Just when it looked safe to get that boat back in the water, skyrocketing fuel prices may again take a bite out of summer plans to turn landlubbers into mariners.
After a four-year slump in the recreational boating industry, with record numbers of liquidations and bank repossessions, everyone – marina owners, boat builders, marine insurers – had been predicting that this summer would be a winner. Until recently.
“It was looking really good . . . and then it all just stopped,” said Roseanne Ciano, a senior account manager at the Boat Safe Insurance Agency in Brick Township, N.J., which specializes in watercraft protection.
The spike in gasoline prices due to unrest in the Middle East has vacation industry watchers wondering about the effect on the summer season at the Jersey Shore.
Some say travelers will opt for vacations close to home and mob the Shore; others predict that even if they come, they might not spend much money.
New Jersey’s marine industry employs about 18,000 people, and sales of boats generated about $225 million in the state in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available – a 24 percent decline from the previous year, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. About 130 marinas operate in Atlantic, Cape May, and Ocean Counties.
Early this year, while heavy snows were still blanketing the country, boat owners and would-be buyers were busy: Orders for vessels at boat shows from Boston to Miami were up 20 percent to 30 percent over last year, marina owners up and down the Jersey Shore were being shaken out of their winter hibernations early to book slips for eager boaters, and phones were ringing off the hook at insurance offices with boaters wanting to renew or start policies.
But as gas has inched toward $4 a gallon, the calls have slowed, Ciano and others said.
“People were feeling a little sick and tired of not putting their boat in the water for a few years and had decided to economize in other ways and were going to go for it,” Ciano said. “Now they seem to be putting on the brakes again.”
Todd Scarborough, a principal owner in Harbour Cove Marina in Somers Point, N.J. – one of the largest boat storage and launching facilities in the state – said bookings for his property’s 410 slips were up about 10 percent from a year ago.
That motivated him to join a neighboring boat brokerage, Jersey Marine, and offer a soup-to-nuts approach, from purchase to docking, in one facility this season, Scarborough said.