American Brandon Mitchell had big plans for this summer. He planned to travel from his home in Maine to visit relatives in Michigan. He also wanted to take his wife and three children to Walt Disney World in Florida. But the coronavirus pandemic changed those plans.
So, he and the family bought a boat instead.
“We’re going to take [to] the sea. There’s so much to explore,” Mitchell said. “It’ll get us the recreation and the escape that we’re not going to be able to get anywhere else.”
A growing number of Americans like Mitchell are looking to the water during the coronavirus pandemic. And that is good news for the boat industry.
From Maine to California, boat dealers are reporting a record number of sales. Boat sales began rising in the spring in warm-weather states before expanding to other parts of the country, like Maine and Minnesota. Ports and boat repair shops are flooded by the wave of interest. There also are waiting lists for slips, places to keep boats at ports.
Carter Mitchell scampers aboard his family's new boat, Friday, July 24, 2020, in Yarmouth, Maine. Across the country boat dealers are reporting more sales as people cannot travel during the pandemic.
Matt Gruhn is with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, an industry group. He told The Associated Press that a recent study showed more than 70% of boat dealers were either completely out of boats or had very few left.
The reason is simple: People are looking for something to do and a safe place to go at a time when COVID-19 has raised safety concerns. Oceans and lakes are good places for people to socially distance while having fun at the same time.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Rob Soucy from Port Harbor Marine, a business which describes itself as Maine’s biggest boat dealer. “Since the end of April, we’ve seen boat sales at historic levels.”
At one point, requests for boats from his company were up 300 to 400 percent. Soucy said he expects to sell about 1,000 boats this year. That is about 200 more boats than usual.
“It’s like wildfire. People are searching for ways to get on the water,” said Tracy Coughlin from the Yarmouth Boat Yard, also in Maine.
Coughlin said sales are up 65% at Yarmouth Boat Yard and a sister company, Moose Landing Marina in Naples, Maine. She added that the single biggest month for sales growth has been June, when sales increased 85 percent.
Boats come in all sizes, shapes, and prices. A new aluminum fishing boat with an outboard engine might cost $10,500, while a 13-meter long cruiser could cost up to $900,000.
But with vacation travel canceled and other activities on hold, many people are ready to escape on the water.
Chris DiMillo is president and founder of DiMillo’s Yacht Sales in Portland, Maine. He told The Associated Press, “Our inventory in the market in general is as thin as I’ve seen. We’re getting calls from people who said they’d never buy a boat. And now they’re buying boats.”
In Southern California, sales are up 40 to 50 percent at Marina del Rey Yacht Sales, near Los Angeles, and the Long Beach Yacht Center, said owner Steve Curran.
“I’ve been in the business for 50 years, so I’ve seen lots of ups and downs. I certainly was not expecting this,” he said.
But with all the new boaters, there are safety concerns that do not directly come from the coronavirus.
The United States Coast Guard advises safety classes for new boaters. But in-person training has been hard to find this summer because of the pandemic. Some boaters have discovered safety classes online.
Chris Edmonston is president of the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water in Annapolis, Maryland. He said, “We want people to be out on the water enjoying themselves, but everyone has to take into account safety.”
Boating is a nice activity for those who had to cancel other activities, such as missed summer camps, sports programs or other events. Boating gives families a chance to get away from land, remove face masks and enjoy themselves.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
cruiser – n. a boat that has room to live on and that is used for pleasure
inventory – n. a supply of goods that are stored in a place
masks – n. coverings used to protect your face or cover your mouth
outboard – adj. located on or toward the outside of a vehicle such as an airplane or ship
pandemic – n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world
recreation – n. something people do to relax or have fun : activities done for enjoyment