ANNAPOLIS – Personal watercraft dealers around the state report sluggish sales this year, and blame the stagnant turnover on a cool summer, market saturation and customers’ concerns about money.
Personal watercraft, or PWCs, were considered by some analysts of the recreational boating industry as good tools for introducing novices to boating, thus promoting industry growth. Now dealers say they are getting difficult to move.
This summer’s weather seems to be the main culprit.
Jeff Davis, general manager of Twigg Cycles Inc. in Hagerstown, said his sales were good early in the year but dropped as spring was delayed.
“The weather just killed our sales. In a word, they stunk this year,” Davis said.
John Leach of Pete’s Cycle Co. in Baltimore characterized his PWC sales as “way down” and said this year showed how weather sensitive personal watercraft are.
Beyond the weather, however, there may just be too many personal watercraft.
Rick Trio, a salesman at Atlantic Cycle & Power in Waldorf, said his sales were “excellent” this year, but they did not compare to recent years’ sales increases, which were as much as 20 percent.
“It was a tougher sell this year,” said Trio, who has sold PWCs since 1985. With more personal watercraft on the market, customers are becoming more discriminating, he added.
“It’s old timers like me who are doing the selling because you really have to know the product,” Trio said.
Davis agreed. He said he thinks the industry will peak this year or next — not just in Maryland but nationally.
Estimates supplied by the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group for the retail boating industry, showed sales of personal watercraft have risen 294 percent since 1991.
According to the association, unit sales jumped from 68,000 in 1991 to 200,000 in 1995. From 1993 to 1995, retail sales increased from $618 million to $1.14 billion, a 185 percent rise.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports that one of every three new boats purchased in 1995 was a personal watercraft. But registrations of PWCs, while increasing, are doing so at a slower rate.
At the end of 1993, there were 6,501 PWCs registered in the state, an increase of 1,500 for that year. One year later 1,395 more were registered, and an additional 1,377 registered in 1995, bringing the total to 9,273.
And the DNR estimated there were around 10,000 PWCs in Maryland as of this summer, during which dealers reported slower sales because of bad weather.
But dealers also point to other factors they see affecting their customers decisions.
Don Short, owner of Short’s Marine Inc. of Millsboro, Del., approximately 25 miles from Ocean City, believes some potential buyers have been influenced by the pending election.
“If people’s income is generated by politics, they have been more conservative with their income dollars,” said Short.
He added that other events this summer, such as the Olympics, may have captured some of the scarce recreational dollars.
Trio said he believes safety concerns and possibly future regulation may also come into play.
Although there have been no fatalities in 1996, the DNR reported three PWC-related deaths in 1995.
And the number of accidents has risen dramatically. In 1995, DNR records show there were 82 accidents statewide, compared to eight in 1992. Of the 216 accidents between 1992 and 1995, 114 occurred in Worcester County, where Ocean City is located.
DNR police Lt. Randy Witter said his agency does not have any plans for increasing regulation in the near future.
“The state regulations are sufficient,” Witter said. “Violation of the current regulations is the cause of most accidents.” -30-