Boating was traditionally the pastime of the well-off, but the long housing boom and its gusher of easy credit changed that. People refinanced their homes and used the cash for down payments on a cruiser, miniyacht or sailboat. From 2000 to 2006, retail sales for the recreational boating industry rose by more than 40 percent, to $39.5 billion, while the average loan amount more than tripled to $141,000.
Last year, as real estate faltered, the gears went into reverse. The number of boats sold fell 8 percent. Many boats are fuel hogs, and rising gasoline and diesel prices meant a weekend jaunt could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Owners found they could not sell a boat for what they owed and could not refinance either.