ac boat show

Crew members from Island Marina in Ocean View, McCarthy's Marina in Brielle and Hance-Smythe of Manawakin move a boat into place. (The crew's position is reminiscent of the famous photo of Marines planting the flag on Iwo Jima.) Sunday February 3 2013 Boats begin arriving at Atlantic City Convention Center for the Atlantic City Boat Show starting on Wednesday the 6th. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Ben Fogletto

New power boat sales increased by about 10 percent in 2012, the first sign of industry growth since before the economic downturn, the National Marine Manufacturers Association said.

This year, the economy, housing markets and consumer confidence could play heavily into whether last year’s turnaround continues through 2013.

Against this backdrop, the annual Prudential Insurance Atlantic City Boat Show returns this week to the Atlantic City Convention Center, where boat builders and maritime-related vendors will get an early read on 2013.

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“I think it’s a question of the economy,” said Dr. Ira Trocki, owner of Egg Harbor Yachts, based in Egg Harbor City. “When the stock market is doing great like right now, and most people believe the economy is getting better, people are feeling now is the time to get into boating.”

The recession and its aftermath had been a tough time for boat builders. The Chicago-based National Marine Manufacturers Association said powerboat sales dropped by more than half from 2006 to 2010.

Trocki said he saw indications of a turnaround in 2012.

“Now we’re seeing more action, more telephone calls, more interest,” he said.

Egg Harbor Yachts last year bought the Silverton and Ovation boat lines after Silverton and its parent, Florida-based Morgan Industries Corp., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.

“I wouldn’t have bought Silverton and Ovation if I didn’t believe things would be better,” Trocki said.

Meanwhile, the industry is preparing to rebuild and repair from Hurricane Sandy, which caused about $650 million in damage to more than 65,000 recreational boats, according to the Virginia-based trade group Boat Owners Association of the United States.

Replacing these boats could be a boost for the industry, similar to how Sandy jolted automotive sales due to replacing flood-damaged vehicles.

Jon Pritko, the manager of the Atlantic City Boat Show, said boat sales picked up about 30 percent in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

“There’s no doubt there’s going to be a need to ramp up some production because of Sandy,” Pritko said.

The show this year runs from Wednesday to Sunday and will take up 374,000-square feet inside the Atlantic City Convention Center, a 50 percent increase from last year, Pritko said.

About 400 boats will be on display, and 280 exhibitors will be at the show.

Because boats are one of the bigger discretionary purchases, sales dropped when the recession started — as did the size of the show itself, Pritko said.

“The show probably shrunk 50 percent one year,” Pritko said.

Pritko said the industry is not back to where it was, but it has been steadily improving.

The marine manufacturers group estimated new power boat sales rose 10 percent in 2012, with expectations the industry could see another 5 percent to 10 percent improvement this year.

Association President Thom Dammrick said boats less than 27-feet long are leading the industry out of the recession. These include pontoons, fish and ski boats and fiberglass bowriders.

“One of the most significant trends we’re seeing in boat manufacturing is the versatile boat — one that can pull tubers or wakeboarders, can be used for fishing outings, relaxing with the family or entertaining friends,” Dammrick said in a statement.

Pontoons and deck boats in particular are generally less expensive and can fit more people on them, Pritko said.

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