Maine’s boatbuilding industry could get a spike in business as boat owners in Florida and the Caribbean repair and replace vessels lost and damaged in back-to-back hurricanes within the past month.

Surveyors are sorting through piles of damaged boats to assess the full cost of hurricanes Irma and Maria, and it could take months to get a full account of the damage. Any repair work destined for Maine boatyards could be more than six months away, but some in the industry predict hurricane-damaged fleets will buoy the state’s boatyards into the future.

“We are expecting large deliveries of some of those boats … to New England. It will be over the course of a couple years to get those repaired,” said Nicole Jacques, marketing director for Maine Built Boats, a trade group. “It is really going to be a boon for the entire marine industry.”

Some boatyards already are preparing for extra work this winter as the owners of yachts usually destined for southern waters decide to stay north for repairs and maintenance. Others say they are unsure what impact, if any, the hurricane damage will mean for their yards.

MAINE BOATS MAY STAY THIS WINTER

JB Turner, president of Front Street Shipyard in Belfast, said New England boatyards are likely to be full this winter because some boat owners will decide not to sail for the South Atlantic and Caribbean. His boatyard had to turn away three 80-foot boats in need of winter maintenance and storage because his yard already is full.

“I believe most of the yards will be busy this winter because (boats) are not going south,” Turner said. Maine boatyards also could be in line to get repair work, but won’t know about that for months, he said.

Front Street was approached to send a team down to help with repairs, but Turner declined because of shortages of electricity, food and water on islands thrashed by hurricanes.

“There are so many issues going on in the islands right now that getting boats ready to be repaired is pretty low in the pecking order,” he said.

Portland Yacht Services, on the city’s western waterfront, is in negotiation to perform maintenance on a 65-foot boat that the owner planned to take to Savannah, Georgia, for the winter but then decided to stay in Maine. But the business is not expecting to get hurricane-related repair work, said service manager Rob Benson.

“I haven’t seen any jobs from down there yet. I think if I had a damaged vessel I would want to stay as local as I could,” he said.

The cost of keeping a boat in Maine through the winter instead of heading south differs dramatically depending on what an owner wants done to the boat, said Jacques, from Maine Built Boats. Indoor storage is about $8-$10 per square foot, so storing a 50-foot boat for the winter might cost $5,000, she said, plus the decommissioning and commissioning costs, which run about $70-$80 per hour. Then add in the cost to haul out and relaunch a vessel, about $10-$20 per foot.

“Then the real revenue comes in when the owner requests maintenance work – a new paint job, a re-power, electrical work, equipment replacement, etc.,” Jacques said in an email. “The additional work could be two, three or 10 times the amount of money that the storage/commissioning/haul costs. (Costs) vary so dramatically from boat to boat that it’s impossible to forecast.”

Some yards may be getting additional storage requests, but other commercial benefits are harder to predict.

Susan Swanton, executive director at the Maine Marine Trades Association, said based on the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which did heavy damage in New Jersey and dissipated over Pennsylvania, she doubted there would be much additional work for Maine yards.

During that storm in 2012, some Maine companies sent workers south to help local marinas and boatyards return to normal, but the economic impact was slight, Swanton said. After the recent hurricanes, boat owners are more likely to send work to yards in Florida and the Carolinas, Swanton said.

“I just don’t see stuff coming this way. I think we are too far off the beaten path,” she said.

Ryan Collet, operations manager at Brewer Marine in Freeport, also hasn’t seen any immediate business related to the hurricanes. But there could be an opportunity later after insurance claims are settled. Secondhand yacht sales might heat up once claims are paid out for storm losses, but there’s no guarantee it will mean a bump for Maine boat dealers, he said.

“It’s really hard to say, because we’re not sure if it is going to happen,” Collet said.

A TRADITION OF BOATBUILDING

Boatbuilding is one of the state’s oldest industries, dating to when people built fishing vessels in Colonial times. In the second half of the 19th century, summer visitors began racing small sailboats, which sparked leisure boatbuilding here, according to the Penobscot Marine Museum. The state was an epicenter of commercial watercraft then, building schooners, clippers and other commercial vessels for trade. Since the 1960s, Maine has been a leader in fiberglass boat construction.

Today, nearly 80 boatbuilders call the state home and craft vessels of all kinds, from motor yachts to sail cruisers to wooden rowboats, and provide repair, storage and maintenance services. In 2016, Maine boatbuilders employed about 1,390 workers, and industry wages totaled about $59 million, according to data from the Maine Department of Labor.

Those workers will have to wait for a fuller picture of storm-related opportunities to emerge, said Thomas Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association. He said it could be another two months before information on the damage to recreational boating in the U.S. is complete, but Hurricane Irma did not seem as bad as other hurricanes, like Sandy. Major boating centers on the east coast of Florida were spared the brunt of the storm, he said.

“It is not one of the worst, but it is significant,” he said. Boat owners will want to stay as close to home as possible for repairs, but might venture farther north if it means getting work done faster, Dammrich said.

Damage in the Caribbean is reportedly worse, with entire charter fleets heavily damaged. Considering the overall damage to the islands, rebuilding luxury cruising boats probably isn’t a priority, Dammrich said.

“Their first concern is the safety of their employees and getting them back to normal,” he said.

Maine boat companies Sabre Yachts in Casco, Southport in Augusta, and Rockport Marine in Rockport said they did not expect any business increase from the storms.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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