Crush of boat buyers seek recreation during pandemic

YARMOUTH, Maine (AP) — Brandon Mitchell had big plans to visit family in Michigan and take his wife and three kids to Disney World. The pandemic put those plans on ice.

So they bought a boat instead.

“We’re going to take the sea. There’s so much to explore,” the ebullient skipper 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 people like Mitchell — who plans to spend the remainder of the summer island-hopping along the Maine coast — are looking to the water amid the coronavirus pandemic. And that’s good news for the boat industry.

From Maine to California, boat dealers are reporting unprecedented sales that began in the spring in warm-weather states before picking up steam in other parts of the country, like Maine and Minnesota. Marinas and boat repair shops are swamped by the wave of interest. There also are waiting lists for slips for boats.

A recent survey showed more than 70% of boat dealers were either completely out of boats or had low inventory, said Matt Gruhn of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.

The trend stands to reason: People are looking for something to do and a safe place to go, at a time when the pandemic has raised safety concerns and limited recreational opportunities. Oceans, lakes and ponds are good places for people to socially distance while having fun at the same time.

Boats come in all sizes, shapes — and prices. A new aluminum fishing boat with outboard engine might cost $10,500, while a 44-foot cruiser could cost up to $900,000.

But with all the new boaters taking the high seas, there are safety concerns that don’t directly stem from the coronavirus.

The U.S. Coast Guard recommends safety courses for new boaters, but hands-on instruction has been hard to find this summer because of the pandemic. Some boaters have discovered online safety courses.

“We want people to be out on the water enjoying themselves, but everyone has to take into account safety,” said Chris Edmonston, president of BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water in Annapolis, Maryland.

Sailing or motoring around on the water represents a nice consolation prize for people who canceled vacations or missed summer camps, athletic programs or the myriad of other canceled events. Boating allows families to get away from shore, remove masks, and enjoy themselves.


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