By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Members of the Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM) have reported 2018 first quarter arrivals increases of up to 60 per cent, leading to predictions of an “excellent” full year.
“The prospects for boating to the Bahamas look excellent for 2018,” said Stephen Kappeler, the Association’s president. “Boat sales in Florida have been up, reflecting insurance settlements after hurricane devastation in 2017.
“In fact, boat sales have also been up in other markets from which The Bahamas is now more accessible because of the improved Customs processing facilities at Stuart in Martin County, Florida.”
The Okeechobee Waterway, from which Stuart is a major exit point, is the only channel available to cross Florida by boat to reach the open seas. This makes it relatively easy for Martin County boaters and others using the waterway to visit The Bahamas.
A newly-opened US Customs facility at Stuart has further simplified access to The Bahamas by avoiding the time and expense associated with clearing at the next-nearest facilities in Fort Pierce or West Palm.
Earlier this year, the ABM and the Ministry of Tourism capitalised on this advantage through a Bahamas pavilion at the Stuart Boat Show.
“Boat owners with new boats need somewhere to go,” said Peter Maury, ABM past president and operator of the Bay Street Marina, which has seen an increase in boat arrivals of 15 per cent for the 2018 first quarter.
“The atmosphere at the Palm Beach Boat Show was very upbeat, and interest in The Bahamas was high. I believe we’ll have as good a year this year as we did last year, or likely much better.”
At the Flying Fish Marina on Long Island, manager Andrew Fox was positive about business prospects for 2018, having experienced an arrivals increase of 20 per cent compared to the first quarter 2017.
“We have had to turn boats away on occasion, and have a very positive outlook for April, May and June,” he added.
The ABM said prospects had been boosted by the sale of 260,000 new powerboats in 2017, an increase of six per cent over the previous year.
Sales of large yachts have also increased. The mega yacht industry has been reporting increases of 53 per cent in southern Florida.
According to a recent study by Thomas J Murray & Associates, these sales have tripled over the past decade, with the south Florida region at the forefront of a worldwide boom for mega yachts – vessels 80 feet or larger in size.