A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Shackleton’s leadership has a message for our times

“I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave. During 26 years experience of the ocean in all its moods I had not encountered a wave [...]

Plotting a course into unfamiliar waters

Like crew aboard a ship about to get under way, you could feel the thrum and vibration as the diesels were started and then idled for a period. After the tugs eased her into the channel, the ship slowly picked up speed and gathered momentum.

Surveyors must be savvier than ever

Boats are like people. They like constant, regular use or exercise. They don’t like to be ridden hard and put away wet (without maintenance). And they don’t like to sit on the hard for extended periods of time. Like their owners, they’re capable of atrophying all on their own.

The technology transfer

Consumers are deeper on the sidelines in this economic downturn than in any other we’ve lived through. They continue the process of deleveraging, getting their balance sheets in order as they try to find their sea legs again.

Out of sight, out of mind, right? Think again

Question: When wiring or plumbing is buried away out of sight of the customer, say behind a panel or under the cabin sole, does it still have to look good or be aesthetically pleasing? Isn’t that the place you save a few bucks by saying the hell with the presentation? Who’s going see it? Who’s [...]

Showtime in Lauderdale: Will the buyers return?

FLIBS is an important barometer. With more than $3 billion worth of boats and equipment on display over 3 million square feet of terra firma and terra not-so-firma, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is the exclamation point on the fall show season.

‘Stay hungry. Stay foolish’

One commentator called it a “talk for the ages.” It’s the commencement address Steve Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005, which you can access by clicking here or watch below.

Selling boats amid double-dip concerns

I spoke Tuesday with yacht dealer Ben Wilde as he drove a Nordic Tug 54 into a stiff current on the C&D Canal en route to PassageMaker magazine’s Trawler Fest event in Baltimore. He grumbled about the foul tide that would put him into port after dark, but he didn’t complain a lot about the [...]

9/11’s maritime heroes

I had intended to write a piece today about how we’ve all grown more stress-hardy in the three years since Lehman Brothers collapsed — “we” being the industry and the boating public. But I changed course after watching an e-mailed video from boatbuilder Ken Fickett, who owns Mirage Manufacturing, the builder of Great Harbour trawlers.

Analyzing the analyst

An old saying you used to hear with some frequency was that all you needed to get into the boatbuilding business was a barrel of resin and a shed. It’s not that easy anymore, but you get the idea.

We need jobs, not speeches

If there was ever a political rallying cry worth remembering, it is James Carville’s prescient mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.” You could build a campaign around those four words, as Bill Clinton so aptly did in 1992 when he defeated President George H.W. Bush.

Technological wonders in the midst of Irene

One of the enduring images I carry from Fort Lauderdale in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma is of a reporter opening the trunk of his car outside the Bahia Mar Hotel and revealing a traditional 20th century office phone, just waiting for an energized outlet and an intact landline to do its thing. Talk about [...]

Hold fast as the storm passes

Sooner or later you’re going to get caught out — in more wind, in bigger seas, in more of everything than you hoped for. That’s just part of being on the water. When it happens, you don’t want to panic or overreact. Safer to let cooler heads prevail.

A few good signs among the headwinds

The economy continues its bumpy summer ride as a host of global and domestic issues keep the waters roiled. The choppy seas are the result of a familiar litany of concerns — persistent unemployment, the weak housing market, sovereign debt woes and debates over the U.S. debt ceiling.

Simple technology in a high-tech world

There is nothing fragile or complex about the small gray mooring barge, its hydraulic torque motor hanging from a 15-foot steel mast. It works day after day, year after year, screwing what are typically 10- to 15-foot steel shafts with two or three helixes at the base into mud, sand, clay and gravel bottoms. Think [...]

A boat is not a Prius

A story in The New York Times several days ago talked about the negotiations between the auto industry and the Obama administration over new vehicle mileage and emission standards that would dramatically affect the types of cars we drive in the future.

