Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Boating season ready to launch in Greenwich

GREENWICH — Boaters from around the region are prepping their vessels for the opening of the boating season, ushered in by the Greenwich Boat show next weekend.

As the season opens with the warmer weather, boaters and marine operators are talking about some of the latest gadgets that are rolling out for navigation and fishing, and the advantages of various kinds of propulsion systems coming to the market. On a more serious note, the marine community is also coming together to oppose a proposal to raise state sales taxes on boat purchases, as well as on storage fees.

Rick Kral, president of the Greenwich Water Club and founder of Greenwich Boat Show, said expectations are running high among the boaters in the region, as the warm weather gets them in a mood to rev their engines on Long Island Sound.

“The biggest buzz in the industry right now is bigger outboard engines. They’re coming out with higher horsepower outboard engines — they can get away from three motors in the back and get away with two. It’s a better balancing program, for the boat, and with weight displacement, it’s little more efficient to run two engines rather than three. And you only have to service two engines,” Kral said.

New instrumentation is another aspect of the boating world that gets lots of discussions going.
“Electronics are upgraded every year - touch screen has gotten bigger and more available - and more functional in the marine world. And more cost effective. Some of the night-vision technology is still pricey, but it’s getting a little more popular. People love gadgets and toys,” said Kral.

The question of higher taxes for boat sales, as well as new taxes on boat storage, is likely to be another topic of discussion this boating season. Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent budget proposal would increase the sales tax rate on boats from a 2.99 percent rate to 6.35 percent, and also begin charging the sales tax on winter boat storage. The sales tax was previously dropped 2.99 percent. Opponents of the tax hike noted that Rhode Island has no sales taxes on new boat purchases, which would put the Connecticut market at a disadvantage.

John Herman, who owns the John Herman Marine Center in Stamford, said a tax hike would be counter-productive.

“Financing rates are low, and that allows people to get into the sport. But any additional costs will hurt that,” he said. “How about cutting (state) spending.”

Herman said one trend he is seeing is an increase in joint ownership of boats, a type of time-sharing. It especially appeals to the younger segment of the market, he said.

“I think we’re going to see more of that, given the cost of purchasing a boat, and carrying it,” said the Stamford boat dealer, based in Shippan. “The next generation of boat-buyers has more of a rental mindset. They shy away from commitment,” he said with a laugh.

At the Greenwich Water Club, Kral said he has also seen a move toward time-sharing. Club members have an option of taking out boats from the club on a short-term basis, and the program has been popular.

“That’s appealing to a lot of our members, who want to use a boat here or there,” he said. “Joint ownership programs are growing very rapidly all along the East Coast.”

As to the tax issue, the Greenwich marine operator said a tax hike would be a short-sighted move.
“It would be a huge step backwards, especially since Rhode Island is very aggressive in supporting their marine industry,” he said. The boating industry in Connecticut should have an opportunity to make its case that a tax hike would end up dampening revenue for the state, Kral said.

“In the end, it’s an industry, and we employ a lot of people. There’s a lot to be said for the economics generated by boat sales,” he said. “Give us an opportunity as an industry to prove that.”

As to the boat show April 6 and 7, Kral said the expo will be the biggest in the organization’s history.
“We’ve got a great mix this year, 22 dealers, the most we’ve ever had, and everyone is bringing some great boats. It’s going to be exciting - and we’ve got Lamborghini coming, with a couple of hot cars, to have a little extra eye candy,” he said.

The event, which is free, will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days at 49 River Road, Cos Cob. For more details, visit greenwichboatshow.com.