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Lightning in a Bottleneck

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Salespeople at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which wrapped up its five-day run Sunday, all had the same look on their faces. It was as recognizable as the cat that ate the bird.

Roger Sowerbutts, director of Horizon Yachts USA, perhaps put it best. “If you had told me two years ago that a virus was going to shut the world down, and then the end result of that for us would be that sales would go through the roof in ways we’ve never seen, I’d have told you were out of your mind,” he said. “But here we are, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

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John Leek IV of Viking Yacht Co. echoed the sentiment. “The customers just keep showing up and buying boats, big and small,” he said. “And I think all of us are wondering if it will ever end. But right now, all indicators don’t show any signs of this slowing down.”

Few builders will confirm specific sales numbers yet, with the show closing yesterday, but the response remained the same seemingly regardless of the stand. “What we’re seeing is really incredible,” Chris McCafferty of Riviera Yachts said through a barely constrained grin.

If builders feel as if they caught lightning in a bottle at FLIBS, they also have another bottle to contend with — or rather, a bottleneck. Supply chain issues are doing their best to thwart what is otherwise a breakneck pace for boat sales.

Ocean Alexander, which had a massive presence at the show thanks to such new offerings as the 35R and 32L, was feeling the pinch, according to vice president of marketing Sally Doleski.

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“The inability to get stuff in a timely fashion means no guarantee on pricing, so pricing can become a sticking point,” Doleski said. “Yacht transport ships are becoming hard to find, too. So that’s another challenge we are working to overcome. But we build 18 to 24 months out anyway, so it hasn’t been too terrible for us.”

James Nobel of Princess noted another specific problem: a lack of gensets. “Princess has done a great job keeping things running,” he said, “but generators have been an issue. If the customer wants an Onan, for example, he may end up with a Kohler because that’s all we can get. As long as it’s an equal trade-out, though, it isn’t really a problem. Stuff like that is all in the agreements you sign with us to start.”

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Elise Caulder, sales and new-build consultant at Horizon, said shortages of appliances also impact build times and scheduling. “Because of supply chain issues, we have ended up having to pick appliances first,” she said, “even before interiors. Never thought I’d say that. We need to move up all our decision schedules to accommodate what’s going on with supplies, but we are doing it.

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“All in, we are seeing about a four-month delay currently,” Caulder added. “Normally it takes us 12 months to build a boat; right now, to start from scratch, you’re looking at more like 16 [months], but again, it can change weekly.”

Leek sees the supply chain as yet another hurdle that Viking will get around. “When Covid hit I think everyone was a little worried, but then we started selling lots of boats. So to have a supply chain issue, that’s just one more thing to overcome. And we’re doing what we are always doing; we are fighting and scratching to make the best boats we can, and we believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

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