Reports from the Coal Mine

Interlux introduces a new bottom paint, and sales point to better times. "Past the Spindle" from our November 11, 2010, CW Reckonings

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Before they launch each and every boat needs to have a coat of fresh bottom paint.Mark Pillsbury

This week, a new-product tour brought a couple of folks from Interlux on a visit to Newport. We spoke in particular about the company's new bottom paint, BottomKote NT, but we also ended up talking a bit about their view of the marine industry in general.

BottomKote NT is a cool new "dual resin" coating that combines some of the benefits of hard and ablative coatings and uses about 20 percent less copper to ward off the creatures that want to live on the bottom of your boat. When dry, the paint is hard and smooth to the touch, and no coating comes off when you rub it with your finger, so it should hold up better over the course of a season. But the paint does wear away over time, meaning that a fresh coat of biocide remains present on the surface and that the paint won't build up over multiple seasons, as hard paint will. You can expect to find it in the $80 to $90 range at most marine stores.

OK, now on to the big picture. During boat-show season, everyone wants to know how the industry's doing. Good question, and one that's not easily answered by the crowd size, mood, or sales volume at any given venue.

But Interlux-well, they, along with their competitors, might just be the canaries in the proverbial coal mines. Because like or not, you've got to slap on some bottom paint before you launch. There's no ducking that delightful little chore. A couple of years ago, when we were way down in the belly of the recessionary beast and fuel prices were headed up with seemingly no tether, paint sales were decidedly off.

Today, the new-boat part of the market and the superyacht segment remain sluggish. But since those bleak times, other paint sales have come back, nearly to the good ol' level of circa 2007. But the sales cycle is different, say Elenor Ekman and Jim Seidel, both Interlux marketers. People are waiting longer into the spring to buy their paint, and distributors are keeping less of it on their shelves. The result? Come spring, retail customers in some areas aren't finding as many choices, and at boat yards, they're maybe paying a little more because the yards didn't take as much advantage of the fall pricing deals when they were available.

The good news is that people are once again launching and using their boats. But, notes Elenor, they're delaying some of the optional maintenance jobs, such as painting the topside or doing a total revarnishing project.

My takeaway? Gut instinct says that people can only wait so long-the dream can't be delayed indefinitely. So people are starting to buy new boats again, but there's not a rush on the showroom. (No guessing when/if that's going to happen.) Meantime, people who have a boat want to be careful with their money but are committed to their little ships-why wouldn't they be?-and remain willing to pay for the pleasure part of the pleasure-boat equation. The proof's in the paint.