As Norwalk Boat Show closes out summer, sales ride pandemic tide – mySA

It would have taken a lot for Connecticut’s boat industry to match the pandemic sales of 2020 and 2021, but Bob Petzold sees the tide rising still — thanks to a sunny, hot summer that spurred more people to get out on the water. With a beautiful weekend in the offing, Petzold expects big crowds this weekend at the Norwalk Boat Show which kicks off Thursday.

Produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association at Norwalk Cove Marina under sponsorship by Progressive Insurance, the Norwalk Boat Show comes on the heels of the Newport International Boat Show among the last of the 2022 season.

In addition to showcasing boats and equipment for purchase, the Norwalk Boat Show offers four days of workshops and activities, to include boat excursions. Daily tickets are $16, with kids age 12 and under free when accompanied by an adult.

Over four years through 2007, overall boat registrations in Connecticut peaked above 112,000 vessels before dropping for 13 consecutive years through 2020 to about 87,000 that year.

Nearly 11,000 of those registrations were boats coming under new ownership, however, giving the industry hope for a rebound as people sought outdoor diversions during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic was surprisingly very good to the boating industry — we were lucky,” said Ellen Bradley, chief brand officer for NMMA trade group based in Chicago. “That momentum certainly continued through last year and even parts of this year. We thought this year was really going to drop off a cliff, and things still continued despite some of the economic turbulence that we have seen.”

The surge in interest is coinciding with emerging options, notably to include boats powered by electric motors that generate little noise under way.

Norwalk Boat Show exhibitors include Electric Boats of Connecticut which sells the Duffy brand of electric excursion boats that putter along at less than five knots, with the option for a canopy solar panel array to boost the battery life. A handful of startups are developing speedboats with ranges between 20 and 50 nautical miles — much farther at lower speeds — including Evoy and X Shore.

But it is traditional boaters and newbies that are drawn mostly to the Norwalk Boat Show, whether they are weighing a boat fit for day cruises or simply a personal watercraft to paddle along the shores of Long Island Sound and Connecticut’s rivers and lakes.

“The pandemic put, across the country, well over a half a million new boaters into our industry,” said Bob Petzold, president of Petzold’s Marine Center which has locations in Portland and Norwalk. “It was a good way to keep the family together and a good way to social distance. It was only months into the pandemic when our business started to go crazy.”

Petzold said Portland is buzzing with the arrival of Birdon Group, which bought two marinas there on the heels of landing a $190 million contract to overhaul U.S. Coast Guard vessels

On the Boats.com website, some 2,500 boats are listed for sale in Connecticut, many by brokers located in other states. For those on display in Connecticut, models from a 2022 Galeon 470 Sky powerboat listed for $1.3 million by MarineMax in Westbrook, to a Catalina 25 sailboat berthed in Mystic that can be had for $5,500. 

MarineMax, which also has locations in Norwalk and on Candlewood Lake in Brookfield, saw its dealership and store sales slip 5 percent between April and June. CEO Brett McGill said last month that was entirely an issue of continuing difficulties obtaining inventory to keep up with demand, however, describing as “almost nonexistent” the inventory of larger yachts for sale.

“There is no question that we were impacted by the ongoing challenges of the supply chain,” McGill said during a late-August conference call. “If we had had the product to deliver, it would have translated into higher revenue.”

Includes prior reporting by Abigail Brone and Luther Turmelle.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; @casoulman

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