Boating Isnt Discretionary For Me

By Tom Neale, 12/11/2008


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Chez Nous Heading South

I keep hearing a word from the talking TV heads that bothers me. It’s “discretionary spending.” Boating, some are saying, is particularly vulnerable because it falls into that category. I’m sure this is true to some extent, but not so fast. It’s true that I couldn’t run my Mako anywhere as near as much this summer as I have in the past.  The cost of the gas to feed her 1985 200 HP Yamaha was just more than I could handle.  I ran her some (especially when rockfish season came in) but a lot of the time I just sat behind her console, tied up to the dock, my feet propped up on the gunn’le looking out over the water.  That worked OK, because I was on my boat.  And I did a lot more on that boat. I fixed things, improved things, purchased things.  I purchased a new set of flares, several gallons of oil because I wanted to flush out the old oil in the reservoir, a new and rather expensive in-line oil filter, some new fuel hose, new lines, a new anchor and more.

I did use my 53 foot motorsailer quite a bit, because it’s my “principle place of residence.”  It’s “home.”  And this fall, as we headed down the coast as usual, we were more worried than ever about the cost. Fuel was rumored to cost less than last spring, but it was still expensive. When you turn this old lady loose and let her romp she really makes time, but she’s sucking down diesel like a wino at a tasting party.  And, as usual, I stocked her with more parts, replaced impellors, filters, old lines, new parts like a fuel lift pump, and on and on. You have to do this regularly for a big boat which is usually on the move.

To make a long story short, I’m spending money to be on the water. I suspect that many of you are too. Right now, as December wears on, many of you have your boat in winter storage (as is my Mako) but that’s costing you too. And you probably spent a bunch to get her ready for storage. A friend spent over $400.00 just for a marine grade heater to keep his boat’s bilge warm. It was a good investment if you love your boat, and he does.

Boats on the Move at Wrightsville Beach, NC

As we moved down the coast we saw proof, over and over again, that people who love boats are still spending money and using them.  Transient docks seemed well used all along. Even though it was late in the season, there were still many boats on the move, headed south. It was so cold that the ICW was completely frozen over at Great Bridge and a few miles south. But a nice gentleman from New Jersey, anxious to get a sport fish south, kindly broke the ice for many of us, who followed in his crumpled wake.

In boating centers like the Beaufort/Morehead City area, Wrightsville Beach, NC, Little River/Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Beaufort, SC, Hilton Head, and many others, we saw boats of all kinds out and about and in use.

So what’s with this?  I mean, if you listen to the morning and evening news people on TV (that is if you can stand to listen to them), you hear that we’re all cutting out our “discretionary spending,” and boating definitely falls into that category.  And you hear that many businesses in the marine sector, ranging from boat builders to parts manufacturers to yards to marinas to retailers are having a really tough time.  I’m no economist. I’m not a good businessman.  So I don’t know all the ins and outs of it. But obviously it’s true that those of us who love boats aren’t spending as much as we were before. And in particular we’re not spending as much on the same things. For example, probably more of us are spending money to fix up our old boats rather than buying new boats.  But we’re still out here.

And this is important, because when we get down to it, we have to realize that we can’t be out here unless many of those businesses are still there. Sure we talk about “do-it-yourself,” and I do it myself far more than most. But even the best “do-it-yourselfer” can’t do it without the parts, materials and supplies. And doing it yourself usually doesn’t cut it with big jobs like an engine rebuild, an air conditioning repair, a blister job (unless you’re really, really tough) and many other jobs and projects.  So while I love to gripe and complain about high prices of marine parts and mechanics and services (after all, I’m human—and it’s part of human nature to gripe about things like this), I’ve also got to remember that I can’t do what I love to do the most without these people being in business.  And I’m glad to report that, from what I see, while may not make it through these bad times, a lot are.

Tom’s Tips on Making Boating Bucks Count

1. Always remember, life isn’t fun unless it’s fun. This means that it’s OK, within reason and with careful prioritization, to spend on what’s really important to your good state of mind..

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For example, in the Beaufort/Morehead City, NC area, Neal Littman who’s in charge of the Morehead City Yacht Basin said that facility has high bookings, particularly by large sport fishing boats after tuna. Bookings rapidly increased as fuel prices decreased. Tuna and lower fuel prices are probably just part of the reason. It’s a well run marina, sells ValvTect fuel, and appears well situated to weather financial storms. John Warrington of Beaufort Yacht Sales, a long established dealer and broker, says they’re still selling boats.  Deaton Yacht Service in Oriental looked very busy when we visited to pick up a fuel pump for our generator. The folks at Deltaville Marina and Boatyard (VA) said they’ve been extremely busy storing and preparing boats for the winter. Folks at Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor (St. Augustine) said they’re taking a large number of bookings for the winter.  Frank Monachello, of Marine Pro in Cocoa, Florida (they installed a 200 HP Yanmar on my boat) told me they’re off a little, but holding their own.  He said he’s turning a few more wrenches and pushing less paper, but he likes to keep hands on and he likes to see his many old and loyal clients.
And I could give a lot more examples. They’re doing well because of their own merits and also because we, who love being on the water, are still on the water. Maybe not as much, but we’re here.

And to be here, we’re doing what the talking TV heads call “discretionary spending.” But there are a lot of us out here who don’t consider being on the water “discretionary.” I’m one of them. I’ve owned boats since I was 9 years old and now they tell me I’m 65. It’s not “discretionary.”  It’s a part of life. And over past years we’ve noticed that some are even more likely to go cruising in bad financial times. Why stay home and listen to the panic pushers on the evening news?


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