BAR HARBOR — If you need a new boat or a new engine for the boat you already have, good luck getting it anytime soon.
Customer demand is at an all-time high, but backlogs in manufacturing and the world’s ongoing supply chain problems mean that local boat dealers – like those all over the country – aren’t able to meet that demand.
“The demand for boats has been huge because of the pandemic,” said Gary Cabit, owner of Lake & Sea Boatworks in Bar Harbor.
“What better place to socially distance than out on the water? It’s something to do safely without anybody around.
“A lot of people bought old or used boats and didn’t realize that those boats needed new engines, so that has created more demand,” Cabit said.
But boats, engines and parts are hard to come by, partly because manufacturers are overwhelmed with orders and don’t have the materials they need and partly because of backlogs in transportation. A lot of boat engines are built in Asia and come to this country on container ships.
“The newer ships are much larger and carry a lot more containers, so the ports get inundated,” Cabit said. “Sometimes there are upwards of 70 to 80 huge container ships waiting to offload in a port.
“And then there is a shortage of truck drivers and trucks. Trucks break down and they can’t get parts. Ironically, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those parts the trucks need might be sitting in container ships waiting to be offloaded.”
Paul Bowden, owner of Bowden Marine Service in Bar Harbor, said another factor contributing to the shortage of outboard engines is the switch that some boat manufacturers have made from inboard to outboard power.
“There are higher power outboards now, and an outboard motor is easier to build,” he said.
“So, they are building 50-plus-foot outboard powered boats. That’s where the market has been recently, the bigger off-shore boats. They are bolting two, three, four, even five engines onto the back of boats that size. So, it doesn’t take long for the manufacturers to fall behind.
“In 2020, there were over 370,000 outboard motors sold in this country, and nearly that many new boats. Demand is still high, but there is a lack of product to supply it.”
Bowden said there has been a shortage of many of the materials used in boat building including aluminum and plexiglass and even foam for seat cushions and material for Sunbrella tops. Meanwhile, the cost of all these materials keeps going up.
“We have to try to guess what a boat is actually going to cost a year and a half or two years from now,” Bowden said. “We are a Boston Whaler dealer, and realistically, anybody who is looking to order a new boat won’t see it until 2024.”
It isn’t just boats and engines that are hard to get.
“Trailers have been tough, too,” Bowden said. “I ordered trailers last February, and we got some this October.”
Bowden and Cabit say the squeeze between high demand and short supply started nearly two years ago, around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Not that either of the local boat dealers can see.
“I think it’s going to take at least another year before things get much better,” Bowden said.
As for Cabit: “Nobody really knows when things are going to ease up. Things have not been looking better as far as the pandemic is concerned, so that could cause more shutdowns.”
He said he has more customers wanting replacement engines this winter than ever before.
“But we have no engines and no idea when we will,” he said. “Most of the customers are pretty good about it. We tell them that if they’ve got a running engine on their boat, don’t take it off.”