Wave of Demand Makes it Harder to Rock a Boat

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Setting sail on a new boat of your own may prove tricky this summer, as pent-up demand for vessels this vacation season has left many mariners up the creek without a paddle.

Since a wave of consumer demand and sinking supply levels have made purchasing new watercraft difficult for the boating public, the increased interest has spilled over into the motor boat rental and charter industry as well.

“Our boating club is already half sold out,” said Joe Ialacci, CEO of Sag Harbor-based Yacht Hampton, a luxury boat rental company that has more than 30 multimillion-dollar yachts available for private chartered excursions. “We are seeing the perfect storm in our business: Increase in demand, less availability of boats for purchase due to manufacturing and shipping delays, and decreased availability of slips for dockage.”

As Dan’s Papers has reported, demand has spiked and supply is short on the East End and beyond for everything from cars to housing—both in the rental market and for people looking to buy. The trend comes as tourism season returns to Long Island and New York State is largely lifting restrictions that had been imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Inventory levels of new boats are the leanest they’ve ever been, and boats are being sold as soon as they hit the marketplace as manufacturers work to fulfill the backlog of orders,” said Vicky Yu, senior director of business intelligence for National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). “Boat builders continue facing supply side constraints, and the challenge ahead will be keeping leads evergreen as inventories get replenished and life returns to normal.”

Sales of boats and related products were up 9% last year over 2019, hitting a 13-year national high of $47 billion, and the number of first-time boat buyers was also up 10%—the first increase in a decade, according to the NMMA.

Citing that influx of rookie boaters, local officials recently reminded the public that Brianna’s Law went into effect on January 1, requiring all operators of motorized watercraft to complete a state-approved boating safety course by the year 2025. Under this law, new age groups are gradually added to those required to carry a boater card. 

“What would otherwise be a minor emergency or inconvenience on land, can turn into a dire situation on the water if you’re not prepared,” said Acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stu Cameron. “Take that safety course even if it’s not required. You’ll definitely learn something and it will help you be more safe.”

Others looking to enjoy a day on the water are sticking with charters to avoid rookie mistakes by having a licensed captain do all the navigating for them. And it’s not just the yacht set that’s seeing an increase. So too are the fishing charter boats.

A new study from FishingBooker finds that the charter fishing industry in Montauk saw its bookings grow by 138%, making it the seventh-fastest-growing spot in the nation and No. 1 in the state.

“I knew that we’re in a resilient industry, but when the lockdowns started, we weren’t sure how it was all going to pan out for our captains and us,” says Vukan Simic, CEO of FishingBooker. “As it turns out, fishing is pretty pandemic-proof: it’s easy to social distance on a boat, you’re out in the open, and hygiene standards are already really high. As a result, we had our best business year ever, and so did a majority of the captains we work with.”

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