Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Good times and bad, demand remains for service

2007 called awful year for boat market: Seen a bunch of headlines like this one lately?

As the spring progresses, it seems like I see increasing predictions that the marine industry is just barely afloat. Sales are down, numbers are down, traffic is down (except for the press releases that declare just the opposite.) But how sensitive is the marine assistance industry to the whims of the overall boat market?

I'm not convinced that our industry is at the mercy of new boat sales. New boaters often enter the world of recreational boating with a purchase of a used boat; sort of as a way to test the waters and see if they line it. What this means is that a majority of new boat sales are made to buyers who are already boaters- they are just getting a different boat.

If I'm correct, then new boat sales aren't really a direct indication that more people are entering the boat market, and therefore a drop in new boat sales doesn't necessarily mean less boating activity. It only means that there are fewer new boats out on the water, which is a good thing if you are primarily in the hourly towing business (verses the annual membership business).

What drives the need for assistance? Inexperienced boaters and poorly maintained boats. As the economy gets a little tight, a boater may decide to defer some maintenance, or take a shorter trip, but if he could afford to go boating two years ago, I don't see that the overall situation has made it unlikely that he can't go boating today.

A little less money on maintenance should result in more breakdowns, which keeps the towboats busy. While this may put some additional pressure on franchise membership towers like SeaTow, more boats breaking down should also help convince more boaters to join or renew their memberships, which is to the benefit of the entire industry.

I spoke to a few towers this past week, and everyone seems to holding their breath waiting to see if the dire predictions are true. But so far, most towers report that "our case load is right in line with the past few years."

The demand for assistance remains, even as the new boat markets suffer.