Fuel will be an issue this summer

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In recent years, we speculated that gas price wouldn’t have a serious negative impact on boating activity until it reached the fairy tale $4.00 gallon. We believed our customers were primarily concerned with gas availability, not price; that boaters would pay $3.00 or $3.50/gallon and keep boating.

Truth is, I suspect we never really conceived of $4.00/gallon even a year ago and, now, the Energy Department is warning gas is likely to rise even more this summer.

With the '08 prime boating season at hand, the $4.00/gallon mark is here and gone. Last Sunday in St. Pete, FL, I paid $4.55/gallon (it was $4.59/gallon in nearby Tierra Verde!) to fuel the boat. That’s more than $450 for 100 gallons, and the tanks were only half full! I admit it shook me up some.

There’s no doubt we’re all feeling the inescapable climb in gas prices that have reached fever pitch these days. Gas is kicking up our monthly credit card bills and taking an even bigger slice of our income. Economists say there’s no doubt we must tighten our belts. Coupled with higher food prices and the housing market weaknesses, escalating energy costs are taking their toll.

To offset, many families are reportedly cutting things like lunches or dinners out, club dues, weekend trips and passing up better quality goods for cheaper ones in bulk at Sam’s Club or K-Mart instead of a pricier grocery stores. The big question is what will they do with their boat this summer? I know I’m giving some thought to changing the way I’ll boat (translation: reduce gas consumption) this summer.

But that makes me realize as dealers we must be proactive on this issue. For example, we need to tell prospects about the efficiency of today’s marine engines compared to those of just a few years ago. We need to educate our customers on ways to reduce gas consumption by removing unnecessary weight, having the prop repaired, cleaning the bottom, tuning the engine and so on. We must point out that the average weekend of boating does not consume major quantities of gas — the engine isn’t running when anchored at the beach or enjoying a day of fishing. Most important, the boat still provides that great summer vacation every weekend! That is still priceless!

I recall as we approached record gas prices last May-June (prices that, today, look like a bargain) NMMA produced an excellent fact sheet on ways to respond to customers, prospects and even the media when asked about the effect of high gas prices on boating. There will be no better time than now to dig out that fact sheet, brush it off and learn it again for 2008.

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