ELLSWORTH — A lot of industries saw demand dry up during the pandemic but one that has managed to stay afloat is boatbuilding. In fact, several boatyards across the region reported that things are full steam ahead.
“We’ve been busier than ever,” said Steve White, the president of Brooklin Boat Yard.
At the onset of the pandemic, White’s yard closed for three weeks, but since it reopened, demand has been through the roof.
“I’m not exactly sure what’s driving it,” he said.
He’s seen repeat customers and new customers ask for every service the boatyard offers.
“It’s really the full range,” he said. “We’re fully booked through this year, and we are booking work next year now … We’re rarely more than eight or nine months booked completely.”
Business at Wesmac Custom Boats in Surry has been booming as well, but it and Brooklin Boat Yard can only build so many boats at a time. Neither can really ramp up to a higher capacity or speed things up in the building process.
But that hasn’t seemed to deter customers, who keep calling, said Stephen Wessel, the president at Wesmac.
“Every day we are getting calls to build boats,” he said. “We can only do so many.”
Even when Wessel, or his chief financial officer, Dan Hitchcock, tell customers the yard is backed up, it doesn’t seem to be an issue.
“In most cases, they’re fine with it,” Hitchcock said. “Because everybody’s in the same position right now.”
Other companies whose main focus isn’t boat building are getting slammed as well.
“We’ve had one of our busiest years in recent memory,” said Jaime Weir, the general manager of John Williams Boat Co. in Mount Desert.
Things picked up in April 2020 and have been going strong ever since, across all facets of the business.
Brokerage sales are double to triple a normal year, and the service and storage side of things are always busy.
Another phenomenon that came with the pandemic is the surge in used boat sales. Several boatyards reported the stock is down to basically nothing.
“The used boat inventory in the state of Maine and across the country is extremely low,” Weir said.
Wesmac said they’re out of used boats, which continues to drive people to buy new ones.
And while business is booming, there have been some downsides. The supply chain has been more erratic. Things the yards used to be able to get in a week or two are now taking months.
“Things we used to be able to get in a few days may take a few weeks or months,” said White at BBY. “It’s really random. It’s hard to figure out what’s in short supply or not.”
Wesmac has broadened where it shops, orders materials more in advance and is keeping a larger inventory in order to keep up.
“Every boatbuilder is buying the same stuff we are,” Hitchcock said. “It’s just tougher.”
Getting help to handle the demand has also been a problem for the boatyards, some of which aren’t running with a full staff.
Some of the profit margins have slimmed down as prices go up. New boat builds can take time and contracts have already been set — some before the pandemic — but prices on material have gone up.
Despite the downsides, customers seem content and the waters are busy.
“People are just happy to be here, be in Maine, be in their boats,” said Weir.