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Commentary: Banking Performance-Boating’s New Blood

For the past three decades, the high-performance powerboat industry has been asking itself how to attract new customers. But no one, at least in my sometimes questionable memory, ever suggested that a pandemic would do the trick.

And yet it has.

Thanks to the current crop of center consoles and sport cats with reliable outboard power, the industry is perfectly positioned to retain at least some of the new blood driven by the pandemic. Photo by Jeff Helmkamp copyright JHelmkamp Photos.

Previously non-boating people have discovered what you already knew, that social distancing is part of the point of powerboating. Like the pandemic pods we all came to know and maybe love last year, groups aboard boats—yachts excepted—are inherently small and isolated from other groups aboard boats.

I spent the better part of April in Florida working on a video project for speedonthewater.com, the first segment of which will air at the end of May. During my time there I talked to seasoned go-fast marine industry people of every stripe. And to a person, they all agreed that thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a massive influx of boat buyers, not simply new to the high-performance segment but many new to boating, period.

Lemonade from lemons, to be sure, and not without some obstacles to overcome.

“No one knows the rules of the road anymore,” Nor-Tech’s Terry Sobo told me as we dodged yet another yahoo in Sobo’s 39-foot center console on our way to the Nor-Tech 30th Anniversary Fun/Lunch Run to Useppa Island a little more than a week ago. “People cut across my path and I throw up my hands. Then they throw up their hands.”

Sobo paused to laugh. “They’ll learn,” he said. “I hope.”

Still, the overall news, that people have flocked to powerboating during the past year, is as good as it gets. That buyers in search of new boats likely will have to wait a year or even more their orders to be filled is frustrating for them, to be sure, but simply fantastic for the industry. Not so fantastic are the worsening supply chain issues—drums of vinylester resin, for example, have become scarce and in some cases have tripled in price—that will further slow the build process and try their patience.

Regardless, being sold out of inventory and backlogged on production is a high-class problem, and not one the high-performance marine industry has always had to deal with.

There will always be, of course, those folks who work their way up to exotic big-power catamarans and V-bottom sportboats, and that’s wonderful. They make the go-fast powerboat world far more interesting and fun.

But thanks to the current crop of center consoles and sport cats with reliable outboard power, the industry is perfectly positioned to retain at least some of the new blood driven by the pandemic. It’s truly a once-in-a-generation and completely unexpected opportunity.

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