The Sights and Sounds of the Miami Boat Show

By Sachin Gupta at February 23, 2011 04:58
Filed Under: Industry Events


Dave Sartwell

Miami, FLA - Thomas Dammrich, President of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), opened the 70th Miami International Boat Show and Strictly Sail with an upbeat forecast for the marine industry.

In his annual speech in which he outlines the state of the recreational boating industry, Dammrich predicted that new boat sales could increase by as much as 15 percent over last year.

It is no secret that the boat manufacturers have had a disastrous three years in which their sales mirrored the worst recession we have experienced since the Depression. Traditional powerboat and engine sales dropped from 12.8 billion dollars in 2006 down to 6.5 billion dollars in 2010. For new boats the drop in just the last year was 4.8 billion, almost 15 percent over the year before. Outboard sales held pretty firm. dropping only one percent.

There has been over the last decade a pretty consistent relationship between new boat sales and the sale of used equipment. From 2001 to 2007 new boat sales represented about 28 percent of total purchases. However, that number dropped drastically during 2008 and 2009. In fact, in 2009 only about 18 percent of all boat purchases were of new boats. During the period between 2006-2009 new boat sales were down a whopping 55 percent.

Ripple effect from the tough economy

This reduction rippled through the whole industry as all of the suppliers had reduced demands for their products as well. Thousands of boat-related businesses either drastically reduced their work force, merged with other companies or went out of business altogether. However, those that managed to muddle through should be the beneficiaries of the new growth in the economy.

"We have experienced six really good quarters and the GDP should continue to grow," said Dammrich. "Research shows us that these things go in cycles where we have a downturn of about 27 months and then a growth period of roughly 60 months. We feel we are at the start of that sixty month growth period."

The migration to preowned boats over the past three years has a bit of a silver lining for the future according to Dammrich. "When people go out now to buy a used boat of a recent vintage they won't be out there because we just didn't make many boats over the past three years. The preowned boats are getting older as a whole."

"This has built up a demand for new boats," he continued. "With the GDP growing at a predicted rate of about three percent for the next year, there should be disposable income ready for our market. Consumer confidence measures have turned up for the last few months and new boat orders and sales reflect that. It should be good for manufacturers because inventories are way down."

With that statement, Dammrich showed a slide that was very revealing. Over the last decade boost sales have almost exactly mirrored the sales of light vehicles (cars and small trucks). They have also mirrored the sales of R.V's and new homes. What it really means, obviously, is that when the economy is good, people buy recreational vehicles. However, these sales lag just behind the upturn. So, as the economy upticks so will boat sales which is why the NMMA was being bullish at the show.

MJM Yachts: Luxury on the water

Mark Lindsay, a Gloucester resident and well-known boat builder, echoed this theme. We were sitting on one of MJM's newest creations, the 40Z, in the marina enjoying the Florida sun.

"We have had a pretty good year in which I think we are even going to make a profit," he chuckled. "But what has us encouraged is that we have sold several boats in the last few months that will keep our facility busy for the foreseeable future. The boats we build are in the million dollar range and represent quite an investment."

Bob Johnston, owner of MJM yachts echoed Mark's optimism. "We sold one 36Z today and have three or four solid prospects from this show alone. There seems to be a building demand that should sustain us." MJM Yachts, located in Boston, has four different models of a yacht design that has hit a niche in the market. Their 29Z, 34Z, 36Z, and 40Z have been well received. The two largest models are luxurious affairs that take boating to a whole new level.

The unique steering and engine system allow the operator to control the boat with a single joy stick. Want to go sideways? Just move the joy stick in that direction. Want to hold the boat in position even when current and wind want to shove you about? The new positioning system uses GPS to hold you right to the spot with the engine and guidance system doing all of the calculations necessary to do so. In the new 40Z the props change direction like on an outboard giving unbelievable maneuverability.

These boats also track well at sea. The flared bow with lots of reserve buoyancy lets the boat ride over the wave without submarining the bow into it. The Doug Zurn designed shape fans the water away from the boat to either side. The combination of this shape plus dual lifting strakes and chine flats keeps the boat dry and makes for a smooth ride even in the roughest conditions.

What does the future hold for boating? Even during the recession people got out onto the water. They did not go as far, they did not spend as much on gas or boating equipment but according to Frank Peterson, President of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, they still enjoyed boating.

"Last year about 35 percent of all adults went out on the water last year. This is the largest number since 1996," he said. Over the last twenty years the total number of boats owned and registered has changed very little. Roughly 16.5 million units have been floating about.

Although the economy does affect how we behave, there seems to be loads of data that suggests we will all be out there again this summer as soon as this wicked winter lets up. Of course it didn't seem too harsh this last week as we sat there soaking up the Florida sun at Miami Beach! The things I have to endure on behalf of the Gloucester Daily Times.


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