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2011 Boating Season Is Smooth Sailing

Even through tough times, the summer boating industry has stayed steadily afloat.

Despite the slow economic recovery, the East End’s floating assets seem to be doing what they do best this summer, with sails—and sales—flying high.

“Everyone always wants that escape from craziness, and quality family time on the water is a great way to do that without having to travel far from home,” said Tony Villareale, founder and president of .

For Villareale, who maintains marinas in Hampton Bays and Westhampton Beach, it's as busy a boating season as ever, with sales and service showing steady improvement from last season.

A walk around the busy Shinnecock Canal boatyard reveals few vacant slips and vessels from modest dinghies to a duo of 60-plus-foot Azimuts, belonging both to regulars and passing mariners lunching on lobster rolls at the popular Canal Café restaurant.

In the showroom, Villareale reported sales of smaller craft, mainly outboard-engine fishing boats, were moving most swiftly while the larger 30-50’ cruiser segment has stayed sluggish. He also noted a substantial spike in second-hand boat sales.

Jay Strong, the sales manager at fourth-generation family-owned , attributes that increase to limited inventories and long lead times currently anchoring the new boat market: manufacturers have peeling back production to buck the ripples of recession.

“Over the past 18 to 20 months, we’ve seen used boat prices actually rise,” Strong said.

Among the East End’s biggest boat dealerships, Strong’s multi-location empire has seen steady increases over the three summers since the 2008 meltdown. The service side of the business stayed strong throughout. By the end of 2010, sales had returned to pre-recession levels.  By last fall, even the “trading up” trend was back.

“The market is healthy, maybe even a little too healthy,” he said.  “I haven’t had a 29’ Cobalt bowrider in six months, and it’s not that I can’t sell them — I have two truckloads coming in this week that are leaving the factory sold.  I’ll have delivered eight 2012s that way by the end of the month.”

At the fuel dock, where the price per gallon has always averaged higher than roadside, dockhands are pumping no less 93 octane marine gas than usual despite hefty fill-ups.

“We don’t sell nearly the amount of fuel the guy on the street does and it’s very costly to stay in compliance with all the equipment, so that all factors in,” Villareale explained. “But I really don’t see the cost of gas as a detriment to our typical customer.”

Strong added that boats purchased meeting modern emissions standards also tremendously trump the fuel economy of those purchased even just a decade ago, sometimes upwards of 50 percent.

“If you’ve invested $100,000 in a boat, plus dockage, are you really going to say ‘I’m not going to use it because gas went up another dollar?’ Of course not,” Strong said. “But it makes good cocktail conversation for people to complain about it.”

Gail Murcott August 23, 2011 at 05:03 AM
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