he has seen record sales for more than a year, primarily in trailer-friendly fishing and family runabout boats. The supply, meanwhile, has not kept up with the demand.

Manufacturers are telling him the 2022-year models, which should arrive July 1 next year,  are already sold out. Jones has been told to start pre-selling 2023 models.

The new-boat inventory shortage has been spurred by a combination of factors, including a shortage of raw materials, employee teams reduced by the COVID-19 outbreak, production shutdowns, shortage of shipping containers and the ability to get boats off-loaded, distributed to the suppliers and delivered to their end users amid record shipping levels worldwide.

“It’s mind-boggling how all this has taken place,” said Jones, who has been in the boating business for 35 years. “I have never experienced what I have experienced in the last 14 months.”

Because new models are hard to come by, used boat sales are off the charts and that inventory is also scarce.

“There are those who have boats and don’t want to sell them and there are others who want to take advantage of the market, kind of like the house market being as high as it is,” Jones said. “Now is the time to sell but they don’t think of the fact that they might not be able to replace that boat which I have had those scenarios happen already.”

If you don’t have the cash to shell out for a boat, or find maneuvering through the wake of decisions attached to the purchase, storage and maintenance of a boat daunting or out of reach, have no fear because members-only boat clubs could be a viable option.

For example, GetMyBoat is an AirBnB-style way for folks to rent boats. Like similar resort services, would-be boaters plug in a destination and cruise through current listings of available watercraft.

  • Over the past year, consumers turned to new activities to social distance and boating was one of the industries seeing a surge, which seems to be continuing heading into the summer. In Los Angeles, boat dealer inventory levels are at an all-time low, but a local franchise with locations in Redondo and Huntington beaches, San Pedro and Ventura called Freedom Boat Club is providing an alternative to get local boaters on the water. Club members pay a one-time entry fee and monthly dues and in return they have full access to a fleet of boats just by making a reservation. Andrew Hard is the President of Freedom Boat Club. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

  • Over the past year, consumers turned to new activities to social distance and boating was one of the industries seeing a surge, which seems to be continuing heading into the summer. In Los Angeles, boat dealer inventory levels are at an all-time low, but a local franchise with locations in Redondo and Huntington beaches, San Pedro and Ventura called Freedom Boat Club is providing an alternative to get local boaters on the water. Club members pay a one-time entry fee and monthly dues and in return they have full access to a fleet of boats just by making a reservation. Andrew Hard is the President of Freedom Boat Club. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

  • Over the past year, consumers turned to new activities to social distance and boating was one of the industries seeing a surge, which seems to be continuing heading into the summer. In Los Angeles, boat dealer inventory levels are at an all-time low, but a local franchise with locations in Redondo and Huntington beaches, San Pedro and Ventura called Freedom Boat Club is providing an alternative to get local boaters on the water. Club members pay a one-time entry fee and monthly dues and in return they have full access to a fleet of boats just by making a reservation. Andrew Hard is the President of Freedom Boat Club. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

  • Over the past year, consumers turned to new activities to social distance and boating was one of the industries seeing a surge, which seems to be continuing heading into the summer. In Los Angeles, boat dealer inventory levels are at an all-time low, but a local franchise with locations in Redondo and Huntington beaches, San Pedro and Ventura called Freedom Boat Club is providing an alternative to get local boaters on the water. Club members pay a one-time entry fee and monthly dues and in return they have full access to a fleet of boats just by making a reservation. Andrew Hard is the President of Freedom Boat Club. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

  • Over the past year, consumers turned to new activities to social distance and boating was one of the industries seeing a surge, which seems to be continuing heading into the summer. In Los Angeles, boat dealer inventory levels are at an all-time low, but a local franchise with locations in Redondo and Huntington beaches, San Pedro and Ventura called Freedom Boat Club is providing an alternative to get local boaters on the water. Club members pay a one-time entry fee and monthly dues and in return they have full access to a fleet of boats just by making a reservation. Andrew Hard is the President of Freedom Boat Club. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

  • Over the past year, consumers turned to new activities to social distance and boating was one of the industries seeing a surge, which seems to be continuing heading into the summer. In Los Angeles, boat dealer inventory levels are at an all-time low, but a local franchise with locations in Redondo and Huntington beaches, San Pedro and Ventura called Freedom Boat Club is providing an alternative to get local boaters on the water. Club members pay a one-time entry fee and monthly dues and in return they have full access to a fleet of boats just by making a reservation. Andrew Hard is the President of Freedom Boat Club. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

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And Freedom Boat Club, a Southern-California-based members-only boat club in the United States, Europe and Canada and considered the largest marine franchisor in the U.S., is as close as Redondo Beach, San Pedro, Huntington Beach and soon-to-be Marina del Rey.

Club members pay a one-time entry fee ranging from $4,000 to $8,500 to join. Monthly dues are anywhere between $400 to $800. In return, members have full access to a fleet of boats just by making a reservation, showing up, having fun and heading home without lifting a finger.

“Our clubs and many other clubs across the country doubled in size last year,” said Andrew Hard, president of the Southern California franchise. “This has been a boom for the marine industry as a whole. People are looking for ways to get out on the water and enjoy nature and the simple things in life and this has been a great option for them.”

Center console boats are the most popular choice because they are the most versatile. Club members are paired with a qualified captain and shown the ropes and taught how to drive and park the boat and safety rules of the waters.

“Whether they are brand new to boating, or they are an admiral in the navy, everyone is going to get our captain’s training course,” Hard said.

Memberships range from a one-time fee between $4,000 and $8,500. Monthly dues run anywhere from $400 to $800.

Wisconsin transplant Nathan Liszewski joined Freedom Boat Club in 2019.

The 43-year-old, now living in Redondo Beach, is an avid fisherman, but didn’t know anyone who would take him on their boat to cast his line.

When he first started to reserve boats as a club member, he was on the water once or twice a month. But during the pandemic he’d be out there at least twice on the weekends and  sometimes seven out of 10 days.

“Me and my girlfriend are all about the ocean,” Liszewski said. “It was so freeing and amazing. You are out there in a life, experiencing things where there is no pandemic, where you are with the dolphins, the whales, catching fish and the pandemic isn’t even happening at that moment. We were just enjoying the outdoors.”

He added that boating has become a hobby that will probably never wear off.

“There are so many beautiful things in California that people never experience because they don’t have a boat,” Liszewski added. “It’s a whole new word. We go to Catalina (Island) for lunch or just an afternoon hike.”

 

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