The American Boating Congress wrapped up Friday, capping three days of presentations; discussions with members of Congress, economists and political commentators; and visits to Capitol Hill, where industry stakeholders spoke with representatives.
Chris-Craft president and NMMA board chairman Stephen Heese opened the Friday breakfast by presenting the Hammond Marine Industry Leadership Award to Dometic executive vice president Ned Trigg.
“No one has done more to help grow and protect recreation and boating than Ned,” Heese said. “It’s a pleasure to present him with this award.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., took the stage next. “You guys are dealing with the same things many other industries are struggling with in this country,” he said. “These massive supply-chain problems are a big wakeup call. Unless we wean ourselves off our dependencies on Chinese products, these problems will continue.”
Gallagher addressed the importance of the Bipartisan Innovation Act — an NMMA legislative priority for 2022 — which aims to tackle supply-chain disruptions and inflation by bringing microchip production back to the United States; allowing businesses to fully deduct research-and-development costs in the year they were incurred; and expanding Section 301 tariffs on Chinese products that have unfairly targeted more that 300 common marine products, according to NMMA.
“We have to invest in critical technologies and find a way to incentivize the production of chips in America and streamline the regulatory process so it doesn’t take years to open new chip fabs,” he added.
Gallagher said workforce challenges are another priority. “Among the biggest economic constraints we face are workforce challenges,” he said. “We cannot find people to work because of lack of skills and willingness to show up to work. It’s not an easy problem to fix.
“We have to invest in apprenticeship programs. We also need to understand that legal immigration and worker visas are tools to fix the labor shortage issues,” he added.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., spoke about reforms he says are needed at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “They [the Corps] always forget to brag on who attracts visitors to their managed facilities,” he said. “It’s the marine industry that creates the visitors to corps facilities, not the federal government.”
Comer praised another NMMA legislative priority: the Water Resources Development Act of 2022. The legislation aims to keep up with demand for boating by improving the Corps’ joint management authority at recreation sites with additional funding for recreation-based access, infrastructure and navigation projects.
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., gave a recorded video address that added another voice to the Bipartisan Innovation Act. “I recognize the importance of safe boating and sustainability. I also support the Innovation Act, which will invest in U.S. chip manufacturing and revive American research and development by allowing U.S. business to deduct their research-and-development costs in the year they are incurred.”
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., also addressed attendees in a recorded video. “The marine industry in Michigan generates $7.4 billion in revenues, and supports 31,000 jobs and 500 businesses,” he said. “Boating is a part of our way of life in our state.
“We need to make better use of our [Great Lakes] ports, which support efficient movement of goods,” he added. “I’m also a big fan of places like the Great Lakes Boatbuilding School, which teaches skilled boatbuilding trades and has a 100 percent placement rate. Getting people into the workforce through apprenticeships and trade schools is vital to your industry.”
One of the most anticipated speakers, political analyst Charlie Cook of The Cook Report, spoke for an hour about the upcoming midterm elections. He opened by saying, “Politically, our country is evenly, narrowly and bitterly divided.”
The commentator spoke at length about inflation. “No matter what Joe Biden does between now and the midterms and beyond, he won’t be able to shake the fact that painful inflation occurred during his term,” he said. “No party in power has ever taken the midterms when excessive inflation is in place.”
Cook explained that a number of other factors will affect the elections, summing up the conversation by saying: “It does not look good for the Democrats in November.”
The last representative to speak was Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., who added to the support for the Bipartisan Innovation Act. “Regulations harm innovations, and your industry has endured a lot in that regard,” he said. “Let’s remove taxes, tariffs and [reduce] government regulation. More money and more government are not the solution.”
ABC concluded with a panel discussion about the state of electric propulsion, hosted by Callie Hoyt, NMMA director of federal government relations. On the panel were Sean Marerro, chief strategy officer at Correct Craft and president of Watershed Innovation/Ingenity Electric; Aine Denari, president of the Brunswick Boat Group; Jonathan Burns, general manager of the Yamaha U.S. Marine Development and Planning Division; Steve Trkla, president of Torqeedo; and Joe Guzzo, director of advanced technology, federal affairs, at General Motors.
Hoyt first asked about the most immediate opportunities for electrification in the boating industry.
“Electrification is good for slow speeds and frequent stopping and starting,” Marerro said. “We’re in the telematics business, and that has given us a lot of data. We have 10,000 connected boats, and 90 percent of them are gas-powered, but a lot of their use can be satisfied with electric.”
Denari said: “Early use cases show not so much wide-open throttle use, but slower speeds or like on pontoon boats, which are often taken to a location, shut down and then taken back to the dock. We still see use cases for fast acceleration. We also see use cases for early adopters and high-tech-focused people who are looking for the highest tech available and connectivity.”
“Lots of fishing boats use a small kicker motor for trolling or low-speed maneuverability, such as in the Upper Midwest for walleye and the Pacific Northwest for salmon,” Burns said. “Those are activities where we can shut down big engines and use an electric outboard.”
“What are consumer benefits [of electrification] versus gas?” Hoyt asked Trkla.
“Lowering carbon emissions is one of the tasks of our generation, and [controlling] air quality is important in cities, as well as reducing noise,” Trkla said. “[It provides] a nice experience with less noise and access to green lakes, reservoirs and sanctuaries. There also is very little maintenance with electric propulsion and no winterization.”
Hoyt next asked the panel: “What are the remaining challenges against mass adoption?”
Added Denari: “We’re still in early adopter phase, so consumers are more forgiving. Cost getting on scale is another piece, as is the power density of batteries. Water is harder and requires more power than autos need to stay at speed on the road. Taking a Boston Whaler from Florida to the Bahamas is a case application, but charging infrastructure is necessary.”
Burns said: “So much of our business is offshore — it just doesn’t make sense going offshore and having such limited range right now. That’s where efficient 4-stroke engines shine.”
“How should we as a sector look at the build-out of the network on the auto side and apply that to boating?” Hoyt asked.
“We have a $90 billion charging problem,” Guzzo said. “Most cars average only 30 miles a day and don’t use much of what’s in the battery. Going forward, you’ll see bidirectional charging, which pulls energy out of connected vehicle batteries to support the grid. No one is exactly sure how to do it yet.”
“There’s shore power at marinas, obviously, but not all of them have the capacity to carry the type or power you need to charge a large battery pack very quickly,” Aine said. “There will need to be a massive buildout of chargers at some point.”
As the panel concluded, Hugelmeyer officially closed ABC. “Thank you so much for coming and for your contributions to the industry,” he said. “The 2022 American Boating Congress is officially closed.”