One of the latest trends in local boating is more boaters are choosing bigger boats, but they continue to have a hard time finding a place to keep them.
According to Jonathan Crews, general manager of Bradley Creek Marina, both new boaters and seasoned boaters are trending towards boats that are bigger than 30 feet.
“A lot of people want a larger center console. Over 30 feet. Even those who have been boating for a while have traded for even larger center consoles,” Crews said. “They are easier to maintain than larger cruise type boats and faster with three or four outboards.”
Tom Harris of Atlantic Marine has had a similar experience with his customers looking for larger boats with cabin, dual console and center consoles being his biggest-selling models. The dual console provides Harris with the biggest percentage of sales.
“[Customers] like the Bimini top for sun protection. Everybody is concerned about too much sun exposure,” Harris said. “And there’s a nice seating area up front at the helm and at the back of the boat, so it provides a nice social atmosphere.”
Doing Coastal Things
Harris says boaters are just looking to have more fun with the family.
“A family type situation is important to them. Being out on the water, getting a break from work and enjoying family time,” Harris said.
New customers have been on the rise, according to both Crews and Harris.
“Thirty percent of purchases come from those who are new in the area,” Harris said. “They’ve never had a boat before. They love the freedom of having a boat . . . and our area with Masonboro Island is conducive to that.”
Being able to boat, fish and explore the coast is what attracts people to the area, according to Carson Baker, owner of the soon-to-open Battleship Cycles and Marine in Porters Neck.
“People move to the coast to do coastal things,” Baker said.
As a result, Baker said the boat business continues to grow in the area and hopes his inventory of Cobia, Pathfinder, Godfrey Pontoon boats and Hurricane Deck Boats will support that trend.
Pontoon boats, once a freshwater staple, have made their way into the saltwater market, as well as deck boats, which have really gained footing, according to Baker.
“Hurricane Deck Boats are affordable, easy to manage, to drive and to trailer, so one person can manage it and can get into a lot of places bigger boats can’t, so you can go to eat at restaurants on the water, go to the islands and anchor it real easy,” Baker said. “It’s a good all-around boat for inshore.”
Deck boats are also attractive to the first-time boater.
“It is a great boat to learn the ways of the water,” Porter said.
Safety and Storage
Making sure boaters learn how to run a boat properly is a whole other aspect to boat ownership that dealers and marinas take seriously.
“Everybody had to learn, it is a learning process and we tell our customers not to be afraid of it. Our goal is that when you leave our docks, you are comfortable,” Harris said. “We have employees that their whole job is to teach customers to run boats, know the markers and anchor the boat.”
Atlantic Marine makes it a point to ensure the safety and comfort of their customers, according to Harris.
“Customers can always call us and we will go out with them. Our biggest goal is to make customers happy. We are a full service dealership,” Harris said.
Buying and running a boat is one concern, but storing it is another issue. Water access is limited in the area and boat slips are at a premium.
As far as getting water access, Crews said it’s “impossible.”
“I have been here 20 years,” he said, “and this is the most full we have ever been. Our dry storage capacity is full.”
Although many of Harris’s customers live on the water with private boat slips, he admits finding water access has become a challenge.
“We work real hard to help our customers find a spot. It has become more and more difficult, and we try our best to find somewhere to put the boat,” Harris said. “There is a waitlist of 125 people of our dry storage.”
Baker would like the city of Wilmington to make boat storage more of a priority.
“There’s no place to park boats. It is the biggest problem we face in this area. Marinas are full,” Baker said. “I’d like the city to get more involved, perhaps with a marina of their own. Maybe they can get with developers and work something out.”
With Wilmington continuing to grow, those in the boating business see no signs of its popularity slowing down.
“The way the economy is going right now, people have more money and are spending more money,” Crews said. “There is a waitlist for every size in dry storage and wet storage slips are picked up as well.”
With questions about the state of the economy circling, those in the local boat businesses do not seem concerned.
“Even if recreational purchases start to trend downwards, I don’t think Wilmington will be hit as hard. The boating industry continues to trend upwards,” Baker said.