Captain’s Chair: The Cost Of Boating

April 2015 Brady L. Kay

Can recreational boating become more affordable? That’s a question that’s not only on consumers’ minds, but it’s something manufacturers are asking as well. A Brunswick survey of 15,000 people in major marine markets around the world showed that 90 percent think boating is great, but they have a problem reconciling the cost of boating with its benefits.

“The cost versus the benefit in boating is out of whack,” said Brunswick Corp. chairman and CEO Dustan McCoy at the Miami International Boat Show in February.

The fact that more used boats were sold in 2012 than in 2007 confirms that finding. New-boat sales are just 60 percent of pre-recession levels.

“That begins to line up in my mind with the conclusion that our stuff is too expensive,” McCoy said. “The consumer sees more benefit in buying used.”

With the help of steady growth in the pontoon segment, the entire boating industry is just now starting to put the recession in the review mirror. Simply put, pontoons are trending up, way up. The huge jump in popularity has some well-established builders taking a second look at adding a pontoon to their lineup, which 10 years ago was unheard of. A major factor is that in most cases, overall prices across the board for pontoon boats are more affordable when compared to similar boats. That’s been the secret to the continued success as the demand for pontoons continue to grow. However, keeping the cost down is what will help grow the entire industry as the manufacturers move out of the recession.

McCoy said that boating can and must become more affordable, and that his companies are working hard to accomplish that.

“We need to have every new model cost less than the model it replaces,” he said. “Over five or 10 years, that will have a real impact.”

McCoy also said that Brunswick companies are 70 percent along the road to reaching that goal. He added that making boats more affordable requires better engineering, better sourcing, better manufacturing processes and innovation.

“From our perspective, this news is good,” McCoy said, “but it’s sobering.”

The good news is people like to boat and affordability is a solvable problem.

I saw my first $175K pontoon at a boat show over the winter and to be honest it’s something I didn’t think I’d ever see. The twin engines with every bell and whistle imaginable contributed to the cost, but I like that this type of high-end pontoon is still just a small fraction of what makes up the pontoon industry. While affordability issues continue to hold back the yacht and even the small cruiser industry, there’s something refreshing about the wide spectrum of pontoon boats available. Finding a brand new pontoon with an engine for under $10K is not impossible; in fact a lot of manufacturers offer them.

I can’t think of a better way to ease into boating than to start with an affordable pontoon and as your family and finances grow, so do your options. Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll own a $100K pontoon. But guess what? A $50K pontoon might be all that you ever need. While the rest of the boating industry frets over how to make boating more affordable, those in the pontoon segment can just smile and know they’re already ahead of everyone else.


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