Despite high gasoline prices, a stalled Midwest economy, and nasty weather in the Toledo area in recent months, boat dealers are optimistic that 2005 will be at least a decent year.
Some dealers believe it may turn out to be a very good year, especially if interest rates remain fairly low.
In general, dealers say many potential buyers are looking over the new boats with an eye toward getting out on the water this year, even if they have to pay $2.50, $2.75, or more for a gallon of gasoline.
"At this point, it seems to be holding steady with last year, which was a very good year," said Phil Berger, brokerage manager for MarineMax of Toledo, a power-boat dealer in Point Place.
"There was a slowdown in 2001, but the last 2 1/2 to 3 years, business has picked up. We're seeing six, seven, eight people a day - pretty good for a boat dealer."
John Schroeder, vice president of Happy Days Boating Co. in Port Clinton, said, "We're optimistic, but the weather is not helping us out."
A Cleveland boat show in January that normally produces good business for his power-boat dealership had slim crowds this year because of blizzard conditions, he said.
Even so, he predicted that volume this year will be within 10 percent of last year's, which he described as "probably one of the best." But he keeps hoping for better weather.
"If it's in the 80s, we're swamped," he said. "If it's in the 40s, it's a little tougher."
Said John Wisse, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' division of watercraft, "This state has a good, strong core group of boaters." Ohio had nearly 415,000 boats registered last year, of which 27,500 are in metro Toledo. Michigan has about 1 million registered boats, with 13,000 in Monroe County.
An estimated 3 million Ohioans go boating each year, he said, although the average boater is on the water just 38 days a year, spending an average of $2,500.
Costs for boats at local dealers cover a broad range: a 12-foot aluminum one for $1,300, an 18-foot sport boat for $16,000, a 28-foot sailboat for $60,000, a 68-foot motor yacht for $2.3 million.
For Dave Giles, owner of Toledo Beach Yacht Sales in Lasalle, Mich., 2005 could mean the return of the good old days of the mid-to-late 1980s and mid-to-late 1990s.
For the past three years, sales have risen 5 to 10 percent a year, and this year should be up 10 percent, said Mr. Giles, whose dealership handles both sailboats and power boats.
Low water levels on Lake Erie crimped boating business in recent years, he explained, but lots of precipitation in recent months changed that. "The water is way up," he said. "Lake Erie is up about a foot."
All the dealers say the high price of gasoline - usually 30 to 50 cents a gallon higher at marinas than on highways - is a potential deterrent but will only slow down, not stop, pleasure boating.
"[An extra] fifty cents a gallon won't hold them from what they want to do," said Mr. Berger.
He said he has noticed a greater interest in boating in the last couple of years. "Ever since 9-11 there's been a desire for people to spend more time with their families, and boating is a great way to do that," he said.
Dealers say the economic downturn after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism hurt boat sales for the next couple of years, but even relatively high unemployment and continued economic sluggishness in the last two years haven't put a squeeze on the market.