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Sun Sentinel: After strong 2014 rebound, marine industry upbeat on 2015 December 29, 2014

By: Doreen Hemlock
Sun Sentinel

Recreational boating, one of the last industries to recover from the financial crisis, rebounded strongly in 2014 and stands poised to make up even more lost ground in 2015.

All segments of South Florida’s hefty marine industry are picking up — from the $500,000 to $850,000 boats offered at Tuppens Marine and Tackle in Palm Beach County to megayachts costing millions of dollars each, industry leaders said.

Sales at Tuppens, which offers new and used boats, accessories and services at three locations in Lake Worth and Hypoluxo, rose more than 12 percent to roughly $8 million in 2014 and could grow by double-digits again in 2015, said vice-president and co-owner Steve Sprague.

“We feel like things are coming alive again,” Sprague said. November and December sales finished “better than expected,” surging more than 20 percent from 2013 levels, he said.

An improving economy, low interest rates, lower fuel prices, a growing Florida population and strong tourism all are contributing to the rebound, which was evident at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show this fall – the biggest show since the recession.

Taiwan boat builder Horizon Yachts, for example, had been selling some 10 to 13 new mega-yachts yearly in the United States before the recession and then saw sales plunge to only a few per year. Yet sales in 2014 rebounded to about half a dozen and in 2015 should “get closer to that 10 mark,” said Elise Moffitt, U.S. marketing coordinator at the company’s U.S. headquarters in North Palm Beach.

Horizon’s mega-yachts vary in price depending on features, but an 88-footer delivered in Florida costs a minimum $5.7 million and could top $6.8 million with various upgrades, she said.

For 2015, Horizon is sending four new yachts to the United States, ranging from 78- to 110-feet each, as inventory ready to sell. They’re aimed at buyers who don’t want to wait the 12- to 18 months it takes to build a yacht completely to their specifications in today’s growing megayacht market, said Moffitt.

Growth in Florida, the state with the largest number of recreational boats, reflect trends for the United States overall, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Nationwide, sales of new powerboats are expected to rise about 5 percent in 2015 after gains of 5 to 7 percent in 2014, the trade group said. That would be the fourth straight year of growth since the recession.

While final figures aren’t yet available, retail spending on boats, engines, marine accessories and services nationwide likely rose as much as 5 percent in 2014 from roughly $37 billion in 2013. That would exceed spending in 2007, one of the healthiest years for the industry before the recession, the association said.

“We’re seeing a record number of Americans getting on the water,” said Association President Thomas Dammrich in a forecast statement,” and the momentum from increased boating participation, coupled with a strong economy, has recreational boating poised for sustained growth for the next three years.”

The industry growth is reflected in the number of new boat registrations in South Florida. In the 12 months ended in October, 2,884 new boats at least 15 feet long were registered in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. That’s up 21 percent from the previous year, according to industry tracker Info-Link Technologies.

Those new registrations included smaller boats now popular among younger buyers, such as 17- to 20-footers that run about $20,000 each, said Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, based in Fort Lauderdale.

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