The future of boat buying

Advice from local industry leaders that may help you swim through the murky waters.

Judy Goppert
More boat lovers have been buying up the new and pre-owned boats across the Lake and online.

Boating at the Lake of the Ozarks has never been more popular than it is right now. After all, being outside with the sun on your face and the wind in your hair is what we all need to escape the last year. And don’t forget, floating in that cool water seems to wash away cares!

That being said, more boat lovers have been buying up the new and pre-owned boats across the Lake and online. There are some ways to make sure you get the best deal and best boat for your needs. Here, a few long-time boat dealers have weighed in to assist you in that endeavor.  

Dealing with lack of inventory

MarineMax Lake Ozark recently announced the addition of Scout Boats to their premium lineup. Kelly Koch, sales manager, has some valuable thoughts and tips to share.

“We believe people are spending more time at the Lake and more time boating. In the past year we have seen many new customers come into the market as first- time boat owners. Regarding purchasing a boat, buyers have had to change their buying process due to lack of inventory. Buyers are not able to walk into a dealership and find a large selection of in-stock boats to choose from. With today’s market, if you want a new boat you are going to have to order one.

With the lack of inventory, we are seeing boat owners making improvements to the boats that they currently own. Prior to this lack of inventory, owners may have traded their boat for a newer model, whereas today they are making upgrades to their existing boat. Marine dealers are also seeing some boat owners sell their boats because they can get top dollar for them in today’s market. Sales continue to be strong, with demand exceeding the available supply, and if someone is ordering a new boat, it takes several months for their boat to be built and delivered.  The beauty of ordering a boat is that a customer can customize their boat exactly as they want. They choose the colors, the options, etc.

The market for center console boats continues to grow in popularity in the Midwest.  Scout produces luxury center console boats, and this is a nice addition to the premium brands offered at MarineMax.

For over 30 years Scout Boats has designed and manufactured world-class luxury models from 17- to 53-foot. Scout offers stylish design, high-performance, continuous innovations, state of the art technology and trendsetting features. Like all other premium brands in today’s market there may be a few models in stock within the nationwide MarineMax inventory, but most models will have to be ordered for the coming year. Brokerage and pre-owned boat sales are also strong, and also very limited in supply. If someone is interested in purchasing a pre-owned boat, it is recommend they work with a salesperson so they can be aware of what they are looking for, in case something comes up that they would be interested in. Pre-owned boats are often sold before a dealer can actually trade for them.

“We believe inventory will continue to be very low for all dealers in 2022 so buyers need to custom order the boat of their dreams today to be boating in 2022,” Koch said.

This past year has been a seller’s market because of lack of inventory in new and used boat availability.

More boat owners than ever

Big Thunder Marine general manager, Jeremy Anderson, has seen more people getting into boating than ever before. He has some thoughts on that.

“This past year we've definitely seen more people get into boating, or back into boating. It's important that they get into the right boat, and not just buy one because it's the one available,” he said. “Big Thunder has really taken a consultative approach to buyers - making sure the boat they're looking at is the right one for them and their family. Our vast brand and product offering allows us to show many different types of boats.”

With lack of inventory, there are dealers that will struggle financially in low inventory times, those that rely heavily on boat sales to survive. It's best to stick with a larger dealer that will be here no matter the economic conditions, he says.

“I believe people have become accustomed to waiting for just about anything this year —from boats to cars to appliances and hot tubs, everything seems to be out of stock and I believe it's better to wait for the right product versus rushing into the wrong one. Pre-owned inventory is low as well. We have a lot of buyers on lists waiting for the right boat to come available for sale,” Anderson said.

Big Thunder has boats available, and boats coming in. “Being as large as we are we have production slots that allow buyers to customize their boat and go boating quicker than other dealerships. It's worth spending time with one of our professional sales staff to make sure you're looking at the right boat, and see what we have available now and coming in,” he said. “Buying the right boat and having to wait is better than buying the wrong boat and wanting to sell it right away.”   

