Business Monday

Rising economy buoying tidings for marine sector, South Florida

Scott Stamper
Scott Stamper

When the Miami International Boat Show sailed into town , it brought in tow the tidings of an industry riding the wave of a continued robust economic recovery and the arrival of lower fuel prices.

It’s a great time to hit the high seas. After the Great Recession sucked the wind from the marine industry’s sails, boating is back to pre-recession levels nationally and across South Florida. With favorable conditions forecast for the foreseeable future, that’s good news for an economy driven in part by a healthy boating industry.

Just look at the numbers. The marine industry supports 136,000 jobs and economic output of $11.5 billion across the region. Boaters here range from family cruisers and avid fishermen to global yacht owners who call on South Florida for vacation and marine service alike.

Last year’s sales of new powerboats nationwide were up 7 percent over 2013’s $37 billion in spending, and the figure is expected to rise another 5 percent this year, the National Marine Manufacturers Association estimates. That’s the industry’s third consecutive year of growth. Retail spending, from boats, engines, services and accessories, was at its highest level since 2007 before the recession, the group reported.

The tide is rising locally, too. Last fall’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show’s attendance of more than 100,000 people was up 6 percent, which was the best since 2006. The event was spread across a record seven venues, with more than 1,000 exhibitors showcasing 1,500 boats, again a 5 percent increase. While foul weather up north reportedly softened attendance at last year’s Miami International Boat Show, sales were strong, and the industry expects a strong showing at this month’s event.

The economic ecosystem that a boat purchase brings to life is remarkable. The almost 2,900 boats registered across the tri-county area in 2014 only begin to paint part of the picture. Whether made through a showroom or a yacht broker, each sale steers money into the local economy.

Buyers help the local economy, before they even buy a boat. Whether they’re from across the United States or around the globe, they spend time in the area — often in their condos or vacation homes. International buyers increasingly are from Eastern Europe, Central America and Mexico, and they often are paying cash.

The vessel then needs a home, whether that’s a storage yard in the suburbs for a trailered boat, or a dock for a 50-foot sport fisherman, or a slip for a mega-yacht measuring 130 feet or more in length. Even the local real estate market is buoyed by the boating industry. Waterfront home and condominium owners who don’t own vessels often will lease their dock space to boat owners in need of a place for their vessel. Some Realtors report a trend of the uber-wealthy yacht owners buying waterfront homes as a place to tie their vessels and house their crews when in town.

Between maintenance, service, repairs and general upkeep, boats are the gift to South Florida that keeps on giving. Small service centers have seen a return of strong business. Area shipyards, such as Rybovich, Derecktor, Lauderdale Marine, Bradford Marine and Roscioli Yachting Centers, are enjoying strong business — and there are even waiting lists for mega-yacht repairs or service.

Of course, there’s fuel, registration, even insurance that every boat owner needs to protect his or her investment.

Not to be overlooked are events like the boat shows. They’re not only a place for boaters to buy their next vessel, but also they’re for dreamers who one day can see themselves on the high seas, or just cruising the Intracoastal or Biscayne Bay.

It’s indeed a great time for boating. Favorable winds have returned to the industry, which bodes well for the entire South Florida economy.

S. Scott Stamper is senior vice president of Atlass Insurance Group (www.atlassinsurance.com), a marine insurance agency with offices in Fort Lauderdale, Cocoa Beach and Newport Beach, Rhode Island.

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