Dealers feeling more buoyant at Atlanta Boat Show

Lake Lanier boat dealer Kurt Backus in the last two years has been hit from just about every angle.

The economy ran aground. Drought-stricken Lake Lanier was ringed with dried mud. The price of fuel to power the big luxury boats he sells topped $4 a gallon.

So on Wednesday, in the opening hours of the Atlanta Boat Show downtown -- and without having yet sold his first sport yacht --  Backus, the owner of Atlanta Marine, was feeling good.

“The water's back in the lake, gas is $2.50 a gallon, and the economy is showing signs of recovery,” he said. “I think this is going to be a good year.”

He will have to go some to top 2006, when he sold $4 million worth of boats at the show. But he figures this year will be better than 2009, when his show sales ebbed to about $1 million.

“It’s amazing how inexpensive it can be to buy a boat,” he said, showing a reporter a 40-foot Monterey 400SY sport yacht, a gleaming blue and white beauty that sells for $439,000.

Take out a 30-year loan, said Backus, and the yacht --  with two bathrooms, radar, and twin diesel engines that crank out 740 horsepower -- only costs $2,897 a month.

“I’m giving it some thought,” said customer Chuck Allen, a retiree who boats on the Tennessee River, eyeballing the yacht. “I’d like to upgrade from the boat I have now, and that’s a good price.”

The show at the Georgia World Congress Center (tickets: $9 for adults; $5, ages 13-15; 12 and under free), is slightly smaller this year than last, conceded show manager Larry Berryman. But the mood among sellers and buyers is more buoyant.

“The key phrase is renewed sense of optimism,” said Berryman.

John Schmitt, who works for Gainesville – based Amaysing Services, which sells boat docks (price range: $12,000 to $40,000), said: “I figure since the lake is up sales our will be up, too. But it’s too early to say.”

Joey Gottfried, who works for Intercoastal Financial Group, said interest rates on boat loans are down to 6.12 percent, compared to last year, when they were 6.75 percent, so that’s another good sign of an economic tide lifting all boat sales.

“I don’t think sellers think this will be a break out year,” he said, “but they do think it can’t get any worse than 2008 and 2009,” when, overall nationally, boat sales were down about 50 percent, he said.

Over at the Park Marina exhibit, Dick Baylis, 71, made one of the first purchases of the show: a used, 21 foot, Suntracker Party Barge 21, for $8,995.

“Obviously this is a better deal than I could have gotten two years ago,” he said. “It’s like car dealers. I mean, they gotta unload the dumb things.”