Part 3: The only thing harder to find than a new boat these days might just be an outboard engine to power it. We talk to four major players in the outboard space to learn more about the power shortage.
Can’t find an outboard engine to power your center console? You’re not alone. With boat sales at the highest they’ve been in years—even as the pandemic slows and normalcy appears right around the corner—the supply chain simply can’t keep up. When it comes to new engine inventory, Gus Blakely, division head for Suzuki Marine USA, said it best: “As soon as they come in, they go out.” That means boat buyers should expect to wait a little longer for that new high-horsepower engine they’ve been eyeing. Don’t shoot the messenger!
A thin silver lining to all of this is how much growth engine manufacturers are reporting in first-time buyers, meaning more people are entering the sport than ever before. That’s a good thing in the long run. We interviewed a broker and representatives from the big three outboard manufacturers to see where things stand in the industry as we head into summer.
Barton Holmes, Holmes & Owen Yacht Sales of Jacksonville, Florida
Boat dealers and brokers are under a great deal of pressure these days, some of them in ways they’ve never experienced before. “The situation is totally unprecedented,” says Barton Holmes of Holmes & Owen Yacht Sales in Jacksonville, Florida, a broker and sales rep specializing in Regulator, Pursuit, Key West, Skeeter and Crevalle Boats. “I’ve got five Key West Boats here, for instance, without the Yamahas that should go on ‘em. And I have no idea when I’ll be able to get those motors.”
Holmes is a boater himself and has been in Florida’s marine business for three decades. Not only are outboards scarce, he says, but so are lots of auxiliary parts and components. Even supplies of resin and fiberglass cloth are running short or drying up altogether. “I’d say about 40 percent of the sales calls and emails I get these days are coming from out of state or out of my general sales area,” Holmes says, “because where these customers live, they can’t get the boat they want. And I have to tell them that I’m sorry, but I feel duty-bound to sell to the customers in my area—with the demand so high in northern Florida, I really can’t in good conscience sell ‘em a boat. It’s hard to believe, but right now you’ve got situations in this area where people are actually lining up—one, two, three customers—to buy a given boat.”
The repower market is even tighter than the market in general, according to Holmes. “We’re getting about a dozen calls a week about repowers, and if the customer wants a Yamaha, for instance, we tell them it’s going to be at least six months before anything happens. In terms of 150-hp through 300-hp engines, there simply are none in dealer inventory right now. Quite frankly, in my entire life, I have never seen anything remotely like what’s happening today in the boat business. It’s a kind of buying frenzy, and I feel bad for the customers. I feel bad that they want to get into boating or change things up a bit and they can’t. It’s only April, and we’re almost out of boats!”
Is there an end to the boat-buying frenzy and the related supply-chain issues Holmes describes? “The companies that I deal with in northern Florida tell me that we’re looking at a major price increase of 10 percent next year,” he says. “And I see this as generally inflationary. Yes, there’s a lot of money sloshing around in the economy right now and for the foreseeable future. But if we’re hit with the tax increases that the folks in Washington keep telling us about, I wonder if the combination—price increases and tax increases—may cause a major slowdown in the market.”
Lee Gordon, Mercury; Scott Higgins, Yamaha; Gus Blakely, Suzuki
Demand for outboard motors continues to surge at a record pace as boaters new and old eye the upcoming summer season. This has caused a delay of three or more months on average for boatbuilders and consumers hoping to repower. All of the major engine manufacturers are operating at max production capacity, but they’re all reporting back orders.
Mercury Marine, which manufactures its engines in Wisconsin, has a bit of a leg up as they can deliver motors domestically in a quicker fashion. But you’re still going to have to wait for a new V-12 600-hp Mercury Verado.
“Spring is always when everyone orders, and demand is strong around the industry,” says Mercury representative Lee Gordon. “We have more people working at Mercury in manufacturing today than ever before and have hundreds of job openings right now—as well as running 24/7. Forecasted orders are fine. New ones will always be delayed a bit, but that isn’t a new thing this year.”
International shipping is struggling to keep up with global demand across the entire supply chain. This further exacerbates the issue for Yamaha and Suzuki, which manufacture engines in Japan, and has created more frustration as these companies deal with shipping issues that are out of their control.
“Timeline is very hard to discuss because of the uncertainty of the supply chain to get our product from Japan,” says Scott Higgins, Yamaha’s division manager for operations and supply chain. “We’ve asked customers to be patient and make sure they know that we’re working around the clock. We have been working tirelessly, trying to get back to where we want to be.”
Yamaha’s plans to stabilize are gaining traction, and it hopes to be back to a normal delivery pace by the end of 2021. When asked if parts are also hard to come by, the unfortunate answer is yes. Slapped with wait times for new engines, more customers are bringing in older outboards for repairs, so those chains are also stressed.
Gus Blakely, division head for Suzuki Marine USA, said the company typically holds several thousand outboards in inventory to meet orders as fast as possible. “It’s a part of our growth strategy,” he said. “The last time I looked at our inventory we had about 250 units in stock.”
Suzuki recently expanded its production facility, moved its US headquarters from California to Florida and also had purchased land for a tech center, but that facility development was put on hold because of the pandemic. The company has told its dealer network that it’s doing everything it can to meet new orders within 100 days, but it’s also asking its partners to be patient. Blakely hopes to start building the inventory back up by the fall.
The one bit of good news for all of the new outboard owners out there is that they are getting a reliable engine that will propel their family vessel for years.
“There are some classic cars out there that I’d like to have, but I wouldn’t want to be out on the water with an old outboard,” Blakely says. “I look at our product as the best we’ve ever made. The customer that is getting a new boat or a new engine, they’re going to be happy with that product.”
So while it may take a little longer to get that new outboard engine, it’s worth the wait.
“We’ve seen incredible growth in new, first-time buyers,” Higgins says. “Even after all this supply and demand [trouble] slows down, I think the industry will see an uptick because of new customers who realize it’s pretty fun to be out on the water with family.”