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World peace, political sanity? You’re better off buying a boat

The round of fall shows got under way last week with the Newport International Boat Show, which drew good crowds and showcased more new models than I’ve seen since the start of the Great Recession.

Want to stimulate interest with would-be buyers sitting on the fence? Give them something fresh to get excited about. New models — new from stem to stern, not just modifications to existing hulls — is a theme that will play out from Newport to Annapolis, from Fort Lauderdale to Miami.

Sales numbers and anecdotal evidence suggest that serious buyers are returning. Aarn Rosen of Statistical Surveys told me last week that new-boat sales for the year could finish up between 8 and 10 percent. The segments that continue to lead the way are aluminum pontoon and aluminum fishing, but the fiberglass outboard market also has been solid. Rosen interprets that as a sign of improvement in some of the regional saltwater markets.

Some luxury segments also are doing well. On the day that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke announced a surprisingly aggressive plan to buy mortgage-backed securities to help juice the economy, Hinckley Co. CEO Jim McManus was holding a reception at the Newport show to highlight the new Talaria 34 jetboat, which has a base price of about $548,000.

Since the new model was introduced 12 weeks ago, McManus told the audience, the company has sold one T34 a week (and, actually, some prelaunch, too). And, he noted, Hinckley has sold 16 Talaria 48s since that yacht was launched about 18 months ago with a price tag just north of $2 million.

What’s at play? Recession fatigue? The wealth effect? The siren’s call of a handsome new boat? A bit of all three, perhaps.

“People are getting tired of frugality,” Phil Bennett, Hinckley’s vice president of sales, told me a couple of days later. “They have frugality fatigue. They’re looking around saying, ‘I’m OK. Life doesn’t go on forever. If I don’t start doing something for myself or my family soon, it will be too late.’ ”

And then, he added, “They realize that if I’m waiting for world peace or political sanity, I’m going to be waiting for a long time.”

Funny how the truth resonates.


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