YARMOUTH — Workers at the Yarmouth Boat Yard were unwrapping boats and putting docks in the water about three weeks early on Wednesday, responding to unseasonably warm weather and increased boat sales that might signal an improving economy.

Boat yard owners and harbor masters are reporting early interest in getting out on Casco Bay, as an unusually mild winter winds down and recent sunny weekends promise an early spring.

Boat sales, which typically pick up in early March, started a month early this year, said Yarmouth Boat Yard owner Steve Arnold, who’s preparing to exhibit at the Portland Boatbuilders Show, starting today.

“With the economy and weather looking up, I think people just want to start having fun again,” Arnold said. “From what they’ve told me, they want to get out and enjoy living in Maine.”

The Yarmouth Boat Yard already has sold several new boats, ranging in price from $20,000 to $300,000, and brokered sales of several used boats, Arnold said. His staff was busy installing docks Wednesday so new owners can take their boats on trial voyages.

“We’re about 20 days ahead of where we were last year as far as putting the docks in,” Arnold said. “For all the boats we’ve sold or listed, those people have to go for sea trials as soon as possible.”

Arnold said he started seeing increased interest at the New England Boat Show in Boston, Feb. 11-19. He typically meets a handful of Mainers during the entire week there.

“We were seeing three or four a day,” Arnold said. “I think the economic situation in Maine is getting a bit better, but I try not to read too much into things.”

At South Port Marine in South Portland, sales have been strong since the beginning of February, said Eric Fortier, dock master and yacht broker. The marina and boat yard has sold several boats already this season, leading Fortier to believe the economy is improving.

“Boat sales are kind of the spotted owl of the economy,” Fortier said, referring to a rare bird whose existence depends on optimum environmental conditions.

“Just the fact that some people are coming in to buy a new boat is encouraging,” Fortier said. “A boat is a want and not a need for most people.”

Kevin Battle, deputy harbor master in Portland and South Portland, said he has noticed increased activity at several boat yards and marinas.

“People are showing up early and working on their boats because the weather has been so nice,” Battle said. “I’m hoping for a good season ahead.”

Alan Twombley, Falmouth’s harbor master, said the warmer weather has many boaters and mooring installers talking about getting into the water earlier, but the town doesn’t allow people to access their moorings before April 1.

“It’s still pretty quiet around here,” Twombley said.

He said he was surprised but encouraged to hear that boat sales are improving, despite predictions that fuel costs will continue to rise. The high cost of gasoline and diesel fuel put a damper on last year’s boating season.

“When they come back from a day on the water and it costs $200 to fill up the tank, it makes people think twice,” Twombley said.

That’s just the start of the costs related to keeping a boat on the water for what’s really a three-month season, June through August. A mooring in Falmouth costs $57 a year for residents and $257 for nonresidents, Twombley said. Most boaters also must pay about $1,000 for mooring tackle.

If they’re on the waiting list for a launch permit for the Falmouth Town Landing, they probably will have to pay $1,400 to reach the bay from a nearby boat yard, Twombley said. A slip at a marina can cost $2,500 to $3,000 a year.

“I hate to be Johnny Raincloud, but a lot of people don’t realize all of the costs associated with owning a boat,” Twombley said. “Buying the boat’s only part of it.”

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