Catching up with the clan

I met the pilgrim several days ago on my first afternoon on Striper Island. A big school of fish was breaking out wide, and this tall, lanky character ran down the beach and waded out up to his shoulders, literally, to try to reach them with one of his big, sweeping southpaw casts.

PFDs and the nanny state

Broad-based mandatory life jacket wear rules — mandatory as in for all boaters, on all pleasure boats, regardless of size, across the board — are misguided. It’s like hunting squirrels with an elephant gun. Not only is it overkill, but I’m also not sure they will accomplish what well-meaning safety advocates hope they will.

The fuel factor: How will prices affect boating?

The price of gasoline has been falling of late — hooray for that — but the price of a gallon of regular is still significantly above where it was a year ago. That’s one of the factors that has hurt consumer spending and slowed economic growth. And it’s done nothing to encourage people to spend [...]

Initiating the uninitiated

Getting a non-boater out on the water is not a new concept, but it is a powerful one. And it’s one of the cornerstones of the NMMA’s new Welcome to the Water campaign, which through a soon-to-be-launched app will enable 40,000-plus Discover Boating Facebook “fans” to invite their friends to leave terra firma behind and [...]

Boats, bragging rights and new technology

The sun was going down as the two graybeards (metaphorically speaking, of course) stepped aboard a 29-foot center console in a canal off the ICW. The skipper plugged his iPhone into the boat’s sound system, launched the app for the Internet radio station Pandora and punched in singer John Prine’s name.

Bin Laden, the luxury tax and ABC

Osama bin Laden was dead, and Washington, D.C., was taking a welcome break from its usual rancor and partisan bickering. A rare feeling of goodwill descended over the capital, the country. Dare I call it togetherness? Call it what you like, it felt pretty good — even if we all knew it probably wasn’t going [...]

Bigger is better? Not for this boat show

It’s nice to be in on the ground floor of something in this business. That way, when you circle back in 10 or more years you can say, “Oh, yeah, I remember when this event was just getting off the ground.”

These are get-it-done days

A shipyard owner I know called last week to tell me about a big refit project he’d just won. He got the job with a very competitive bid — and the only way he was going to make any money, he told me, is if he rolls up his sleeves and does a good bit [...]

Hold on to your hat

Several headlines and stories have caught my attention since last week’s blog post. Consider them signs of the time — the latest examples of disruptive technologies.

Seeing with ‘vision rather than sight’

Looking for inspiration? I found it reading senior writer Jim Flannery’s piece on championship sailor, marine business operator and motivational speaker Vince Morvillo that will appear in the May issue of Soundings Trade Only.

A gathering of believers

I was talking over coffee at the Maine Boatbuilders Show in Portland this weekend with a fledgling boatbuilding entrepreneur who has a design in his head for a better mousetrap. We were taking the long way around to his designs by first remembering the good old days. He spoke fondly of the skiffs of his [...]

Can a cooler have too many beers?

I was walking the docks last month at the Sea Isle Marina during the Miami International Boat Show, looking for interesting boats that might make a good story. It was the end of two long days, and I was moving at a measured pace, trying to really eyeball the boats rather than just rush past [...]

Rising energy prices form a gathering storm

Just as the economy was getting up a nice little head of steam, fighting in North Africa and rising tension in the Middle East threaten to slow the forward motion. At the very least, the turmoil and resulting concern over the impact on oil production could create headwinds to recovery, a drag on growth, not [...]

A friend and colleague

It’s been too easy, I think, during the long recession to forget about things such as why we got into this business to begin with. Or why we first fell in love with boating or fishing or sailing. We lose track of the importance of family time; the fishing trip you promised a son or [...]

Asian carp: foe, friend or delicacy for the Great Lakes?

In response to the cries about the Asian carp threatening to invade the Great Lakes, Congress has asked the Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a feasibility study to investigate the potential environmental, economic and social effects of the measures being considered that would implement a range of possible modifications [...]

Where would you register your boat?

Last month Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was derided nationwide for registering his new boat in the tiny-and-thriving boat tax haven of Rhode Island. Many presume that the Senator’s intent was to avoid the significant sales and boat excise taxes that Massachusetts imposes on its registered boaters.

