MIAMI: Sail industry reports 10 percent sales gain

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MIAMI BEACH — The sailboat industry is tracking on par with the powerboat segment with wholesale shipments up about 10 percent in 2012.

“For the first time in five years the sailboat industry was up, and it was up by 10 percent in 2012,” said Bonnier Group publisher Sally Helme, who addressed the state of the sailboat industry today at the Hard Rock Cafe in Miami as part of the Miami International Boat Show and Strictly Sail.

“We are mirroring the powerboat numbers that [National Marine Manufacturers Association president] Thom Dammrich gave yesterday and that’s a good thing. I’m glad to see we are right there with them.”

Just as on the powerboat side, not every size category is seeing growth, Helme said.

Shipments of sailboats 11 feet and under grew the most, 21 percent, from 1,377 in 2011 to 1,661 in 2012, Helme said. The largest chunk of the market, 12- to 19-foot boats, saw an 8 percent increase to 4,216 from 2011 to 2012.

But the recession has taken its toll, Helme said. “The recession’s impact on the number of North American sailboat builders has been painful,” Helme said, adding that between 2004 and 2012 the number dropped from 146 to 104.

The number of full-time employees in the industry was down from 3,100 to 1,531 during that time frame, Helme said.

But in more optimistic news, sailors ranked highly in social media networking habits, as well as face-to-face networking habits — and were far more active in both than their powerboating counterparts, Helme said.

Helme quoted information gleaned from the Mendelsohn Affluent Survey, which polls 59 million households with incomes $100,000 and above about their lives, spending and media habits.

“All of this is useful information in terms of how they communicate,” Helme said. “And they like to communicate. They ranked No. 1 in the past year for using email, talking on the phone via Skype and talking in person, which is a good thing.”

They also are big tweeters and texters, compared with powerboaters, Helme said.

“Powerboaters had no desire to have anything to do with that little bird,” Helme said, showing a slide of a healthy Twitter bird under a “Sail” tag next to a dead Twitter bird under the “Power” heading, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

They also tend to be politically liberal, compared with powerboaters, who tend to have a conservative leaning.

And a bit of trivia, Helme added: “Sailors drank 2,287,100 glasses of rum, gin and tequila in the last seven days.”

— Reagan Haynes

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