A calm year for sailing

Difficult economic and political climates contributed to a slight decline in aggregate sailboat production in 2005 — from 16,075 in 2004 to 15,996 last year.

That was one of the many findings from the 2005 North American Sailing Industry Study presented by The Sailing Company at the Miami Boat Show this spring.

“Considering what we had to deal with and what some other industries are reporting, I think we did pretty darn good,” said Rick Walter of Rick Walter MarketResearch Associates, which conducted the study.

Walter cited increased costs associated with the production of oil-based products and higher retail prices, along with uncertainty about the war in Iraq — which he said changes consumer priorities — as reasons why the sailboat industry’s predictions for 2005 fell short.

Production of sailboats in excess of 36 feet fell most steeply, down 8 percent in reaction to last year’s production level increases, according to the study. But the highest-end vessels (46 feet plus) reported the same production levels as last year. Sailboats 20 to 35 feet in length were down 2 percent, and those up to 19 feet in length were statistically unchanged.

A strengthened dollar caused exports — which grew by almost 1,000 units from 2003 to 2004 — to fall by more than 800 units in 2005, while imports stopped a two-year slide and rose 7 percent. One out of five imports was a multihull.

The estimated value of 2005 sailboat production increased from $678 to $719 million.

The study revealed that multihulls “significantly outperformed” monohulls in 2005. They were up 15 percent for the year, from 2,271 in 2004 to 2,607 last year — the biggest increase in percentage seen in the study. But smaller boats also outperformed larger boats in the multihull segment. Of the 336-unit gain in sales, nearly 300 of those came in the 19-foot-and-under cruiser segment.

Walter said the industry’s outlook for 2006 is positive and that forecasts for the year, which call for a 5-percent combined increase throughout all segments — with the largest increase, 11 percent, coming in cruisers 36 feet or over — could be the most accurate ever. He cited a rise in consumer confidence, reasonable interest rates and inflation being held in check as reasons for optimism. He also noted that insurance companies’ pay-offs of hurricane claims and baby boomer spending will have a positive impact.

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