BP = BAD PRESS

I recently wrote a marketing column in Trade Only about the need for marine businesses to have crisis communications strategies. I referenced the Tiger Woods debacle and compared it to David Letterman and discussed how a well-orchestrated, pre-emptive strike paid off for the king of late night, while Wood’s lingering failure to address his public [...]

Why South Korea? Why not South Korea?

When my editor offered me a chance to cover the Korea International Boat Show I jumped at the opportunity. It was a chance to experience a different culture, see first-hand how a country with a recreational marine industry in its infancy is growing its boating culture, and learn about a different part of the world.

Will our prospects buy . . . or bail?

My beliefs about the economy are complicated. We just came out of the Strictly Sail Pacific sailboat show — the largest all-sail show on the West Coast — and the feedback from exhibitors across the board was refreshingly positive!

New top cop for NOAA, same problems for fishermen

Dale Jones recently lost his job. The chief of NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement was removed from his position and publicly berated in news articles, op-eds and blogs across the country. While it’s easy to declare his departure a victory for reform, I think we need to look harder at the real issue. Chief Jones [...]

Best practices in marina risk management

According to market research, the current economy has taken its toll on marinas. Now, in addition to the traditional risks they face, marinas must contend with crimes stemming from economic hardship.

Postcard from Lauderdale: the new norm

What a difference a year makes. Business is still way off, but the surprise and fear that permeated last year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show as the economy tumbled a bit further each day was mostly gone.

‘Fatally flawed’ science killing America’s No. 1 pastime

A 2004 report by the National Research Council (NRC) titled Improving the Use of the “Best Scientific Information Available” Standard in Fisheries Management called on the National Marine Fisheries Service to implement important guidelines for use of scientific information in preparing fishery management plans. The NRC report went on to state that “anecdotal” information like [...]

Professionalism pays off

Subpar service and a lack of professionalism have plagued the marine industry for years. Now, more than ever, folks on the service side of the business need to make improvements. The old ways — if they left the consumer frustrated or confused — have to change. These days, who can afford to lose even one [...]

Is your brand unsinkable?

The first half of the year has passed, and we already know 2009 will be remembered as one of the worst years ever for the modern marine industry. Furloughed employees, weak sales, delayed product launches and tight credit markets have already put their indelible mark on the first two quarters.

Are you just ‘adding to the noise’?

During a discussion on Web 2.0 at last week’s Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show, Richard Mundell, a former buyer with West Marine who now works with online course provider Udutu, said something that really stuck in my head.

When ‘the law is a ass’

Mr. Bumble, one of the characters in Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” commented that, “If the law supposes that … the law is a ass — a idiot.” So it is with Section 312 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.)

Going once, going twice … sold!

In what we at the Recreational Fishing Alliance describe as a “pay to play” version of fisheries management, a Texas-based conservation group has recently gone on record with a radical new approach to managing the nation’s coastal fisheries, whereby access to the resource is offered to the highest bidder.

Responding to sales leads

I’m not in the market for a boat right now, but if I were, I wouldn’t hesitate to call Rob Lyons at Ocean House Marina in Charlestown, R.I.

Times are tough, but hope is alive

From the name to the format to the venue, the show formerly known as Strictly Sail Pacific has undergone some nips and tucks. Last week’s Strictly Sail Pacific & Powerboat Expo was two shows in one, officially, but the dominant theme was still sailing.

Are you being followed?

I’ve been actively using Twitter now for about five months, and it took me quite awhile to really “get it.” Compared to some of the most popular Twitter users, I’m still relatively green to the technology and am always learning new ways to be active and understand what all it has to offer in the [...]

Remembering Kaye Pearson

Kaye Pearson was a unique marine industry visionary who constantly strived to make the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show bigger, better and a global marketplace second to none.

