Chicago boaters are facing sunny skies, warm temperatures and fuel approaching $5 a gallon as they head into the 2008 season. Still, recreational boating is about leaving reality behind. In Chicago, people are trying to make the best of the situation.
A pair of Chicago attorneys spent Friday learning about their new toy, a cabin cruiser the lawyers talked their wives into leasing.
"I heard the price. I was a little surprised by the price. But you almost expect it. You see prices with your car going up so high. It makes sense that the prices here go up a lot. But you make sure you bring your Visa and the limit is high on it," said attorney Erik Connolly.
As they learn the intricacies of water-based navigation, the lawyers are processing the fact it will cost $1,016 to fuel the boat for a weekend of fun.
For Larry Hickey, a boater for a dozen years, a fill-up is still a bargain when he compares the cost of boating with other recreation. Indeed, with his mind casting about to the fun and parties he's had and will have on his Sea Ray, in the back of his mind is the fact cruising costs him $2 per minute.
"You have more people when you go there and stay longer. I'm not sure I'm going to go across the lake for a two-day weekend. But if it's going to be a four-day weekend, compared to a hotel or something, it's still fun," said Hickey.
There is evidence some boaters are switching to smaller crafts and staying closer to home. It's a trend that, in concert with gas prices and the mortgage meltdown, has spelt tough times for boat makers.
"We've been relatively flat. Last year we were down 7 percent. This year, right now, we're looking around 10 percent down," said Carl Blackwell of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Still, at the traditional blessing of the fleet by the Coast Guard and International Ship Masters Association at Navy Pier, it appeared there will be no shortage of traffic on the water this year.
Despite the cost of gas, the National Manufacturers Association suggests keeping in mind that the cost of actually owning a boat for a family of four is about the same as a trip for four to Florida in the winter, approximately $300 a month. Also, according to the association, 75 percent of boat owners in the United States have a household income of less than $100,000. The association insists boating is for everyone despite the price of gas.