Bringing Numbers to Break the Myth "That Sailing is Expensive"

Bringing Numbers to Break the Myth "That Sailing is Expensive"

What do the numbers tell us about sailing and boat ownership?

About 2/3 of car sales are used cars.  The number of used sailboat sales is 4/5.  Fiberglass lasts so much longer than automobiles, so this makes sense.

About 2% of all new boats (everything from kayaks, canoes, jet-skis, runabouts, big powerboats, etc.) sold are sailboats.  Now everyone say together, “We are unique!”  (old line from Steve Martin).  Of all boaters, sailboaters are a small segment.

Across the U.S. 1,600,000 sailboats are out on the water during the year.  According to boat registrations, about 11,000 sailboats are retired each year.

When it comes to new sailboat sales, in 2007 there were 11,800 were sold, with the average price being $60,700 contributing $700,000,000 to the economy.  But looking back 7 years earlier in 2001, there were 18,600 sailboats sold, with the average price of $34,300 contributing $639,000,000 to the economy.  Very clearly these figures show that small boat sales dried up significantly which distorts the average price of new boat sales quickly.  It probably contributes to the idea that the rich got richer during this economy and bought more expensive boats.

Didn’t I just report facts that are the opposite of the title of this article? No. Those with money continued to buy bigger expensive boats when this current economic downturn occurred. Rewind the tape to 2001 when everyone was spending, and the average price of a new sailboat was an average $34,300. Some of those boats cost $2,500 for a rotomolded boat, $6,000 Laser or Sunfish, and the one-off 100′ sailboat that cost $7,000,000 that quickly distorts the whole picture. Does it really require being a millionaire to own a $34,300 boat? Think of it as the cost of a new car today, reachable for most households.

A close friend who has been head of the Economics Department at University of Illinois at Chicago offered that he bought his sailboat (Star – 23′ daysailor/racer) in 1969 for $6,000 and added $1,000 right away for a cost of $7,000.  He also had this bitchin Road Runner that cost around $3,000 at that time.

 The Consumer Price Index in 1969 was 35.6, today it is 233.049.  What did that sailboat and car cost him in today’s dollars?  $45,824 for the boat, and $19,683 for the car.  And then says, “The take away is that these items have gone up faster than average prices BUT are much better products.”

The Chicago Harbor Systems include about 900 sailboats who spend about $18,040,536 annually responsible for about 370 jobs in the Chicago region.  The Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation estimates that 6,000 to 10,000 individuals race a sailboat at least once a year on Lake Michigan.

90% of boats sold are 26 feet in length or less.  75% of boats are owned in households with family income of $100,000 or less.  There are about 12,000,000 registered boats in the U.S. which means that about 1 out of 26 people own one (clearly not the 1-percenters). The people who build boats are middle class, most people who buy boats are middle class.  These facts are very clear.

A quick look on Craigslist last week found the following sailboats for sale:
(6 boats) 12’ – 15’ from $250 to $6,500 (this one is brand new)
(5 boats) 16’ – 20’ from $1,000 to $7,995 (1 oddball at $26,000)
(4 boats) 21’ – 26’ from $2,900 to $6,600 (1 oddball at $19,995)
(5 boats) 27’ – 30’ from $5,000 to $11,500
(1 boat) 37’ $42,000

Now the two “oddballs” are different than the others in their group. The groups consisted of daysailors that you sit on top of. The two oddballs had interiors, bunks, galley, head, or what I like to call “furniture”. But following the previous statistic that 90% of boat sold are 26′ or less in length, it matches up well with the available boats, and almost all of those boats listed are very affordable to a middle class family.

The decline in sailboating isn’t quite new.  In 1980, there were 73,100 new sailboat sales, in 2011, there were 4,600 new boat sales.  While it has roller coasted during those years, the biggest hit was when the U.S. Congress established the “Luxury Tax” in 1990 which applied to bigger sailboats, airplanes and expensive cars, it absolutely killed new sailboat sales plummeting sales to 8,100 units in 1991.  Many boat builders went bankrupt or folded their doors for good.  The Luxury Tax had to be repealed due to its dismal failure, horrible economic impact, and huge real job loss.  Sales increased slowly up to 2000 when 22,500 new sailboats were sold, when the latest economic debacle has now driven new boat sales to 4,600 in 2011.

When a new boat comes off the lot, it depreciates just like a new car coming off the lot.  Depending how the owner treats the boat, wear and tear can add to the loss in value, just like a car that isn’t maintained well.

So why is now a great time to buy a boat?

The current economy has slowed the sale of all boats, which has caused a buyer’s market.  There hasn’t been a better time to buy.  Boats can be purchased just like a car, with a title, and a boat loan.  Why not buy a small boat just to either keep sailing, or to start sailing?  Your purchase of one sailboat today will have a significant impact on sailboat sales statistics.

The message garnered from the Strictly Sail Chicago this past weekend, is that the margins in the sailboat industry couldn’t be lower, almost everyone is making the barebones minimum to keep a roof over their head. I mean, do you want to buy when the margins are huge and you are overpaying for everything, or when the margins are low and you get a good buy on everything?

Ben Wilson (video compliments of Sailing Anarchy) explains his purchase of a new J/88 – a 28-footer.

Most of the data for this article came from the National Marine Manufacturers Association – Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract of 2011.

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