Hans Steiner, owner and co-founder of Hans’ Boat Works, stands in his back lot that is currently storing about 120 boats. Steiner has been into boating since he was a young man, and has 38 years of experience in the industry. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
With temperatures rising, kids out of school and proximity to a number of parks and lakes, the Central Valley is a prime area to experience a classic American summer.
Wetter weather, along with a booming economy, has led to more interest in boating for Central Valley residents, and boat dealers in the area are in their busiest season.
Recreational boating in America, along with many other industries, boomed during the 1950s, though gas shortages, luxury taxes and recessions in subsequent decades hurt the industry, it is still a popular past time for hobbyists and families, and sales have been going up.
Hans Steiner is owner and co-founder of Hans’ Boat Works in Visalia, which he started with his wife in 2002. He worked at a boat dealership for 20 years prior.
“Sales have been steadily going up. We had a big downturn in ‘07-‘08, but since then it’s been a pretty steady increase,” Steiner said. “A lot of stuff got sold cheap at that point [recession years], new and used. It took until about 2010 for that to clear up, and it eliminated quite a bit of the boating industry too. We lost about 50% of our dealers, so the dealers that are here are the ones that are probably doing a better job at managing their stores and business, so those are the ones that have taken off since then.”
One of the current trends that are leading to higher prices is the shifting preference in water sports.
Steiner said that water skiing gave way to wake boarding, and now more people are interested in wake surfing, which requires a bigger boat with a bigger motor.
In the last eight years, pontoon boats, a flat-bottomed boat that is supported by air filled structures, have been seeing more sales as the baby boomers that partook in water skiing in the years prior are ageing and aren’t as able to water ski.
The top selling brands at Hans Boat Works are MasterCraft, Harris and Ranger Boats.
Steiner said that boat sales are strong in the Central Valley, especially with so many resources available for boating and places to go boating in.
Han’s Boat Works has made orders for customers in states outside of California, and also in Australia.
Even though people are buying new boats of different varieties — fishing boats, speedboats, and pontoons — people are also bringing in boats for repairs and restoration.
A used boat in good condition can start anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000. Some of the high-end speedboats can cost up to $225,000.
Because of the strange weather this year, with it staying cooler than average in March and April, Steiner said that the busy season started a little bit later, as the weather started to warm up.
Steiner said he has plans to expand by opening up another dealership, either in Visalia or another city in the Central Valley.
At The Boat Shoppe in Downtown Fresno, owner and founder Bruce Marion said that even though his shop is only about 6 years old, sales haven’t plateaued yet, and he’s been seeing more sales each year since the boat repair shop opened.
Even though Marion said that sales have been going up in recent years, there is a concern in the industry about the lack of participation from millennials.
“The average age for a boater is about 64 or 67,” Marion said. “That’s an older economic driver. Those are people that own a home, that have discretionary income. They can afford to go boating. In order for the marine industry to continue to grow, there needs to be more young people interested in the being in nature and boating.”
Another factor that might scare people away, is the higher prices of boats, with a price tag of “$40,000 or $60,000 for something you’re going to use for 40 hours out of the year.”
According to the national Marine Manufactures Association, annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products and services totaled $39 billion in 2017, a 7% increase from 2016. Sales in California totaled $718 million, up 14% from 2016.
Marion said that The Boat Shoppe is booked through July, and has been since January, and because of the wetter season this year, there is a lot of interest in restoring old boats.
Marion has been into boating since he was a kid, and built his first boat with his father when he was 13.When he was younger, Marion said that boating and RVing was a popular hobby that many with discretionary income took up.
For people barely starting, Marion said that one could buy a well-maintained boat for about $5,000.