With the brakes slammed on both national and international travel by Covid-19, and with many supporting services simply shut down, individuals who had planned and saved for sophisticated family vacations have instead charted new courses—as captains of their own yachts.
“Bottom line,” said J.R. Means, owner of Bayport Yachts on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach, “people are not going to Europe, the Aussie trips are out and the Caribbean has been put on hold. Everyone seems to be saying, ‘I’ve always wanted a boat, let’s do it now.’”
Like every other business, yacht sales and brokerages were abruptly impacted starting in February.
“Everything stopped because of the virus threat,” recalled Yacht Broker Tamara Krinstock of South Coast Yachts, located at 251 Shipyard Way. “We didn’t know how it would impact.”
In his 32-years in the boat business, this was “the first of these rodeos I’ve been through. I thought we’d be devastated,” Means said. “The point when (Gov.) Newsom locked us down until the last of May, people were merely dreaming. The weekend of May 20, it just exploded, it has been raining deals since. It was like God opened the heavens; it’s busier than it has ever been!”
People are looking at all different levels of watercraft, Krinstock shared. A Beneteau dealer, South Coast Yachts is enjoying a “50-50 mix of sales” in both power and sail in ranges between 27 and 55 feet.
Bayport Yachts is finding that power boats are their hot products, with their “biggest thrust” being new boaters ordering craft in the 30-45-foot range.
“Technology makes it easier to run a power boat,” Means observed, whereas there is a longer learning curve to operate a sailboat.
Additionally, he explained, new powerboaters generally make quicker buying decisions, where sailors are more methodical in gathering data points, and generally take up to 12 months before selecting their dream boat.
One might argue that learning to operate, navigate and maintain a boat are the major challenges for a new boat owner. They may find that locating a slip is becoming the bigger worry.
“As a broker/dealer, we’re close to docks and connecting them to dockmasters,” Krinstock said.
Means says that “a lot of brokerage boats have transferable slips, and our sales team does know how to get them.”
With 9,000 boats tied up in Newport Harbor, the need for parts and paint and maintenance never diminished during the Covid-19 shutdown, although Lorene Frank, regional marketing manager for West Marine, noted that “business went way down, especially in our Pro division.”
Offering more than 10,000 marine products in their flagship store on Lido Isle, Frank said that they did see an uptick in “do-it-yourselfers,” with more powerboaters than sailors. Again, perhaps in response to more people staying local, Frank said their most common products sold were in the areas of fishing, paddle and watersports and maintenance.
As the other boat brokers and dealers noted, Frank observed that “boating has become very popular in the last month.”