With all of the lifestyle changes and different effects of the “New Normal” imposed on us by the Covid-19 pandemic, what have been the effects on boating and custom boat building? Much has been written and said about the unexpected boom in recreational boating caused by people discovering, or re-discovering, boating on the Chesapeake as an alternative to vacation travel. Stories abound about busy maintenance and repair shops, full marinas, empty brokerage lots, and traffic clogged waterways this summer, especially on weekends.
With all this going on, what has been the effect of the pandemic on custom boatbuilding? The interesting, if unexpected answer is, not much.
Although it seems as if the pandemic has been ruling our lives forever, it is, in reality, a short-term phenomenon. The lockdown only started in mid-March, and we seem to be recovering slowly but surely. Custom boat building, on the other hand, is, by its very nature, a long-term process. Depending on the type and size of the boat desired, a custom build can easily take a year or more, and if a new design is involved, it often can take more than a year.
For example, Jim Weaver of Weaver Boat Works estimates that one of the beautiful sportfish boats that his company produces in Deale, MD, takes an average of 20 months to build. He has had a lot of interest and inquiries about boats. Jim has three boats in his shop in various stages of construction and has just begun construction of a Weaver 64 for a customer.
A unique design project which required tank testing and new, cutting edge materials, like the CY 55 being built at Composite Yacht in Trappe, MD, is in its third year. The hull is complete, the engines installed, and the deck mold is going on now. Completion is projected for the spring of next year.
Rob Hardy of Composite Yacht observed that he could not see any effects from the pandemic on the custom-building process. It takes time to build a custom boat, and his customers know that and take the long view. (See “Pushing the Envelope: The CY 55,” November 2018 Proptalk). Rob’s comment was, “We, and I suspect everyone else, are running wide open. The pandemic has had no negative effect on our business. We are still booked out with custom work a year to two years depending on the size of the boat. We can do a custom 26 in less than a year. The bigger more complex boats take longer.”
Pete Mathews of Mathews Brothers Boat Works in Denton, MD, describes the challenges of the pandemic on his custom business. He reported that when the shop reopened after the five-week lockdown, they almost immediately sold out of brokerage boats. Customers then began asking about and ordering new boats. His shop currently has three new boats under construction and the struggle to find and keep the manpower to meet the construction schedule is constant.
David Jr. of Evans Boat Repair in Crisfield says that they stopped marketing their new boat construction, but that didn’t stop their customers. Evans currently has three customs under construction. One is a custom 43 for Disney Cruise Lines. A second is for a customer who signed the contract for a 50-footer during the middle of the pandemic and a contract was just signed by a new customer for a 38. David’s observation, “The pandemic didn’t seem to scare them away.”
Only time will tell whether the resurgence in boating will outlast the pandemic. Hopefully the “Old Normal” will be back by next year’s boating season. If, indeed, that is the case, the continued interest in custom boats bodes well for the future of our industry. Let’s hope that the interest in new and custom boats results in more boaters enjoying our waters in the post pandemic era.
By Captain Rick Franke