2007-07-03 / News

Gasoline prices fail to dampen island boating activity

By Sam Bari

The average price of fuel at marinas in the Narragansett Bay area is $3.75 to $4 a gallon for gasoline and $3.20 to $3.40 for diesel. Most would think that would have a tremendous impact on the boating community, but not so in Jamestown according to marina and boatyard operators, and local as well as visiting boaters.

"If the price of fuel is having an impact, it must be someplace else, because it isn't here," said Bill Munger, owner of Conanicut Marine Services. He said it was a little early in the season to tell, but so far, the numbers at the pumps haven't changed much from last year. "They're about the same," he said.

Munger said that boat sales are brisk, mentioning that people are selling their boats, but for other reasons than needing the money because of a weak economy. "They're mostly selling to upgrade to larger or different boats," he said. "We've never had a boat left at the yard yet because the owner couldn't afford to keep it anymore," he added.

He went on to explain that the cost of fuel is a small portion of the overall price of keeping and maintaining a boat. People who can afford to moor or dock a powerboat in season, store it in the off-season, and pay for the upkeep, don't worry about the price of fuel. They may not travel as far or as often as when costs are less, but they're not going to sell their boats because of a fluctuation in the economy, he said. "Besides, the remarkable efficiency of the new engines and hull designs makes the cost of fuel a small factor in the overall price of enjoying a boat," he added.

Jamestown Boatyard manager Jim Archibald agreed with Munger. "Boaters on the island, and particularly our customers, aren't that concerned about the price of fuel or a temporary sag in the economy," he said. "They might not like it, but they're certainly not going to sell their boats because of it. Sail boaters just sail more and use their engines less."

Archibald also said that the weak economy has an adverse effect on a certain portion of the market. "I think the low or entry level end of the market suffers first in just about any business, and boating is no different," he said.

Frank Matheson, a visiting boater from Darien, Connecticut, said that he doesn't think a sag in the economy is going to have much of an impact on people who can afford the luxury of a pleasure boat, especially the larger yachts. "I'm here with my wife and two sons. We have a 42-foot Ocean sport fish. I'm a stock broker, and the business has treated us well. I admit, we're fortunate. I can certainly remember when I couldn't even think about owning a boat like this. But when you consider that a boat of this size costs more than the average house, six or seven hundred dollars to fill the fuel tanks isn't really much in the overall cost," he said.

Matheson said that people who are in a position to own and fi- nance a boat more than likely are prepared to survive a bump in the economy. "It's part of doing business," he said.

According to Paula Swistak, the outgoing harbor clerk, as of June, 550 private and 379 commercial mooring permits were issued this year and 275 people are on the waiting list. Some have been waiting for over five years. Only e12 boaters vacated their moorings because they moved or no longer have boats, making their moorings available.

Harbor Management Commission member Bob Bowen said that the demand for accommodations like dinghy docks, or dinghy, kayak, and small sailboat storage areas is growing, not receding. "It's not just the high end big boats that need moorings and facilities, the number of small boat owners is also growing," Bowen said. He went on to say that the boating community on all levels is definitely not declining in Jamestown, it is on the increase, he said.

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