Several water activities have been points of interest for people looking to get outside during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Tellico Village, kayaking and paddleboarding have “gone way up,” Simon Bradbury, Tellico Village Property Owners Association recreation director, said. Kayaking and paddleboarding used to be offered two days per week but is now offered seven days per week. The activities are included in Tellico Village recreation memberships.

Tellico Village kayakers Chris and Geri Bahn have a view of the lake from their house and have seen no slowdown of activity during the pandemic.

“I think it’s pretty much status quo,” Geri said.

The Bahns said there is a wait list for boat slips. Many people are moving into the area, Geri said.

Like many others in the area, the Bahns continue to enjoy their time on the water. “We love being outside,” Geri said.

Boaters at Fort Loudon Marina on Friday seemed to agree that boat traffic has remained constant or maybe increased.

“The lake is constant,” Kris Epley said from a pontoon boat at Fort Loudon Marina.

Others have noticed more wake boats and construction along the river. They have seen unusually long lines of boats waiting to get gas and shared stories of families buying boats because it was something to do during the pandemic.

Boating is also a good way of staying socially distant.

“You don’t have to worry about the virus whatsoever,” Richard Burton, Fort Loudon Marina head of maintenance and welder, said while working at the gas dock Friday.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency reported increase in recreational boating and fishing during the pandemic.

In 2019, there were eight boating fatalities on Tennessee waterways, but that number skyrocketed last year to 232, Matthew Cameron, TWRA spokesman, said.

“This year to date, we’ve had 18 recreational boating-related fatalities on Tennessee’s waterways,” Cameron said. “We attribute the rise in fatalities to people being off work, out of school and with less traditional recreational activities to participate in, leading to an increase in outdoors recreation. That, combined with a decreased law enforcement presence due to social-distancing mandates, unfortunately contributed to an increase in accidents and fatalities.”

Boat sales way up

Despite pandemic challenges including temporary shutdowns and supply chain disruptions, local retail boater manufacturers have seen big gains in sales.

Malibu Boats Inc., of Loudon and MasterCraft Boat Holdings of Vonore recently reported record-breaking sales years.

In federal financial documents filed in August and September, Malibu and MasterCraft said sales were affected by the pandemic in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. Malibu had a temporary shutdown during that quarter, and while operations were suspended, the company was not able to ship boats to dealers. MasterCraft also briefly suspended operations around the time the pandemic started in March 2020 in Tennessee.

But in fiscal year 2021, both companies reported record sales increases.

Malibu Boats reported net sales increased 42% from the fiscal years 2020 to 2021, hitting $926.5 million.

“The strength of our brands, coupled with our vertically integrated model and our team’s agility while navigating the challenges spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic have delivered truly incredible results,” Jack Springer, Malibu Boats chief executive officer, said.

Malibu’s net income and gross profit also increased in 2021. Net income rose roughly 77% to $114.3 million, and gross profit increased about 58% to $236.5 million.

“Retail demand has maintained its breathtaking pace, and the trend toward larger, more custom boats is persisting,” Springer said. “Of new boat orders, we believe over 90% will be retail sold in the first quarter of fiscal 2022, and we anticipate a robust pace to continue throughout the remainder of the year. ... As we look to fiscal year 2022, we remain in an enviable position due to historically low inventories, despite rising uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID variants and supply chain headwinds.”

Springer said the 2022 lineup will include 12 new boat models.

In a Sept. 2 press release, MasterCraft Boat Holdings said net sales rose to a record $525.8 million, a 45% increase, and the company had its most profitable year.

Among the factors leading to an increase in net sales were higher sales volumes, lower dealer incentives and higher prices.

The company’s gross profit increased $29.8 million, or 403%, to a record $37.2 million, compared to $7.4 million in the prior year.

“Our record-setting performance was driven by year-over-year unit increases at each of our segments, including the most wholesale units ever sold by the company in a fourth quarter,” Fred Brightbill, MasterCraft chief executive officer and chairman, said in the press release. “To accelerate throughput and produce record-level units in arguably the most challenging supply-chain environment we’ve ever experienced in the boating industry is a clear demonstration of our disciplined execution, operational excellence and the strength of our team. The credit goes to our more than 1,500 employees who continued to execute against our key strategic priorities in the face of adversity, and the strength of our market-leading brands.”

MasterCraft said the demand has been strong and facilities are running at production rates above pre-COVID-19 levels.

“However, we continue to be subject to risks and uncertainties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company’s Form 10-K said. “The extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our business remains uncertain and difficult to predict, as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is still evolving in many countries, including the United States and other markets where we and our suppliers operate.”

Malibu Boats said COVID-19 impacted operations and financial results since the third quarter of fiscal year 2020.

“During the first half of fiscal 2021, we constrained our production levels in an attempt to allow our supply chain to more fully recover from the impacts of COVID-19 in preparation of higher wholesale manufacturing volumes that we planned for the second half of fiscal 2021,” according to a company statement. “While our net sales for fiscal year 2021 were impacted by our lower production levels, retail sales improved during fiscal year 2021 as consumers turned to boating as a form of outdoor, socially distanced recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic.”