At the Helm: Thrifty: A family tradition

When people find out you work in the boating business, eventually they want to know about your boat.

My husband, our two boys, the dog and I spend as much of the summer as possible at a rustic cabin built by my great grandfather in the 1,000 Islands Region of
Upstate New York. The boat is a 16-foot Crestliner runabout my grandfather bought when I was 11 years old.

I’m not particularly proud of our family’s boat. But maybe I should be. It’s easy to say you love boating when your boat surrounds you in comfort, luxury and all the conveniences of home. But you know you love boating when you’re bouncing across the waves in a seat that has been compressed by three generations of family.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, I’d rather have the latest and greatest parked in our boathouse. Each winter, we walk the aisles of our local boat show, drooling over all the shiny fiberglass. And each spring we wonder, “Will this be the year we’ll need to replace the family boat?”

But we’ve decided to put it off until our current boat gives its last cough and dies. We’re like a lot of American families. Our monthly bills include a mortgage on a modest three-bedroom house, car payments, daycare, groceries, diapers and utilities, not to mention student loans. There isn’t much left over most months. Then, there’s my family’s tradition of thriftiness. Even wrapping paper is saved and used again and again until it falls apart.

But we do have the water gene, every last one of us. And there’s no way we could survive a summer without a boat. Just ask my six-year-old son.

When it’s time to replace the old family boat, we’ll be weighing the pros and cons of a pre-owned model vs. a new model much like the “value” boats discussed
in our cover story this month.

In recent years, a growing percentage of consumers have chosen preowned. Out of the 1,118,130 total power and sail boats sold in 2010, 929,900 of them were pre-owned boats. That’s a decrease of 2.4 percent compared to 2009. New boats saw a 10-percent decline last year.

But many experts are predicting that consumers may soon face a shortage of late model pre-owned boats. In fact, dealers in some regions are already reporting evidence of this. With a shortage comes increases in prices, and as those prices rise, new boats will begin to look a little more desirable.

That is, if they are within reach for price-conscious consumers. That’s why those manufacturers that have found a way to be successful in the value-priced segment truly have an advantage.

In today’s market, price is probably more important to consumers than any of us would like. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only consideration.

When the time comes for us to begin searching for our next boat, it will start – as it should – with finding the right dealer. Someone we can trust, someone who can help us find the right boat, and someone to take care of us long after the first sale to the next one and the one after that.

After all, some family traditions are worth breaking.

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