Last year at this time, Mark Hattman had just 60 of 250 boat slips filled at Sheltered Cove Marina on Green Street in Tuckerton. Now, more than a year and half after Hurricane Sandy, that number has more than doubled.
“We have about 150 slips filled this season. We’re not back up and making money strong, selling tons of boats and slips, but it’s better. I think the headline is that shore area marinas are on the rebound. It’s like a second coming is finally happening,” he said.
Last summer, Hattman and boaters at his marina were facing landlocked conditions. Boat slips were piled with silt pushed in during Hurricane Sandy, making the marina almost impossible to navigate. Sandy destroyed about 300 boats stored at the marina, the building and docks, he said.
Hattman said he paid $750,000 out of pocket to restore the facility. The dredging of sediment from the marina was completed at the end of last year, so boat slips that were not usable have been cleared, he said.
The summer of 2012, 90 percent of those slips were filled, but with the October storm that would change for the foreseeable future, he said.
So far this season, Hattman said, he has seen customers coming to the marina from other facilities that have not completed storm repairs, or have gone out of business.
“I remember there was a time when if you wanted a slip at a marina you had to wait. Now, there are slips available up and down the coast,” said Fred Brueggemann, president of the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey and owner of Key Harbor Marina & Yacht Sales in the Waretown section of Ocean Township.
After Sandy, the association, based in Manasquan, Monmouth County, conducted a survey of its membership and 109 responded, reporting combined total losses of boats and infrastructure of about $55 million, an additional $11 million in lost revenue and another $15 million in losses projected in the future.
The industry is seeing new customers in people who have bought a second home at the shore — and then purchased a boat, Brueggemann said. Since the storm there have been more used boat sales because of affordability, he said.
In 2013, Brueggemann sold about 50 boats; so far this year he has sold close to 70, he said.
A slight uptick can be seen in the latest national sales data with a 1.2 percent increase in the number of vessels sold in 2013, according to Ryan Kloppe, national marine sales manager at Statistical Surveys, which provides market data solutions for the marine industry. The latest data is from a national survey to which 28 states responded, including New Jersey, Kloppe said.
Boat sales were experiencing trouble even before Sandy. New Jersey boat dealers that had thrived before the national recession were quickly hammered during it. Their annual payrolls fell nearly $20 million in four years, a 40 percent drop from 2007 to 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns.
“The downfall was when the economy took its (toll) and then we got double-punched when Hurricane Sandy came. People lost their boats to foreclosures and then others lost their boats to Sandy,” he said.
Recreational boaters in New Jersey suffered about $242 million in damage due to Hurricane Sandy, according to data from the Boat Owner’s Association of the United States.
There are currently 151,787 vessels registered to owners in New Jersey compared with 163,476 in 2012, according to data from the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey. These numbers are down significantly from the 2000 registered boat owner count of 243,281.
In New Jersey alone, about 25,000 boats were damaged during Hurricane Sandy, but now boat showrooms such as the one at Waterfront Marine in Somers Point are seeing people spending money again.
“We’ve heard from a lot of people that they lost their boats during the storm, and although they are passionate about their boats, they had to focus on rebuilding their home first. Everybody needs a place to live,” said Earl Schock, general manager at Waterfront Marine.
But as the second boating season since Hurricane Sandy nears, boat sales are on the move at Waterfront. Schock said 20- to 25-foot boats are selling the most, from bay boats and Bowriders to the popular outboard fishing and water ski boats that sell for up to $70,000.
Interest rates are low and purchasing a boat does not come with a short-term payment plan like a car, but instead can be financed out to 20 years, he said.
“We just did a deal on a 29-foot Chris Craft, which is the Ferrari or Bentley of boats and that was a little north of $200,000,” he said.
Still, just as so many did not return to their homes after Hurricane Sandy, many did not return to the water, either.
Christi Munro, owner of Munro’s Marina in the Mystic Island section of Little Egg Harbor Township, said of 97 boats damaged at the facility, only 12 were declared as total losses by insurance.
“Those people never came back. I guess they took the money and put it in their homes,” Munro said.
Staff Writer Brian Ianieri contributed to this report.
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