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Massive boat shortage finds people waiting 3-6 months to get one, used boat prices rising

Posted at 6:15 AM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 06:27:41-04

(WXYZ) — Michigan has always had a robust boating business, but the pandemic has shifted it to full throttle with more people wanting to get outside.

Buying a boat isn't as easy as it used to be. At Wilson Marine in Commerce Township, the sign out front warns to "Buy now before they are gone."

"Typically, we house in this location 25 to 30 new boats indoors," said Justine Nolen, the sales manager at Wilson Marine. "We currently have 8 boats."

Of those eight boats, five are used boats -- which are normally sitting outside. Not this summer.

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Pontoon boats are popular on Michigan lakes, but low inventory is leaving many people who want to buy a new pontoon boat waiting for months.

Wilson Marine has five locations in southeast Michigan and touts itself as the state's largest pontoon dealer. Right now, there is only one new pontoon boat for sale at their Commerce Township site.

Its website is even promoting "Cash for boats", and a prominent showroom sign promotes Wilson Marine's offer of "Top dollar for trade-ins."

“That’s helping us fulfill our inventory shortages – buying people’s used boats," Nolen said.

Because of shipping delays, Nolen explained that many customers buying a new boat are having to wait 3-6 months to get it.

"If it’s something intricate and high end, it could take even longer than that time frame," she added.

Prices have risen roughly 10% in the last year.

Nolen said a 19-foot Starcraft Fishmaster sold for $63,000 in the summer of 2020, and it's price is up to $68,000 this year.

It's not only customers having a tough time. St. Clair Yacht Sales at Detroit's Kean's Marine had to close its office last summer.

“There’s just a lack of...good, used inventory in Michigan right now. We were forced to let that store go after 33 years being there," said the owner Jay Cooper.

He's still in business in Port Huron with Jay's Marine Hardware and the remaining St. Clair Yact Sales brokerage.

"Normally we’d keep anywhere from between 80 to 100 boats in inventory, and all of it sold," he said referring to last summer's rush on boats.

Now, he's getting into the boat rental business.

"We saw a need for it. We get people calling like crazy. They can’t own a boat, so they want to rent a boat. They want to be on water," he said.

If you want to buy a boat, consider buying a used one to save you money and save you the wait for a new one. Or -- if you don't mind what color or features you get -- sit down with a retailer to see if there are any pre-ordered boats that haven't been snatched up yet.