Travel 2021 | Watercraft sales: As manufacturers struggle to meet demand, local outlets see sales skyrocket

John and Alan Andersen of Andersen Boat in Burnt Hills sit in one of their latest sales earlier t his month.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
John and Alan Andersen of Andersen Boat in Burnt Hills sit in one of their latest sales earlier t his month.

For the second straight summer, Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company will not offer canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard rentals on the Moose River in Old Forge.

This year, COVID-related restrictions aren’t the culprit. There’s just no inventory left to rent out.

Last spring and summer, Mountainman owner John Nemjo witnessed a watercraft-buying frenzy unlike anything he’s seen in his 28 years in business. And as the pandemic stretches into year two, there is no slowdown in sight.

Local motorboat dealers said they’ve also been swamped with customers since last spring.

“People didn’t have a lot of places to spend their money over the last 13 months. They couldn’t go to the movies, they couldn’t go to restaurants, they couldn’t go on vacation. So they had that money to spend on things they could do closer to home,” explained Nemjo.

When New York state shut down businesses at the end of March 2020, Nemjo, who owns five Upstate New York Mountainman locations, set up a curbside pickup operation in an effort to keep his business afloat. The following week, he sold about two dozen canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. The next week, he sold about three dozen. Soon, he was flooded with buyers. Boats were selling right off the delivery trucks.

“It just got crazier and crazier and crazier,” he recalled. “We had the three biggest days we’ve ever had in our business last June and July.”

Nemjo had 900 boats in stock when the pandemic hit, with more on order. He said he sold about 2,500 — almost $3 million worth — in 2020.

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Dave Hyde, owner of Hyde’s RV and Boats in Rexford, thought he had an adequate inventory of pontoon boats for the 2020 season, but by midsummer he had nothing left to sell. It’s the first time he’s seen that happen since he got into the boat business in the late 1950s, he said. Hyde estimated his 2020 sales were up 50 percent from the previous year.

It’s the same story at Andersen Boat in Burnt Hills, where 2020 sales were up at least 50 percent from 2019, according to owner Jon Andersen. Andersen Boat sells small and medium-size fishing boats and pontoon boats, with pontoons making up the majority of sales.

“It’s been incredible. Last year, we were able to sell literally all the boats we had in stock, both new and used,” Andersen said.

CURRENT DEMAND

The second boating season of the pandemic is shaping up to be much like the first.

“I believe people have a lot of expendable funds, and there’s places they want to go and can’t go, so they do something else. You can buy a boat and feel fairly comfortable being out in the middle of the wide-open spaces and fresh air,” Hyde said.

He estimated sales will be up slightly this season compared to last, and would be even better if he could get more boats from manufacturers.

“The good news is that when they come in, they’re all sold. They’re sold before they get here. The bad news, of course, is when people come up looking for a boat, we have nothing to talk about,” he said.

By late April 2021, Nemjo had already sold nearly 800 boats — a benchmark he said he wouldn’t ordinarily reach until June.

“Right now, we are up about 40 percent over last year at this time, but we’re up about 30 percent over our previous best year,” he said. “I ordered about 2,500 boats this year. I wish I would have ordered 7,500, because we would have sold them all. And most dealers that I talk to are saying the same thing.”

At Andersen Boat, potential buyers are going away empty-handed.

“Every single boat is sold already, with boats on order that we may not see until September because the manufacturers are severely backlogged,” Andersen said.

PERFECT STORM

Unprecedented demand, labor shortages and a shortage of materials have converged to create the boat production backlog.

“It’s a perfect storm, and then there are shipping costs on top of that, which are astronomical,” Nemjo said.

All of that has translated into price increases for the

“We’ve had five, six brands already raise prices over the last three or four weeks and I’m expecting others will follow for the next three or four weeks,” Nemjo said, noting that prices for some brands have increased about 10% from last year.

Prices have also increased at Hyde’s, where this season’s boats are slow to arrive due to manufacturing delays.

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“If we see 20 boats between now and Aug. 1, we’ll be lucky,” Hyde said.

Andersen said he’s seen prices go up as well.

HIGH AND DRY?

Consumers in the market for a pontoon boat could be left high and dry this season.

“If you were to order a boat today,” Andersen said during an April 27 interview, “you’re probably not going to get it for this boating season.”

His advice to consumers: “Find the boat of your dreams, get the boat on order and be patient.”

Hyde said the wait time for a boat on order during a typical year was between four and six weeks. Now, it’s about 12.

Those looking to purchase a canoe, kayak or paddleboard could have better luck. Nemjo predicted his stock will ebb and flow. He recommended signing up for inventory arrival alerts via his company’s website and Facebook page.

“People are watching our online inventory constantly from all over the country,” he noted. “We had people from Oklahoma drive to us last year to buy boats. I’ve had people calling from Georgia and Nashville wanting to drive here to buy boats.”

TIDE MAY TURN

Although boats are still a hot commodity this season, dealers are aware that the tide could turn with little notice.

“We’re watching the trends and we will probably be somewhat cautious for next year,” said Andersen. “We’re not of the opinion to double what we ordered this year, but we are of the opinion to be somewhat conservative, to protect us in case the economy does something weird.”

He said he’ll probably order a few more boats for next season than he would during a typical year.

Nemjo said he thinks the boating boom will outlast the pandemic, but he’s also preparing for a potential slowdown in sales.

“Let’s try to keep up with the demand right now, but let’s keep our eyes on the future because we don’t want this to be boom and bust. We want this to be a sustainable and healthy industry,” he said.

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