In the midst of a global pandemic, many industries across the globe and throughout the Santa Clarita Valley have reported high financial strains and losses as a result of universal decreased spending.
However, the market for outdoor activity is rising due to a number of factors, according to a recent research from the Outdoor Industry Association. “Americans took up new activities in significant numbers in April, May and June of 2020,” according to the OIA. While the biggest gains were seen in running, cycling and hiking, boating also saw a boom.
In fact, consumer demand for boats across the country in 2020 hit a 13-year high, according to a recent study done by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents North American recreational boat, engine and marine accessory manufacturers.
“The retail unit sales of new powerboats in the U.S. increased last year by an estimated 12% compared to 2019,” according to the NMNA report. The more-than 310,000 new power boats sold in 2020 represents a number the recreational boating industry hasn’t seen since before the Great Recession.
The report also attributed that many of those sales to personal watercraft, such as Jet Ski, Sea Doo and Waverunners, which included about 82,000 units; about 143,000 fishing boats; and approximately 13,000 of the smaller wake boats.
“Boat sales are expected to remain at historic levels in 2021 as more consumers seek ways to spend time outside and social distance,” the report noted.
And, specifically within the Santa Clarita Valley, these reports indicate that not only are people buying new boats, but they’re also coming back into boating after a long hiatus from the activity.
“Our business never slowed down,” said Dustin Richter, owner of Menace Marine & Motor Sports in Castaic. “Our customers don’t seem to be as affected by it — because people may be making a little bit less money, but they’re also spending a lot less money.”
In the Santa Clarita Valley region, Castaic Lake, Lake Piru and Pyramid Lake are a few of the hotspots for local boaters. However, there are even more places to go that are just a stones throw from the SCV, and in the surrounding Southern California, which makes the allure of getting into boating for the first time very attractive, according to local experts.
“Sales and service have been up a lot primarily due to it being one of the only things people are allowed to do right now,” said Richter. “A lot of our customers have kids in sports or do a lot of activities, but all the sporting stuff got shut down, all the beach camping got closed down for a little while. So, going to the lake was one of the few options that people had.”
Richter said sales in the Santa Clarita Valley have been due to both people returning to boating or deciding that it is a new hobby they would like to pursue.
“There are a lot of people that have been into boating and that are now doing it more,” said Richter. “And then people that haven’t necessarily been in it, but wanted to start.”
Some people coming into Menace Marine & Motor Sports, Richter said, have had their boats parked for years, and they’ve wanted to go about replacing or repairing old parts.
Sergio Jolon, owner of Lakeside Boat and Marine in Castaic, echoed some of the same sentiments as Richter, noting over the course of last year, a number of new customers came into his shop looking for repairs — and many others returned.
“There’s a lot of people that have had their boats, but haven’t used them in a couple years,” said Jolon, when talking about the new wave of customers coming into his shop. “And then they got it because it was the only way that they could get back out on the lake.”
Jolon said that even though the winter months typically see business slow down slightly, he said last year’s spring and summer months saw a large number of people flock into his shop with their boats, asking for service.
When asked if he was noticing any particular trends in the uptick, he speculated one reason could be that the reason for wanting repairs would be because it was time for the repair, or that the boat was the only place they could spend time with the family away from the house.
For those that are just getting into boating, Richter said he suggests to all his new customers that they “do their homework.”
“If they’re buying a used boat that looks like it’s been well taken care of and hasn’t been neglected, you know,” said Richter. “If somebody’s willing to take the time to clean it they’re probably willing to service it so it’s probably in good shape.”
For both groups, whether experienced or greenhorn in boating, a commonality between them is that the reduced spending on dinners or vacations, has resulted in them being able to find economical ways to return to the hobby.
“Their budget for fun may have shrunk, but it’s also narrowed down in scope a lot,” said Richter. “My best memories growing up as a kid were at the lake with my family, and I know a lot of people feel the same way. It’s a good family activity and you get everybody out there having a good time.”