Jim Morris
Jim Morris

Jim Morris has worked for newspapers, radio, television and various Websites for more than 47 years. He has been a writer, an editor, an editorial writer and a columnist. For 23 years, Morris worked for the Troy Daily News as sports editor, managing editor and executive editor. In 1994 he began working at the Dayton Daily News as an outdoor sports columnist and night sports desk editor. He retired from the DDN in January of 2010 and is now a freelance writer with his own Website for outdoors stories.

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With pontoon boats leading the parade, the pleasure boating industry has picked itself up, dusted itself off and climbed back in the race for America’s leisure activity time and dollars.

A few years ago, I wrote about the sad state of America’s boating industry. The weak economy had done a number on boat sales, driving some dealers out of business or turning some into repair-only operations.

But that was several years ago. Today’s outlook is much brighter for the boating industry. Those dealers who were able to hang on and live through the lean years are beginning to return to a “normal” business atmosphere.

“We started to see an uptake in sales activity in 2011 and it has continued,” said Chad Taylor of South Shore Marina near Wilmington at Cowan Lake. “Pontoons turned it around for us. Fiberglass (speed boats and runabouts) lagged behind, but that part of the industry is now coming back, too.”

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the sales of new powerboats should reach 250,000 boats sold during 2016 when all figures are counted. That would be a 6-7 percent increase from 2015. That year, the NMMA says $8.4 billion was spent on recreational boating and the 2016 figures should show a 10-11 percent increase.

The NMMA says recreational boating industry in the U.S. has an annual economic impact of more than $121.5 billion, supporting 650,000 direct and indirect American jobs and nearly 35,000 small businesses.

“Economic indicators are working in the industry’s favor — a continuously improving housing market, strong consumer confidence, growing disposable income and consumer spending, and low interest rates all contribute to a healthy recreational boating market. Looking ahead, 2017 is likely to bring new dollar and unit sales gains on par with or better than 2016, and this trend will likely continue through 2018,” said Thom Dammrich, NMMA president.

A strong boating industry, of course, reflects a good overall economy. And as the NMMA pointed out, boating is a predominately American industry with 95 percent of boats sold in the U.S. made in the U.S.

And if there are more boat sales, it means more American jobs, from those who design and build boats to people who sell and repair them. It’s like a ripple in a lake that grows larger and larger.

The boating industry, it seems to me, is like the RV industry — fragile. People do not need boats or RVs to survive. In a poor economy, boats are seen as luxury items, so their sales suffer. That ripple effect then goes the other way and jobs are eliminated.

Eventually the pendulum swings back and right now it seems to still be on the way up. Times are pretty good, so people are feeding that need to get outside for recreation. For many, that means boating.

The NMMA says Ohio is not in the top 10 for powerboat sales. Florida is the leading seller with $2.6 billion in 2015, up 11.4 percent from 2014.  It’s followed by Texas, Michigan, Minnesota and New York.

Taylor says Ohio is around 11th on that list, having fallen from its normal position of about ninth. But Ohio has problems that have apparently begun to affect boat sales. Its two largest bodies of water, Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys, along with other lakes, are battling toxic algae.

Who wants to boat in pea soup? Boating, fishing and all other water sports are affected.

It seems like just another wake-up call being ignored by Ohio’s lawmakers. They know it’s time to get up, but continue to hit the snooze button.

Even if Ohio has its problems, it’s great news for boating enthusiasts — of which I have been since about the age of five — to know the present and future of boating looks as bright as one of those big old search lights, guiding the boating industry through the rough seas of the American economy.

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