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Reviving Classic Boats

With today’s production back-up, it’s not always a bad idea to be looking at older vessels.

November 9, 2021
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Steve Haefele illustration
“It seems that, so far, the swarm of new buyers has left many rides from the 1980s and ’90s tangled in tumbleweed.” Steve Haefele

A sales pal called recently to share a customer-satisfaction test that he says has become the new normal.

“Dealer orders outboard boat from builder. Builder sends boat without motors screwed to the transom. The supply chain’s in a knot, for God’s sake.”

His solution? Recycle.

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Among the countless lessons learned during the pandemic, we all discovered the frailties of our “just-in-time” supply chain when our toilet paper failed to arrive just in time. Now, it’s boats that are flying off the shelves, and builders are playing catch-up. My pal predicts that it might take several years to whittle down the backlog, so he’s promoting well-cured laminates and analog tech for those who can’t wait.

What builders had hoped would be an orderly marine-industry cattle drive of newly minted boaters out of lockdown and into a new ride has instead become a stampede. “They just can’t get enough of the latest marine technology,” my pal said.

Folks running re-treads on their deck shoes might recall that electronic wizardry and salt water have at times had a corrosive relationship, but my pal insists that today’s buyers are believers.

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“Gimme a boat that chats by iPhone about its ailments and parallel parks. I could sell as many of ‘em as you can build,” he said.

High demand—combined with shortages of the basic goo and glass that boats are built with—is trouble enough, but now with a shortage of computer chips, one might as well buy a sextant.

“When the chips are down, new boat sales follow,” my pal explained. “Propulsion, navigation, domestic systems—they’re all smart. Even the head has a mind of its own these days. Coyle, the smart money is on dumb boats.”

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Read More from Jay Coyle: Tell Tales

His pitch has substance. It seems that, so far, the swarm of new buyers has left many rides from the 1980s and ‘90s tangled in tumbleweed. “Boats with half an acre of parched teak decking or a few dozen cylinders to overhaul can be a bargain,” my pal said. “Coyle, if you want to find a boat in this market, you need to be looking at one with a VCR and cassette player screwed into the entertainment center. Forget about USB charging stations.”

My pal provided an example I’d had a crush on since I first sea-trialed it in the late 1980s. “Three staterooms and two 1,100 hp diesels for the price of a travel trailer.”

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“That’s unbelievable,” I said while ogling the images.

“Today’s herd of buyers don’t understand boats like this,” my pal replied. “They were weaned on personal computers and hours of Star Trek reruns. When they want something, they push a button.”

I was lost in the dream until my pal spoke up. “You can dock a boat without a joystick and handle a wrench, right?”

The drooling subsided as common sense got the best of me.

“A wrench? How much a hole is it to rebuild those motors?” I asked.

My pal mumbled the numbers, which amounted to two travel trailers. “Coyle,” he said, “at least it has engines.”

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