Boat exports to Japan growing dramatically

CHICAGO – Imports of inboard recreational boats in Japan increased 78 percent during the first six months of 2005 compared to the same period the previous year, according to statistics compiled by Japan’s Ministry of Finance, reported the National Marine Manufacturers Association in a recent statement.

The surge in imports follows the elimination of the five gross ton (approximately 27 feet in length) boat size limit that holders of Japan’s most popular boat license are permitted to operate. Representatives from NMMA, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. embassy in Tokyo have asked the Japanese regulatory authorities for several years to reexamine the regulation, since the five-ton limit was arbitrary and unique to Japan.

“To their credit, Japanese regulators concluded that the limit served no useful purpose and observed that boating safety might actually be improved if boaters traveling far from shore did so in larger boats,” said Hal Offutt, NMMA’s consultant in Tokyo.

The elimination of the restriction was announced last September and took effect November 1, 2004, and the vast majority of Japanese recreational boaters are now permitted to operate boats up to 24 meters (78 feet) in length. U.S. boat manufacturers have reaped benefits from this change in regulations, as imports of recreational boats from the U.S. have increased 105 percent during the first half of 2005. The average price of a boat from the U.S. nearly doubled, indicating that significantly larger boats are being imported into Japan.

“This was the impact we were expecting when the five ton limit was lifted,” said NMMA President Thom Dammrich. “When the Japanese buy bigger boats it usually means they will be purchasing imported boats since local boat builders manufacture very few models that are more than 30 feet in length.”

NMMA Vice President of Government Relations Monita Fontaine said that the industry’s success would not have been possible without the Department of Commerce and the Commerce staff at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

“We have been working with these devoted professionals for ten years and without their assistance we would have made little, if any progress,” said Fontaine.

Fontaine added that she hopes Japanese regulators will continue to be receptive to re-examining another major barrier that raises the price of imported boats and limits their presence in the Japan market — the requirement that every imported boat be given a physical inspection by a government inspector.

“There is no other advanced country with such a requirement, and it is time for Japan to bring its regulations into line with those used in the rest of the world,” said Fontaine.

For more information, contact NMMA Regulatory Counsel Cindy Squires (202) 737-9766;

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