A growing number of people are looking to the water to socially distance amid the coronavirus pandemic. That’s good news for the boat industry, which has seen a dramatic increase in sales. (Aug. 11)

AP Domestic

LOS ANGELES – Jean d’Assonville finally found the boat of his dreams, not an easy accomplishment in the middle of a pandemic.

He bought a 50-foot sailboat, one he hopes to eventually sail around the world, and sold his 28-footer at a time when a red-hot market for just about everything that floats is making purchasers’ pickings far slimmer than usual.

“With the whole pandemic and lots of sales going on, I feel very lucky,” said d’Assonville, of Altadena, California. “Everyone is buying boats.”

Everyone, indeed. Families have shunned airlines, hotels, cruises and other crowded vacation options this summer. Instead, they have opted for more personal transportation choices that make it easier to fend off the coronavirus, whether it is recreational vehicles, bicycles or in this case, boats. 

Total new boat sales – from personal watercraft to yachts – in May were the highest in a decade, and June was strong as well, reports the National Marine Manufacturers Association,based on the latest sales figures available.

When it comes to new power boats alone, the 115,000 sold in May and June combined represented a 30% increase over the same two months last year.

Boat slips are in demand. Boating destinations, such as Catalina Island off the Southern California coast, saw higher demand for moorings in July than the same month a year ago. And the market for used boats has been so tight that yacht brokers are left scraping for new listings.

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And oh, are they busy.

“It’s insane, actually,” said Jack Silver, a salesman for Marina del Rey Yacht Sales situated in a harbor that’s home to thousands of boats on Los Angeles County’s west side.

He says the firm has been selling about 11 boats a month, up from the usual two or three, since the pandemic took hold. The number of used boats is so limited that some are being bought sight unseen, he said.

Perhaps best of all for the industry, the pandemic is bringing a lot of new buyers out of the woodwork. Some are landlubbers who used to own a boat who now yearn to own one again, said Mike Pretasky Jr., CEO of boat dealer SkipperBud’s and Silver Sea Yachts. They’re buying everything in sight, whether it’s fishing boats, pontoon boats, water skiing boats or something else.

About half of recent boat buyers are first-timers, said Paul Flannery, executive director of the International Yacht Brokers Association, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They’re being lured by the chance to get out of the house and on the water in a socially distanced manner.

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“We have seen unprecedented growth. The industry is absolutely on fire,” he said.

But some newbies are having a hard time adjusting to the nautical life.

David Anthony,an attorney in Nashville, Tennessee, dreamed of owning a boat for years. So when his wife’s sister’s fiance was ready to sell his 20-foot ski boat, Anthony said he snapped it up.

“I always wanted a boat,” he explained. ” I put it on a pedestal. It’s a COVID-safe, outdoor activity.”

With his new boat ready to pick up on a trailer, Anthony encountered his first problem: He deemed his Nissan Leaf electric compact car not beefy enough to tow it. So he traded it for a four-wheel-drive pickup. 

Then there was the matter of backing the trailer into his driveway. He said he spent 90 minutes trying to get it to fit. After that exercise, Anthony decided maybe keeping it in the water would be wiser. He said his wife called a long list of marinas, finding most slips were taken, but finally managed to snag one on Percy Priest Lake.

He’s had the boat out a couple of times but still isn’t totally comfortable being a skipper. “Every time I drive to the lake, I have a knot in my stomach” fearing something will go wrong, he said. Maybe the engine won’t crank or something will have broken. Nothing has, but he still frets.

So far, it mostly been smooth sailing, but not enough to be convinced the seafaring life is for him. Between the boat slip hassles and having to buy the truck, “I absolutely regret purchasing it,” he said, recognizing he’d feel just as bad if he hadn’t.

As for d’Assonville, an aircraft company executive, no regrets.

He considered his boat to be a bargain and it will become his floating home when he retires in a few years, a ticket to adventure. “My lady and I want to go sailing for the rest of time,” he said.

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