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Sailing sector sees an emerging recovery

MIAMI - As the industry tries to crawl out of the wreckage from the recession, the concept of "good news" is a relative term. For the sailing sector, the key numbers presented at the 15th annual State of the Industry report at the Miami International Boat Show are 8 and 38.

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Boat production was down 8 percent in 2010, but that was positive news, compared with a 38 percent plunge the previous year.

"I think the worst is over," said Rick Walter of Market Research Consulting, which tabulates the data. They were culled from a survey of builders and charter firms from September 2009 through August 2010. "It's a start, but we have a long way to go."

The fleet of builders also has thinned in a down market. The number of active builders is down 25 percent, to 119, from 2002-03, when there were 158.

However, the manufacturing of cruising sailboats was up 14 percent in 2010 after a 55 percent plunge in 2009. Pocket cruiser production was up 19 percent, but multihull production was down 14 percent, to 1,006.

On the employment front, the sailing production work force was up 3 percent in 2010, to 1,700 workers.

North American imports revealed a 21 percent decrease in boats 20 feet and larger, standing at 190 boats, compared with 240 in 2009, 358 in 2008 and 421 in 2007.

But Walter reported "very optimistic expectations" among respondents, who expect increases of 47 units in the 20- to 35-foot segment, 34 units in the 36- to 45-foot segment and 53 among boats 46 feet and larger for 2011.

Bareboat charter firms reported that business was down 6 percent in 2010, but that's "not bad," Walter said, compared with a 21 percent drop in 2009. And chartering improved with the recovering economy and was down only 4 percent in spring 2010.

"I expect to see a nice increase for the fourth quarter of 2010," Walter said.

Click here for the full State of the Industry report.

Rich Armstrong

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