On the water
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the summer winds down, boaters on the Kanawha River and other waterways are looking to capitalize on what good days are left, after what some marine business owners called a disappointing season.
Some business along the rivers did well. But a rainy summer caused high water levels, which increased the amount of debris in water and reducing boaters' vision in the water.
Between April 1 and Sept. 1 this year, Charleston had 24.84 inches of rainfall, compared to 17.61 inches of rainfall during the same time last year, according the National Weather Service in Charleston.
"It didn't work out as well as we'd like for it to," said Riley Brothers, president and general manger of Charleston Marina.
"We had some nice hot weather, which we like, but the issue seemed to be the weekends," he said. "Weekends seemed to be the time the river was up or it was raining."
Charleston Marina provides in water storage, building storage, parts and service assistance and accessories. Brothers said the goal is to be a one-stop marina.
"Although sales have been good people haven't been able to user their boats much this year as they have in the past," Brothers said. "It can rain everyday between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., we've got to have rain. Ideally, just so it doesn't rain on the weekends."
Charleston Marina carries Sea Ray cruisers and runabout boats, as well as Bennington pontoon boats. They have some cruisers that are more than $200,000, and some that are $40,000. Their pontoons range from $20,000 to $100,000.
Brothers saw an increase in boat sales from last year. They sold what small cruisers they had in stock and have not received new ones. At this point, Brothers said they still have 31- to 32-foot cruisers in stock. The store maintains a variety of roundabout boats ranging from 19 feet to 26 feet.
Because of the wide variety of types of boats and varying price range, setting definitive sales goals remains tricky.
"We set a budget and we've got to sell so many hundred thousand worth of pontoon boats," Brothers said. "We'll say our target is maybe 10 of the $25,000 ones, 10 of the $35,000 ones and so on to come up with that goal."
Their consistent customer base comes from people who purchased boats from Charleston Marina. Brothers said they are careful to make sure those customers have their boats serviced in a timely manner.
"We're constantly asked to work on boats," he said. "Frankly, this year the demand hasn't been as strong as it has other years because people haven't boated as much."
Nearby river is Trojan Landing. In the past three summers, business has expanded.
"The boat sales side was a whole new section of this business," said Homer Graham, sales representative at Trojan. "They opened this about eight years ago and the function was dry stack storage, which is a unique thing in this area."
Graham said Trojan Landing offers the only dry stack storage center in the state. If someone buys a boat from Trojan, then they have a storage place in the building where their boat stays.
When people want to ride, all they need to do is call and their boat will be moved via forklift from storage to the water. When boaters arrive, keys are in the boat.
This option allows people to boat solo. Loading and unloading boats onto to trailers for traveling takes two people.
"We have single women who come by themselves as well as single men," said Graham. "They'll come get their boat, go for a ride and when it's over they drop their keys in the mailbox and go home. No sweat."
Since carrying the Chaparral line, they have sold about 25 new boats. In the last three years, they sold about 105 new and used boats all together.
"It's done pretty well for us," said Philip Mullins, who's worked at Trojan for about six years. He added the storage facility really helps the resell value of boats by about 15 percent.
Graham agreed, "As odd as it may seem, water and sunshine are kind of the enemy of your boat. If it's in our building, in the shade, high and dry, it lives longer."
Technology has helped Trojan Landing reach customers farther away.
"What's really doing well for us is online sales," Mullins said.
Right now, though, the boating business is gearing up for winter.
"These boats are water cooled like a car motor," Mullins said. "We've got to get all the water out of your engine block or else water freezes and expands, and that's not food for the inside of your motor."
Last year they winterized about 250 boats. From start to finish, smaller boats take about two days to do a full service winterization. Bigger boats take about three to four days.
Both Charleston Marina and Trojan Landing provide boat transportation. Mullins said more people kept their boats at places like Summersville Lake, where water levels are more consistent, this year.
Mullins and Graham would like to see more local boating events like Live on the Levee.
"Before fuel became so expensive people would gather in groups and take trips up the Ohio River for a weekend," Graham said. "That doesn't happen so much anymore. Boaters still want to go but they're not willing to spend the fuel it takes."
Graham added, "We're going to have a great summer next year. I'll be there every weekend."Reach Caitlin Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.