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Fuel prices could damp area boating season

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Owners of marinas such as Toledo Beach have a short season in which to generate a profit.

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Motorists aren't the only ones nervously watching gas prices.

Boat owners and the marinas that fill their tanks are rethinking summer plans because the marina gas is 30 to 50 cents more per gallon than the $3 or so at the gas station pump.

About a quarter of the nearly 400 docks at the Luna Pier Harbor Club could be unsold this summer as boat owners keep their crafts on land because of fuel prices, said Mary Briskey, owner of the club in southern Michigan near Toledo.

"The high gas prices will just choke the season," Ms. Briskey said. "We're quite concerned. We expected part of the increase, but you never expect the whole thing."

The season is just getting under way, but bad signs are mounting. For example, a boat owner recently spent $1,300 to gas up at $3.35 a gallon, and, separately, a round trip from Monroe to Put-in-Bay that used to cost $100 in gas now costs $300.

Boating is a $3.9 billion industry in Michigan, employing 51,000 people. In Ohio, it's a $2.1 billion industry, with 19,000 jobs. Michigan ranks No. 1 in the nation with nearly 1 million boats registered last year; Ohio is eighth with 412,000 registrations.

Most boats run on gasoline or diesel fuel that is the same as found at the corner gas station, said Gene McMillin, sales manager at Lyden Oil Co.

Marinas have to pay tank insurance and the same gas tax that regular stations do, but they have a much shorter season in which to make a profit, contributing to the higher prices, industry sources said.

Pat Carson, manager of Anchor Point Marina in Jerusalem Township, said that, if gas prices stay around $3 or climb higher, area marinas will feel the repercussions.

"I think some of the boaters will spend more time here at the marina, while others, and it depends on what their financial situation is, may not even put their boat in the water," he said.

The size of a vessel could determine cruising habits this summer, said Sylvanian Jim Clemens. He thinks he will be fine because his 24-foot Sea Ray is small enough to allow him to use about 50 gallons of gas for a weekend.

"The owners of the bigger boats are concerned about the gas prices," said the commodore of the Bay View Yacht Club, in Point Place. "They're going to be cutting back on long cruises and staying in the area as much as possible."

John Brenner, of Toledo Beach Yacht Sales in LaSalle Township near Monroe, said many customers probably will opt for shorter trips, say to Cedar Point or the Lake Erie islands, rather than the several two-day or three-day jaunts of previous summers.

"What we're recommending to our people, and we proved it last year, is to run a little slower," Mr. Brenner said. "You can cut your fuel consumption by 50 percent if you run at half speed."

In the end, the depth of devotion to the boating lifestyle, not the price of gasoline, probably will determine if someone takes to the water, said Brett Collette, of Harrison Marina on North Summit Street.

"They won't pay it without complaint but if they want to go out in their boat, I believe they're going to do it regardless of what the price is."

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.

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