Since the economy sank into a recession five years ago, the boat business has been treading water.
National and Florida sales continue to drop. But in Southwest Florida, area boat dealers say the tide appears to be slowly turning.
"I'm encouraged," said Tom Hansen, owner of The Boat House of Cape Coral. His sales manager estimates sales are running 5 to 7 percent ahead of last year.
"The boat business and recreational business has been down so many years, it has to improve," he said.
The Fort Myers Boat Show, featuring 150 exhibitors, 40 dealers and more than 400 boats, continues today and Sunday and aims to capitalize on the positive trend. It spreads from the Harborside Event Center to the Fort Myers Yacht Basin and Edwards Drive in downtown Fort Myers.
Florida is No. 1 in the country in boat sales, and the industry's health is key to a tourism-based economy that extolls the joys of sunshine, beaches and exploring warm Gulf waters for fishing and fun.
Nationally, sales of boats, engines, trailers and accessories dropped from $15.5 billion in 2006 to $7.58 billion in 2010, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Florida slipped from $2.43 billion in 2006 to $1.09 billion in 2010.
Numbers for Southwest Florida were unavailable.
The economy is the reason, boat dealers say. Fewer jobs and fewer discretionary dollars, reluctance to make a big purchase when times are tough, and uncertainty about how and when the economy will improve all play a part.
However, for 2011, "it actually looks like it's bottomed out and we'll see an increase for the first time," said Ellen Hopkins, spokeswoman for the national association
"If you see consumer confidence go up, you'll see boat sales go up," she said.
Jim Walker, owner of Walker's Marine and Yacht Sales, with locations in Naples, Marco Island, Goodland and Fort Myers, agreed consumer confidence is key.
"The boat industry the last few years has come into a lot of turmoil," Walker said. "The sense we have is that there are a lot of people eager to buy, wanting to move forward, but don't due to a lack of confidence and what is going on in Washington, D.C."
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