The editor’s report: Maine Boatbuilders Show

A sure sign of spring in the Northeast is the Maine Boatbuilders Show in Portland, which ran from Friday, March 20, through Sunday the 22nd. I spent two days at the show, and during the prime-time hours it was flannel-to-flannel in the many of the aisles.

Our voices must be heard

The National Marine Manufacturers Association is still working on its lineup of speakers for the American Boating Congress in May, but at this early stage this much is known: The 2009 ABC will be an abbreviated one.

Web 2.0: Do you ‘Twitter’?

Staying connected to your customers requires more than just a Web presence these days. A basic Web site with some nice pictures doesn’t cut it in the age of video, blogs and social networking sites, like Facebook.

Interlux steps up in Miami

There are a lot of awards given out at the Miami International Boat Show. There’s the Innovation Awards, J.D. Power awards and various others recognizing boats, engines and accessories.

Marinas should plan for improvements even in tough times

During a tough economy, many marina owners are reluctant to tackle capital improvement projects. Even if an owner isn’t ready to renovate or expand, owners should consider initiating advanced planning, feasibility studies, and design so that a project will be ready to go when financial standings improve.

Recreational boating study doesn’t add up

Ten years after it was first authorized, the Great Lakes Recreational Boating Study has finally been released by the Army Corps of Engineers. Despite an expenditure of $403,400, which the Corps gave to the Great Lakes Commission to conduct the study, the study is more than eight years late, relies on faulty methodology, and contradicts [...]

An open letter to outboard manufacturers

It’s time for the outboard manufacturers to stop charging their dealers to sell their products. Times have changed, and with sales at a new industry low, my dealership, for one — I know I’m not alone — has had to adapt by cutting costs in every way possible.

Emphasizing affordability in the Big Apple

A new feature was launched this week at the New York National Boat Show: an “Affordability Pavilion” featuring eight boats from different builders, each of which can be financed for $250 or less a month.

Some thoughts from the dealer conference in Vegas

The economy was the biggest topic of conversation at this week’s Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. Many of those who attended talked about the decrease in sales they were seeing this year and the worries they had for the future.

Why the marine industry needs a credit union

Early this year a group of marine industry professionals got together to discuss their frustrations with, at that time, the traditional banking industry. Many key topics were discussed, from boat loans to floorplan financing.

Industry challenges make us stronger

During the past year, fuel prices have been extremely volatile and seemed to be at their peak in the midst of the boating season. For some boaters, this season was a time to scale back on their boating. For others, it was a time to modify their boating habits so they could still enjoy their [...]

The (boat) show must go on

Lately we’ve all been re-evaluating many aspects of this business, especially where we spend our money. Let’s face it: There isn’t as much coming in as there used to be, so we have to be a little more prudent about what flows out.

Gazing into the crystal ball

October will be a busy month for the marine industry, as business leaders gear up for two major events that traditionally serve as key indicators for the coming year.

Vacation at home on your boat

I was on a boat ride the other night and a couple told me about all the enjoyment they received with their boat and how their boat was the vacation spot for their family when the kids were younger. Weekends and summers were always spent on the boat.

Maintain a positive attitude

Three to four times a week someone from the news media calls our association office to ask the same questions: “Are boat sales off because of the economy?  Or, Is the price of fuel going to impact boating this summer?”

Gas prices are not a deterrent

As I travel to meetings in Florida and the warmer areas of the country, the comment I hear most often is about how many boats people are seeing out on the water.  There seems to be amazement in the industry that boaters are out on the water in force in spite of high gas prices.  [...]

FWC suggests life jackets as a holiday gift

Call me a sentimental fool, if you will, but I’ve been feeling the hurt of a lot of people in need this holiday season. I’ve even cried at some of the stories I’ve been listening to on the radio. So it’s not surprising that a press release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tugged [...]

A lone, unpleasant voice at IBEX

Having walked the floor at IBEX in Miami, I met many professional exhibitors who took the time to talk with me and explain the ins and outs of their products. I learned a lot and found many story ideas for Soundings Trade Only. I admired and appreciated everyone’s hard work, dedication and passion. I did [...]