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Yes, there are buyers out there

A swing through some winter boat shows gives a glimpse of what today’s boating consumer wants

There’s no doubt there are fewer boat buyers out there, but contracts nonetheless were being signed at several boats shows we attended this winter.

Attendance at the annual Charleston (S.C.) Boat Show was better than expected at the Jan. 23-25 event, with exhibitors reporting sales similar to last year’s show.

Marketing efforts appeared to also be paying off for the Dallas International Boat Show, which enjoyed a 7-percent increase in attendance during the show’s opening weekend of Jan. 30 - Feb. 1.

So who is out there buying boats in this economy? The answer, it seems, is consumers whose jobs are stable and have good credit. Some are downsizing, others are looking for a boat better suited to their lifestyle, but in all cases these buyers have chosen to make boating a priority in their lives.

What follows is a snapshot of your neighbors who are buying boats right now, and what they’re buying.

Outer Reef 63

Bob and Linda Coleman were looking for a boat they can retire on — something that would accommodate their large extended family, including 10 grandchildren. The Colemans, first-time boaters from Kingsville, Md., bought an Outer Reef 63 in January at PassageMaker magazine’s Trawler Fest in Stuart, Fla.

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“The timing was perfect with the economy,” says Bob Coleman, 56, owner of a successful landscaping company. “My wife always wanted waterfront property,” says Coleman. “Now we can have it all the time.”

Coleman says they first saw the Outer Reef 63 last fall at the U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis, Md., and spoke with Fred Azar, one of the principals with American Global Yacht Group, a dealer with several U.S. locations, including two in Maryland. As first-time buyers, Coleman says they took a cautious approach.

“We weren’t going to write a check for the first boat we saw. We wanted to do research,” he says.

Coleman says they looked at hundreds of boats online, and when AGYG sales associate Noelle Semmes suggested they go to other shows, the company gave them three-day passes to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. “We looked at the Outer Reef again, but we also looked at lots of other boats,” says Coleman. “There was no sales pressure.”

At 6 feet, 4 inches tall, Coleman says he liked the fact that the Outer Reef has standup headroom in the engine room, which houses twin 503-hp Caterpillars. And he says the topside layout is such that he won’t have to worry about the safety of his grandchildren. “It was as if the boat was built for children,” says Coleman.

At Trawler Fest, they drew up a contract and put a down payment on the boat. The price was $2 million, but Coleman says they were able to negotiate a “significant” discount. They put about 10 percent down. “It was a great deal. It came fully loaded, [including] electronics,” he says. “It has its own watermaker, granite countertops, two stainless-steel anchors, and the deal included all the interior décor, bed sheets and pillows. It’s ready to go.”

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Coleman says they had made the decision to stay within their budget and not finance the boat. “I would think the hardest thing in today’s economy would be getting loans,” he says. “That’s why we avoided the whole thing.”

The Colemans are taking boating classes through the U.S. Power Squadrons and look forward to taking the boat south, with an eye eventually toward cruising to Central America after Coleman retires. He also plans to work on obtaining his captain’s license. “We just can’t wait,” he says. “I can’t say enough about AGYG. They were a pleasure doing business with.”

Nordic Tug 32

Doug and Lynne Stebbins of Port Washington, N.Y., bought a new Nordic Tug 32 late last year from Wilde Yacht Sales in Essex, Conn., after trading in the 25-foot Chaparral they had owned for a year.

“The Chaparral had a 380-hp MerCruiser I/O that really went pretty fast,” says Doug Stebbins, 58. “Neither Lynne nor my son, Gregory, who is 12, felt comfortable at the helm when the boat was planing at higher speeds.”

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The couple became interested in the Nordic Tugs line last fall and contacted Ben Wilde to make an appointment. “We both come from an avid sailing background, and we wanted something slow and steady,” says Lynne, 55.

The gas engine on the Chaparral typically burned about 12 to 13 gallons an hour. The Nordic Tug’s 280-hp Volvo Penta diesel gives the boat a range of 700 miles with its 205-gallon fuel capacity, according to Lynne.

Why did they choose to buy a boat now, in the midst of a recession? In part because they feel comfortable with their jobs and financial situation. Doug is a trial lawyer, and Lynne is an insurance brokerage lawyer in New York. They also said they got an offer they couldn’t refuse: three years of free fuel, dockage, storage and maintenance.

“It was something we couldn’t pass up,” says Lynne. “They also offered two weeks of training on the boat with the purchase. … If we had gotten more training with the Chaparral we would’ve realized it wasn’t the boat for us.”

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List price for the Nordic Tug 32 was $399,000, according to Lynne.

The dealer stepped up and played a key role in the sale, arranging for a sea trial in early December, when the Connecticut River was littered with ice. Doug says Wilde was very knowledgeable and managed to get the boat in the water with assistance of Brewer Dauntless Shipyard, also in Essex. The couple bought the boat that very day.

“Doug and I have very good credit, so it was easy for us to get a loan,” says Lynne. “We’ve been married for 30 years, and we’ve always had a stable income.”

Lynne says they were able to negotiate a 20-year loan at an interest rate of 6.87 percent, with a negotiable down payment. The couple declined to say what they paid upfront.

“The bottom line is if we personally thought we were in real trouble [financially], there’s no way we would’ve done this,” says Lynne.

This article originally appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Home Waters Section of the May 2009 issue.

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