Buying and selling behaviors

Performance Boat Center is a leading supplier of power boats to the Lake market, and sales associate Michael Hall has seen a lot of change in today’s buying and selling arena.

“I have really noticed that people aren’t doing the window shopping as much as they once did. They have realized the market is booming so when they find the boat they want they pull the trigger,” he said. “Also, the lack of new inventory has affected the resale market, which we are happy for. It’s a little stressful not getting inventory, but we seem to make it work. We are a company with a lot of clients with a lot of boats and we are seeing the consignment industry booming.”

“We do have a major service department for power boats onsite, with outboard specialists, in-house drive specialists, and we have our own rigging department, our own paint department, and we even do most of our apparel onsite. We have a showroom that is second to none. There is a special feeling I get every morning when I get to walk into the coolest showroom on earth!” Performance Boat Center features Wright Performance, MTI, Cigarette, Sunsation, Princecraft and South Bay.

His advice is don’t wait. “If you see the boat that pops out and you love, pull the trigger. It won’t be there in a couple days. If you want to sell your boat, your boat is worth more than it’s ever been in this market. So, jump on that too. We watch guys that have owned their boats 10 years getting close to, if not what they paid for them. We have preordered boats going out a year and a half, and as long as we have people buying what we don’t have in stock the market will stay up.”

What to know before you buy

Kelly’s Port owner, Kyle Kelly, has seen a number of changes in the boating market recently.

“As one of the largest pre-owned boat dealers in the state of Missouri, we have worked with Regal and Bennington for many years. We have inventory coming soon and we recommend people start the buying process now for summer 2022,” Kelly said. “Buyers are facing challenges because sellers are simply looking at book values online that can vary from 10 to 75 percent. My opinion is to pay a broker. They end up paying for themselves like a realtor. And have a thorough mechanical inspection before you buy. This may cost hundreds or even thousands, but it’s money well spent. Case in point: I had a customer who spent $50,000 on a bowrider. When he brought it in for service, we discovered the entire boat was rotten and only worth about $5,000!”

Buying the right boat and having to wait is better than buying the wrong boat and wanting to sell it right away.

A new dealer comes to the Lake

Captain Jay Clark, of Four Seasons Marina’s Ozark Yacht Brokers, has partnered with Firstmate Yacht & Sailfish of Missouri. They are the only dealer for Sailfish Boats in Missouri, and they have brought them to the Lake.

He has some thoughts on the boating landscape.

“This past year has been a seller’s market because of lack of inventory in new and used boat availability. This is a supply and demand era right now. This started in 2020 and is carrying on into 2021. The stock market is strong, Covid stimulus checks have contributed to the overall market and people and families are headed to outdoor activities not wanting to be inside with fears of catching Covid. I have seen this in all states that have lakes and rivers. Crazy times, for sure. Renting and owning boats are on fire. Some people are first-time buyers,” Clark said.

“As a broker, we have been lucky shipping boats in from other areas that have freshwater lakes and rivers, but we have been shipping just as many out of the state to other states with boating activity just as strong as ours,” he said.

Ozark Yacht Brokers, Inc. has been hired by, First Mate Yacht Services, LLC, DBA Sailfish Boats of Missouri, a sub company, to advertise for them and act as their exclusive sales group to market and sell the Sailfish brand of boats, mainly center consoles, with Mercury outboards, which First Mate Yacht Services, LLC, is a dealer for with certified technicians. The boat line is rough and tough to handle the Lake of the Ozarks water conditions on busy weekends, which is needed. Designed to be in the ocean, this style of boat cuts through the water really well. They currently have Sailfish 320 center console and Sailfish 290 center console boats available with 2022 320 center console and 272 center console boats that were expected to be available in August.

“People are just buying what is available to go boating, whether new or used. Brokered business is very good right now. Just tough to get listings,” Clark said. “Some people are just making do with what they can find and not really satisfying themselves with the boat they really want. It’s that kind of market right now. Some owners are just cashing out while the market is hot and say that they will be back in a couple of years when the market settles down again. Problem is, no one has a crystal ball on that.”